A CAREER AFTERNOON
These are desperate times for the Browns, who are missing three of their best players—quarterback Bernie Kosar (broken ankle), defensive tackle Michael Dean Perry (arthroscopic knee surgery) and holdout wide receiver Webster Slaughter (inflated head). Their quarterback Sunday against the blitzing Raiders in Los Angeles was 1991 Plan B pickup Todd Philcox, who couldn't beat out Erik Wilhelm for a backup job in Cincinnati.
Cleveland ran 46 fewer plays than L.A., made only seven first downs and was out-gained 464 yards to 231. Why then was normally effervescent Brown owner Art Modell absolutely gushing afterward?
Eric Metcalf, that's why. Metcalf beat the Raiders single-handedly, scoring all four Cleveland touchdowns in a 28-16 win on pass receptions of four, 69 and 63 yards, and a run of six yards. "This," Modell said, just before hugging Metcalf and whispering sweet nothings into his ear in the Brown locker room, "is as good a game as any I've seen from a player on the Browns in many, many years, including the Leroy Kelly and Jim Brown days."
That Metcalf would have such a game is the surprise of this young NFL season, given how disappointing his four-year career had been until Sunday. Cleveland traded four draft picks so it could move up seven spots in the first round of the 1989 draft and take Metcalf, whom they envisioned as the sort of game-breaking back that James Brooks was for AFC Central rival Cincinnati. But at 5'10", 185 pounds, Metcalf was leaner and less powerful than Brooks, and he proved to be more laid back, too.
After the '89 season Brown coaches at the Pro Bowl asked for Brooks's advice on what to do with Metcalf. "Tell him to start working out," Brooks said. "He's got to get stronger." But Metcalf didn't train as hard as Cleveland wanted him to. He became even less effective and then missed half of last season with a shoulder injury. In the '90 and '91 seasons combined, he scored only two TDs from scrimmage, and his longest gain was a 45-yard catch.
The Browns finally satisfied their need for a versatile back like Brooks by signing Brooks himself on Plan B last March. On Sunday they played Brooks at slotback and occasionally split him wide. That's sound strategy against the Raiders, whose safeties are such aggressive run-supporters that they sometimes get caught too close to the line. "Anytime you do that to us," says Metcalf, who often went in motion out of a slot position, "we go into play-action, and we're down the field."
STATS OF THE WEEK
•None of the 44 players that the Cowboys drafted in 1984, '85 and '86 are currently employed by Dallas.
•Raider quarterback Jay Schroeder was benched last week for the seventh time in his nine-year NFL career.
•Pennsylvania's NFL teams are 6-0. California's are 3-9.
•Bill defensive end Bruce Smith had 18 tackles and 1½ sacks last year. He had eight tackles and 2½ sacks in the first half of Buffalo's 38-0 win over the Colts.
•The 49ers have two wins at Giants Stadium this year. The two home teams there, the Giants and the Jets, have none.
END OF THE WORLD?
CBS analyst John Madden once said of the World League, "Everyone shouldn't keep taking its temperature." And he was right. Any new league stumbles at the start—a few franchises fold, early TV ratings stink—but well-run leagues with good concepts eventually take root, and the World League was worth the cost and effort to keep it alive. Regrettably, the NFL last week suspended operation of the World League until at least 1994 because NFL owners want to conserve their money while they try to hammer out a labor agreement with the players and lay the groundwork for a new TV contract.
The World League was a training ground for future NFL players (admittedly, marginal ones) and fed an astounding European appetite for the American game. But each NFL team had to ante up between $1 million and $1.5 million a year—about what a team spends on a signing bonus for a middle first-round draft pick—to keep the league going. And unlike when the World League was launched two years ago, NFL owners no longer have that kind of pocket change.
Frankfurt Galaxy general manager Oliver Luck, who last spring marveled at how many fans (an average of 36,247) kept coming to watch his 3-7 team, was afraid even then that the league would not be around in '93. "I wish I could get all the NFL people who make the decisions on our future to come over here and see this for themselves," Luck said at the time. "If we don't play anymore, it would be a huge mistake."
GAME OF THE WEEK
Bills at Patriots, Sunday. Since 1986, quarterback Jim Kelly's first year in Buffalo, the Bills are 2-3 in nonstrike games at Foxboro Stadium. In those five games, New England has sacked Kelly 17 times, while holding him to live touchdown throws and intercepting 10 of his passes.
For years Ron Dixon has fired a cannon on the sideline whenever the Chargers have scored a touchdown, field goal or safety in a home game. That was a busy job in the Dan Fouts Era; Dixon fired the cannon 16 times at one game. But the Chargers have gotten so boring lately that the club this year told Dixon he could fire when the team was introduced before the game. Even so, he has shot the thing only six times in two games this season—two introductions, three field goals, one touchdown. "I am the Maytag repairman," he says.
THIS BUC DOESN'T STOP
Defensive tackle Santana Dotson, the Buccaneers' fifth-round pick in the 1992 draft, is a Madison Avenue dream in the making. First, the name. His mother, Carolene, named him after the American Indian chief Santana, who preached that with unity comes strength. Second, the personality. He's ebullient, he studied radio and television broadcasting at Baylor, and he's also a sensitive guy who doesn't like to hurt people. His favorite book is The Big Sea, the autobiography of playwright-poet Langston Hughes. "He's a versatile writer," says Dotson, "and I like to think of myself as a versatile person."
A versatile player, too. After three games as a pro, Dotson shares the NFL lead in sacks, with five. He plays a key position in the 4-3 scheme used by defensive coordinator Floyd Peters. One tackle (another Buc rookie, 280-pound third-round pick Mark Wheeler) plays like a noseguard while the other, in this case the 270-pound Dotson, has to be proficient at both rushing the passer and stopping the run.
Dotson's father, Alphonse, was an NFL defensive lineman for four years, with the Dolphins (1966) and the Raiders (1968-70). Santana's dream of following in his father's footsteps was almost dashed when he chipped a bone in his right ankle in Baylor's second game last year. He played with the injury but made only 60 tackles and four sacks in 1991. Touted as a possible first-round pick when the season started, Dotson slid all the way to the 132nd pick overall. "Even with the injury, I should have been picked by the second round," Dotson says. "I knew somebody was wrong—the NFL for underestimating me or me for thinking I was better than I am."
After winning a starting job in the Bucs' camp, he sacked Cardinal quarterback Timm Rosenbach twice in the third quarter of the season opener, knocking him unconscious on the second hit. Then he fretted over whether he had hurt Rosenbach badly (he hadn't—but Rosenbach left the game and didn't return). The next week Dotson nailed Packer quarterback Don Majkowski in the first half and backup Brett Favre in the second. And on Sunday he got to Viking quarterback Sean Salisbury in the second quarter.
When Peters was the Vikings' coordinator from 1986 to '90, he had Keith Millard at the spot that Dotson is playing for Tampa Bay. Dotson has watched videotape of the Minnesota defense when it was under Peters's direction, in particular studying Millard, who was NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1989. "Even though they had great players, they played so well as a team," Dotson says. "That's the key for us. We've had people pay a lot of attention to Keith McCants and Broderick Thomas. That gives me a chance to show what I can do."
Since the league started keeping sack stats in 1982, no rookie has had more sacks after three games than Dotson has. Charles Buchanan of the Browns had 4½ sacks after the first three games in '88. "Dotson's relentless," Phoenix coach Joe Bugel says. "And what a commodity, with that name of his."