ROUGHED UP AGAIN
Another day, another slaughter. Well, not quite. The Cowboys had to brawl for everything they got in the first three quarters of their 28-13 interconference victory over the Raiders in Los Angeles, but the result typified a decade-long trend that shows no sign of abating: NFC teams just keep pounding the heck out of AFC teams. In fact, there's no better tonic for a bumbling and bickering NFC team such as the Giants than to have an AFC team show up for a pasting, as the Seahawks did, losing 23-10 at Giants Stadium in Sunday's other interconference matchup.
Every year the two conferences draft from the same pool of college players, pick through the same crop of free agents and hire from the same collection of coaches. Yet the NFC has won 10 of the last 11 Super Bowls, including the past eight (most by embarrassing scores); year in and year out, the best teams in the NFC are much more dominant in regular-season interconference play than their AFC counterparts (chart, this page); and on a weekly basis the best matchups usually feature NFC teams.
The NFC is so deep that six times in the last four years a team with a 10-6 record has missed the playoffs. In the same period, seven AFC teams with nine wins and one with eight have qualified for postseason play. In the NFC East alone, teams have finished with 10 or more wins 11 times in the last four years. That has happened only 13 times in the entire AFC over the same span.
Signs of AFC inferiority abound. The NFC enjoys a 15-7 advantage in interconference play this year. While Denver can beat 1991 AFC playoff teams Kansas City, Houston and Los Angeles, the Broncos are blown out by NFC strong boys Philadelphia and Washington. The most prevalent theory as to why the NFC holds the upper hand is that the NFC is more battle-tested.
"The bottom line is the NFC has better teams across the board," says Dallas quarterback Steve Beuerlein, who spent three years with the Raiders. "Because there are more good teams, the competition is tougher, so by the time an NFC team gets to the Super Bowl, it's better prepared to succeed."
The AFC does have a couple of terrific wins over NFC teams this year—the Bills beat the 49ers, the Chiefs beat the Eagles—but on the whole its interconference embarrassments persist. Here are three examples from the 1990s that underscore the NFC's superiority.
1) New Orleans 27, L.A. Raiders 0, 1991. Playoff-bound Los Angeles is outgained by 358 yards. In fact, the Saints' Quinn Early, with four catches for 127 yards, exceeds the Raiders' total offensive output by 10 yards.
2) Washadelphia 64, Denver 3, 1992. Mr. Elway goes to Washington and Philadelphia within 22 days. Only three times in the two games combined do the Broncos penetrate the opponent's 35.
3) Philadelphia 13, Houston 6, 1991. The Oilers cough up the ball five times, and two Eagle "greats," quarterback Jeff Kemp and running back James Joseph, finish off Houston at the Astrodome.
STATS OF THE WEEK
•Colt kicker Dean Biasucci had an .814 field goal percentage for the 1987, '88 and '89 seasons combined. Since then he has had a .607 percentage. This year he has made only five of 11 attempts.
•The Bengals gained an average of 26 inches per play in the second half of their 26-10 loss to the Oilers.
Here are two more reasons that the owners and players have to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement—fast.
•The players' postseason shares haven't changed since the last collective bargaining agreement was signed in 1982, but Super Bowl ticket revenues, not to mention the receipts from other playoff games, have skyrocketed. Last week, in fact, the NFL hiked the price of a Super Bowl ticket another $25, to $175 a seat. Using the salary of Buffalo defensive end Bruce Smith as an example, here's how out of whack the system has become: Smith is being paid $93,750 a game this season, but if the Bills win the AFC East and go on to win the Super Bowl, he would make an average of only $21,333.33 a game for the three postseason victories. The following chart compares the upcoming Super Bowl at the Rose Bowl with the one held there a decade ago to highlight the disparity between Super Bowl ticket revenues and a winning player's cut of the gate.
•Last week the Redskins came to the same conclusion that the Steelers had in training camp: Second-year player Huey Richardson isn't strong enough to play defensive end, mobile enough to play outside linebacker or interested enough to play on special teams. A first-round pick by Pittsburgh, Richardson was the biggest disappointment of the 1991 draft. But a comparison of his NFL career to that of Washington inside linebacker Kurt Gouveia, an eighth-round choice in 1986 and the Skins' leading tackier this season, shows how the current system rewards untried rookies at the expense of veterans.
DOLTS NO MORE
Ripping the Colts' brain trust (an oxymoron, some would say) has been a popular pastime around the NFL in recent seasons, but the Indianapolis front office suddenly is looking pretty smart. The Colts traded up to select Jeff George with the first pick of the 1990 draft. Then they resisted temptations to deal the first two choices in the '92 draft and used them to pick defensive stars Steve Emtman and Quentin Coryatt. George and Emtman, with some help from their friends, upset the previously unbeaten Dolphins 31-20 on Sunday at Joe Robbie Stadium.
With the Colts trailing 20-17 and about two minutes to play, George threaded an eight-yard pass between two Dolphins to wide receiver Billy Brooks, giving Indy a first down at the Miami five. Three plays later, the Colts faced fourth down, two feet from the goal line. George called time and alerted coach Ted Marchibroda that the Dolphin defense was susceptible to a wide rush to the left. A quarterback sweep with the option to pass was called, and George ran around left end for the go-ahead touchdown. Miami came right back and, with 17 seconds to go, was on the Indianapolis seven. There, the 6'4", 290-pound Emtman leaped and batted a Dan Marino pass, caught the ball and returned it 90 yards for his first touchdown since he played fullback at Cheney (Wash.) Junior High.
The Colts, who were 1-15 last year, are 4-3, and people are starting to notice. "I don't think anybody's going to respect us," George said after the game. "They're going to say Miami gave it to us. That's all right. We like being the underdog."
A jubilant Myron Cope, the radio voice and soul of the Steelers, said, "I got Foster his 100 yards!" after Pittsburgh's 27-3 victory over the Chiefs on Sunday night. Seems that Steeler back Barry Foster was five yards short of his fifth 100-yard game of the season when he was rested late in the game. Cope, in his radio booth, started pounding on the glass partition separating him from the Steeler coaches' booth. Finally, defensive coordinator Dom Capers read Cope's lips and called down to the field. Foster ran the ball once more for 10 yards to finish with 105 yards.... How amazing is this? The pitiful Cardinals ran 26 plays inside the Eagle 30 and didn't score a touchdown in their 7-3 defeat. Because of three Philadelphia offside penalties in the second quarter, Phoenix had six chances from the one-yard line or closer in succession, including two tries from four inches out. Running back Johnny Bailey was stuffed both times. "I hope they have pictures of that series," said Eagle linebacker Byron Evans, "so I can hang them on my wall."
GAME OF THE WEEK
Buccaneers at Saints, Sunday. Poor Randy Grimes. This is his 10th season with Tampa Bay (he's the only Buc to have played for all five coaches in the franchise's 16-year history), and the team has never fared better than 6-10 in his career. This week Grimes, who's a center, is coming off injured reserve (sprained ankle) just in time to play the Saints at the Super-dome—where Tampa Bay is 0-7 and has been outscored 190-90 since he joined the team. "I come to camp every year thinking this season's going to be different," Grimes says. "I tell people, 'This is our year.' But it never is. I guess that makes me the biggest liar in team history."
THE END ZONE
Remember, in the preseason, when Dolphin tackle Richmond Webb loaned his forest green BMW 535i to nosetackle Alfred Oglesby and the car was found abandoned in a rough section of Miami? Afraid he would get into trouble for having missed the team's curfew, Oglesby had invented a story that he had been kidnapped. Last week Webb's BMW was victimized again, this time while it was sitting in the parking lot at Miami's practice facility. Nearby a man was preparing to wash defensive back Liffort Hobley's Jeep Cherokee, but when he started the vehicle the accelerator stuck. The Cherokee smashed into defensive back Stephen Braggs's Nissan Pathfinder, which slammed into the left side of Webb's car, which smacked into running back James Saxon's Ford Bronco. The Cherokee then plowed over a fence and onto the Dolphins' vacant practice field, where the driver finally stopped the vehicle by applying the emergency brake. Webb's BMW sustained heavy damage to the driver's door and to the left front fender area. After the second bizarre incident involving his car, Webb said, "I think I'm going to sell the car. It obviously doesn't love me anymore."
GAME OF SURVIVAL
"Believe me," Bryan Cox says, "I am truly blessed." You don't have to probe too deeply into Cox's life story to realize that he speaks with conviction. A second-year linebacker for the Dolphins, Cox grew up in one of America's worst pockets of poverty, East St. Louis, Ill., where, beginning as a teenager, he says, "carrying a gun was just like carrying a credit card—you didn't leave home without it."
Bryan's father, Ronald, whom his mother divorced soon after Bryan was born, died in the off-season of a heart attack after having spent a year in jail for dealing drugs. Bryan's older brother Tony also dealt drugs, but he avoided prison; he was only shot twice. As a youth Bryan was always getting into fights, and once, he says, he nearly beat another kid to death.
"Guys took shots at me, and I could hear the bullets go by my head," he says. "I'd just laugh about it. Most of my friends are drug dealers or in jail or dead. There's no hope there, and now it's worse than ever. The only way out is through sports."
When Cox was six, his mother, Nancy Williams, bought him some baseball equipment and dropped him off at a playing field every day. That started him on the right path, and later on Robert Shannon, his football coach at East St. Louis Senior High, made sure he kept to it. Cox played tight end and defensive end on three state 6A championship teams.
The 6'3", 235-pound Cox has been one of the biggest surprises of the season for the equally surprising Dolphins (6-1). He's fifth in the league in sacks, with eight, and has brought some of his street toughness to a defense sorely in need of aggressive players. "That's one of the things we've been trying to upgrade around here through the draft," says Miami coach Don Shula. In one game last season Cox thought the Bengals had taken a cheap shot at Dolphin kicker Pete Stoyanovich, and he ran to the Cincinnati sideline and challenged any Bengal to a fight. No one took him up on the offer.
A fifth-round draft pick out of Western Illinois, Cox started at right outside linebacker as a rookie, but he had only two sacks. He gives a large part of the credit for his improvement this season to the pass-rushing technique that he learned from former Steeler great Joe Greene, Miami's new defensive line coach. Cox had two-sack games in consecutive weeks against the Rams, the Seahawks and the Bills. What's more, just before half-time of the Seattle game, with Miami trailing 10-6, Cox fell back into man-to-man coverage on Seahawk running back John L. Williams and plucked Kelly Stouffer's pass out of Williams's outstretched arms for an interception in the end zone.
"He really hasn't been that much of a surprise to us," says Shula. "We're doing more with him this year, like sending him in after the quarterback more. He has that intense, driven spirit that I really like in a player."
"I go out every week," says Cox, "and fight hard to keep us from losing." He's winning the fight.
WOE BE THE AFC
NFC first-place teams vs. AFC
AFC first-place teams vs. NFC
NFC first-place teams vs. AFC
AFC first-place teams vs. NFC