WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S
In his first game as a Cowboy, quarterback Bernie Kosar led Dallas to a 20-15 win over Phoenix at Texas Stadium, and afterward the first guy he wanted to see was Jimmy Johnson. "Coach," he said, "thanks for showing so much confidence in me."
For the Cowboys, it's a wonderful life. On the previous Sunday, Troy Aikman had suffered a hamstring injury that would sideline him for at least two weeks. The very next morning, Kosar, the icon of Cleveland, was cut (page 42). On Tuesday night, undeterred by his salary level and his mediocre performances of late, Dallas came to terms with Kosar, and he signed his contract on Wednesday morning. On Wednesday afternoon Kosar practiced with the team. On Sunday, with the Cowboys leading 3-0, he replaced Jason Garrett at quarterback in the first quarter and proceeded to lead the Cowboys on two consecutive touchdown drives—65 yards on nine plays and 86 yards on six plays. In the fourth quarter he engineered a short drive that ended with an Eddie Murray field goal.
Afterward Johnson was ebullient. Rarely had his friends seen him so happy. He sat with offensive coordinator Norv Turner, polishing off his customary beer on the rocks, and talked about beating the odds. "Here's what people have said to us over the years," Johnson said. "You can't trade Herschel Walker; he's a great player. You can't train in Austin; it's too hot. You can't win a Super Bowl that quick; it takes time. You can't sign Bernie Kosar and play him right away; he'll never learn the system in time."
Indeed, giving Kosar a crash course on the Dallas offense seemed to be a task almost as daunting as going from 1-15 to the Super Bowl in four years. But Dallas owner Jerry Jones wanted Kosar, as did Johnson, who had coached Kosar for a year (1984) at the University of Miami, and they wanted him to contribute. Fast. And, as we have seen, what Jimmy and Jerry want, they get.
So, how quickly did Kosar learn his lessons? For the answer, consider one play: Kosar entered the game at the beginning of a Cowboy series with slightly more than five minutes remaining in the first quarter. Upstairs in the coaches' booth Turner reviewed his play sheet and decided to call an intermediate-route, play-action pass to wide receiver Michael Irvin. When he found the play he wanted, Turner said "28" into his headset to tight end coach Robert Ford, who was on the sideline. Ford hand-signaled a "2" and then an "8" to Kosar on the field. Kosar looked at the tiny print on his plastic-coated wristband and found the play. "O.K.," he said in the huddle, reading his wrist. "Slot Zip Fan Pass 97 Zip."
The play required Kosar to take the snap, wheel to his left, fake a handoff to Emmitt Smith, fade back seven steps, look at Irvin running his 15-yard out pattern, then at fullback Daryl Johnston sneaking out just beyond the line of scrimmage, and then look back in the other direction at Irvin.
The Cowboys had not practiced this exact play with Kosar. Twice during the week they had run through a similar one—Kosar wheeling to his right and faking to Smith before passing. On Sunday, however, Kosar worked number 28 as though he had been running it for months. The Cardinals bit on the fake to Smith and on Kosar's glance at Johnston, and Kosar gunned a fastball to Irvin, who had cornerback Robert Massey draped all over him, for a 14-yard gain.
The Cowboys programmed 67 of those plays into Kosar's brainy head last week. He had to know who his primary, secondary and tertiary receivers were on every passing play and how many yards each receiver was running on each play. He had to learn a new numbering system for running and passing plays. "I'm a fan just like anybody, and I loved working with Bernie this week," said Turner. "This was a once-in-a-lifetime deal. How often do you pick up a championship quarterback in mid-week and get him ready to play the next game?"
There was also improvisation to go with the memorization. During the week Turner and Kosar had discussed what might work on goal line passes from a double-tight-end formation, and they chose a pass that was designed to go to substitute tight end Joey Mickey. When the Cowboys called the play late in the first half, Mickey wasn't open, so the tight end on the other side, Jay Novacek, seeing Kosar Hushed from the pocket, ran all the way across the end zone to the right corner. Just before getting leveled by an onrushing Cardinal, Kosar drilled a one-yard touchdown strike to Novacek.
What Kosar accomplished against Phoenix was remarkable. One of the smartest quarterbacks in football, Boomer Esiason, says that he needed 2½ years to master the Cincinnati offense when he came out of college. Kosar—albeit well schooled in the pro game—learned the nuts and bolts of the Dallas attack in three days. His numbers for the day: 13 completions in 21 attempts for 199 yards with no interceptions and the touchdown pass to Novacek.
"I don't want to make Bernie bigger than life," said Johnson on Sunday night. "Troy's playing great, and he's our quarterback. That's not going to change. But I'll take Bernie Kosar on my team the rest of my coaching career. Period. For him to share time in three practices and do what he did today is just unbelievable. I don't think people have any idea what you have to go through to play an NFL game at quarterback. And in three days he learns it!
"Unbelievable," Johnson continued. "Hey, the guy guns the crossing patterns, doesn't he? You know, I'm watching the game, and I'm seeing the same guy I saw at Miami. He runs and throws the same as when I first saw him—gangly, sidearm, like he's on the sandlot. Don't evaluate his throwing motion. Don't evaluate his stance. Don't evaluate his fluidity. Evaluate his winning. He can win football games. The bottom line on Bernie Kosar is this: Given the right supporting east. he's a winner. He wins football games."
He almost got away, though. Kosar was on the verge of coming to terms with the Dolphins when Johnson called. He told Kosar that he would start five days hence if he signed with Dallas. Jones then threw $1 million, guaranteed, at Kosar for the last two months of the season, and Kosar was a Cowboy.
Two days before the game Johnson decided to let Garrett, in his second year with Dallas, take the first snaps, but Kosar was assured that he would not spend much time on the bench. When the game was over, Kosar peeled off his new uniform with the 18 on it (he had worn 19 during his years in Cleveland), and he looked like the happiest man in the world. "What a difference a week makes," he said. "They let me fire it around out there. It's an incredible feeling to do that again."
STATS OF THE WEEK
•Here's the tally on the Browns' first game of the post-Kosar era: zero touchdowns, five points and seven turnovers in a 22-5 loss to Seattle. Young Todd Philcox, making his first start, completed nine of 20 throws for 85 yards.
•Want more? The two starting wideouts whom Cleveland coach Bill Belichick turned loose in the past two years, Webster Slaughter and Reggie Langhorne, have combined for 37 catches and 527 yards in the last two weeks for the Oilers and the Colts, respectively.
•In 1991 and '92, reserve Houston running back Gary Brown rushed for a total of 172 yards. On Sunday in Cincinnati, subbing for the injured Lorenzo White, Brown gained 166 yards—and he didn't play the last 20 minutes.
•The Jet offensive line, which was lightly regarded before the season, has not given up a sack in six of its nine games. For all of last season, the league leader for number of games without allowing a sack was Dallas with five.
•Very quietly, Minnesota wideout Cris Carter is on pace for 96 catches this season.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Detroit versus Green Bay, in Milwaukee, Sunday. Against the Saints in the deafening Superdome last week, the Packers needed a fourth-down conversion to avoid falling to 4-5. However, Green Bay pulled out the game 19-17 with a final-minute drive, which was capped by the winning field goal from the league's most underrated kicker, Chris Jacke. The win gave the Pack a huge lift. "Once you start believing you can win, you do," said Green Bay offensive coordinator Sherm Lewis. A victory on Sunday would put the Packers within a game of the division-leading Lions.
While Blair Thomas languishes on the bench with a hamstring injury, Johnny Johnson has won the Jets' starting job at running back, clinching it with a 21-carry, 141-yard performance in New York's 31-17 win over Indianapolis. Johnson, a fourth-year veteran who was obtained from Phoenix in the off-season, is the sort of back who can grind down an opponent with 20 or 25 carries, and he was being misused early in the season, averaging 10 rushes in the Jets' first eight games. "I told people it was just a matter of time for Johnny," says Jet safety Lonnie Young, another former Cardinal. "He's a big-time player."
...In the face of the very real possibility that the Rams will leave Los Angeles, there were 31,935 empty seats at Anaheim Stadium for L.A.'s 13-0 loss to the Falcons....
Pity the poor Buc fans. Tampa Bay is shelling out $1,325 million a year for former Redskin cornerback Martin May-hew, and now, in successive home games, the Buc secondary has allowed Sterling Sharpe and Jerry Rice four-touchdown games....
The Chiefs' Marcus Allen returned to the scene of his prime, the Los Angeles Coliseum, for the first time since leaving the Raiders in the off-season. "The best thing," he said, "was getting off the bus and seeing all the people in silver and black cheering me." Allen rose to the occasion with a 17-carry, 85-yard rushing day that included a twisting 39-yard run. Allen now has 105 touchdowns, tied for the sixth-most ever with Don Hutson....
Minnesota tackle Tim Irwin has a clause in his contract that calls for him to receive a $1,000 bonus every time he blocks an extra point or a field goal. He blocked one of each in the Vikings' 26-23 win in Denver.
THE END ZONE
Cleveland loves Kosar so much that a day after he was waived by the Browns, Democrats in the suburb of Parma Heights approved a resolution supporting Kosar's entry in the 1994 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate. Kosar is a Republican.
MEN OF STEEL
Perhaps the most remarkable factor in Dallas's 20-5 regular-season record over this year and last has been the lack of injuries. Until quarterback Troy Aikman strained his left hamstring on Nov. 7, causing him to miss his start on Sunday against Phoenix, not a single key player had missed a game because of injury since Charles Haley sat out one start on Nov. 22, 1992, with an injured groin. Dallas's injury tally is in line with that of the five teams that have won two consecutive Super Bowls, which may help explain the success of those teams.
"From what I see," says Packer Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke, "Dallas has a lot in common with us. Lombardi got us in great football shape. The Dallas players love to play and hate to be out of the lineup. Same with us. We had an attitude. We weren't coming out of the game. We played hard, and we didn't let the nagging injuries get to us."
SI selected 10 key players from each of the five back-to-back Super Bowl champions and compared their injury status in those years with that of Dallas's key players.
Aikman, Smith, Irvin, Harper, Novacek, Tuinei, E. Williams, Haley, Norton, L. Brown
Montana, Craig, Rathman, Rice, Barton, Wallace, M. Carter, Haley, Fagan, Lott
Bradshaw, Harris, Swann, Webster, Greene, Greenwood, Lambert, Ham, Shell, Blount
Bradshaw, Harris, Kolb, Greene, Greenwood, Holmes, Lambert, A. Russell, Ham, Blount
Griese, Csonka, Morris, Warfield, Langer, Little, Stanfill, Buoniconti, Anderson, Scott
Starr, Dowler, Kramer, Gregg, Jordan, W. Davis, Caffey, Nitschke, Adderley, Wood