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NOT JUST FOR KICKS BRAGGING RIGHTS WERE AT STAKE WHEN A HORDE OF PRO FOOTBALL PLAYERS BLITZED THE SENIOR PGA TOUR

May 22, 1995
May 22, 1995

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May 22, 1995

NOT JUST FOR KICKS BRAGGING RIGHTS WERE AT STAKE WHEN A HORDE OF PRO FOOTBALL PLAYERS BLITZED THE SENIOR PGA TOUR

By Austin Murphy PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN IACONO

It was the golfing equivalent of hitting the upright with no
time left. Al Del Greco raised his arms in premature
celebration, then doubled over as if sucker punched when his
downhill eight-footer, the putt that could have won him the
tournament, caught the left lip of the 18th hole and stayed out.
In disgust the stubby Houston Oiler kicking specialist slammed
his helmet--er, rather, his tournament-issued NFL Properties
cap--to the turf.

This is an article from the May 22, 1995 issue

Thus did last weekend's NFL Players' Championship come down to a
playoff between Del Greco, winner of the first two NFL Players'
Championships, and Browning Nagle, the Indianapolis Colts'
quarterback who had sneaked his way into sudden death by
birdieing four of the last six holes, including 17 and 18.

Considering the Oilers' recent postseason performances, you
could hardly blame Del Greco for dreading a playoff. But why
dredge up such sordid memories now? This was a week for reading
greens rather than coverages, for blasting out of sand rather
than through defenses. For Del Greco and his kicking ilk, it was
a time for shanking and slicing little white balls rather than
oblong brown ones. It was the third Cadillac NFL Golf Classic,
one of the game's most successful pro-am marriages: 56 NFL
players teaming up with the Senior PGA Tour for four days of
uneven golf and unremitting mutual admiration.

Capitalizing on hardpan fairways and receptive greens at the
Upper Montclair (N.J.) Country Club, George Archer won the
Senior portion of the tournament, and $142,500, with a 54-hole,
11-under-par 205. Archer, who came home with a creditable 70 on
Sunday, had moved into the lead with a sizzling back-nine 30 the
day before. As much as Archer won the tournament, Raymond Floyd
lost it by squandering a final-round lead and settling for
second for the second straight Sunday. This time Floyd handed
the oversized winner's check to Archer by bogeying the 17th
hole, a long par-3. Suggested vanity plate: ALSO RAN.

Playing in the threesome behind Floyd, the 55-year-old Archer
kept an ear cocked as he walked up 17. "But I heard no roars,"
he said. Floyd was out of birdies, and the angular Archer
coasted in for his 17th victory since joining the Senior tour in
1989. "When I came out on this tour," he said, "I was going to
play hard for five years and then enjoy my life a little more.
My wife now tells me"-$4,684,734 later-"that's not the plan
anymore."

Unlike the pros, the NFL players did not dare attempt to take
the course by the throat. For the amateurs victory awaited the
fellow who screwed up the least spectacularly. Nagle's drive on
the first hole of sudden death, the 590-yard par-5 18th, split
the fairway. Del Greco--still obsessing, he later admitted, over
the putt that didn't fall--pulled his tee shot 40 yards left into
a grove of oaks. He recovered splendidly, punching a three-iron
through an aperture in the trees, while Nagle's second shot went
slicing toward local Route 3, which borders the course,
eventually coming to rest behind a leader board. (Nagle was
awarded a drop.) Both pitched onto the green: the Colt to within
45 feet, the Oiler to within 30.

First prize for the NFL contestants was $25,000 and a '95 Sedan
DeVille, but everyone had agreed beforehand to donate his
winnings to the charity of his choice. So the football players
were really competing for nothing-and everything. Though it's
only three years old, this tournament has become, among NFL
players, the gold standard for bragging rights, which are, to
these guys, far more precious than 25 G's and a luxury sedan.

The playoff provided the week's most electric moment, just as
the NFL contingent gave the event its luster. Since 1970 three
tournaments--one PGA Tour, one LPGA and one Senior event--have
died on the vine in this part of the Garden State. Then in 1993
someone at Cadillac came up with the bright idea of throwing a
full-fledged golf tournament and inviting football players.
Instant hit. While the members of Upper Montclair cringed,
85,000 sports fans roamed the grounds of this very private
enclave last week. It is safe to say of the paying public that
more of them showed up to see Emmitt Smith than Kermit Zarley.

Even as they were dwarfed by their large friends, the seniors
accepted their temporarily reduced status with, for the most
part, equanimity and grace. ''They're my heroes,'' proclaimed
Floyd, who won here last year and is first on the tour's money
list this year. ''I'm an NFL nut,'' said Jim Colbert, who is
second on the money list, ''so this week is very special to me.''

There was touring pro Bobby Mitchell taking Carolina Panther
quarterback Jack Trudeau to the practice range for an hour-long
lesson. There was Colbert, a former Kansas State quarterback,
going out of his way to make Brian Kinchen feel at home during
their Friday round. So effectively did Colbert loosen up the
Cleveland Brown tight end that Kinchen bettered Colbert's
opening-round 74 by a stroke.

Not everyone gushed about the experience. Lee Elder was not
thrilled to find himself in a threesome on Friday with Lawrence
Taylor. This meant that Elder was destined to spend four hours
with several hundred of Taylor's closest friends, a boisterous
group that would have been more at home at, say, a Giants
Stadium tailgate, or a cockfight, than it was on the
meticulously manicured grounds of Upper Montclair. This was a
group that arrived wearing Giant jerseys and windbreakers
emblazoned with the names of local taverns or the numbers of
teamster locals. It also arrived-through no fault of its
own-with only a loose grasp of golf spectator etiquette.

''They're not golf-oriented,'' said Elder after the round,
straining to be diplomatic. When LT wasn't hitting, his fans
talked among themselves; as soon as LT holed out, his minions
moved noisily toward the next hole. ''Meanwhile we're lining up
three- and four-footers,'' said Elder, ''and it's a distraction.
I know [the presence of the NFL players] is good for the game
and good for the gate, but we're out here trying to make a
living.''

Did LE have a chance to bond with LT? ''He was driving the ball
all over the place, and he walked ahead of us all day,'' said
Elder. ''He didn't seem very happy out there.''

LT needs a little time by himself these days. His zest for
physical combat apparently unsated by a brief foray into
professional wrestling, Taylor hinted last Tuesday that he might
emerge from retirement to play for his former mentor, Bill
Parcells, now head coach of the New England Patriots. To this
Parcells responded, through the Patriot front office, ''No, no,
no.''

There was no way of knowing whether Taylor's postround surliness
derived from Parcells's rejection or from his failure, following
his 83 on Friday, to be one of the dozen NFLers to advance to
Saturday's final round. There was no shame in missing the cut.
Charger quarterback Stan Humphries, an early favorite, went out
with Arnold Palmer on Friday and turned in a starstruck 83 of
his own.

''No gimmes,'' said Philadelphia Eagle guard Dave Alexander,
citing the biggest difference between playing this tournament
and playing against his buddies. Alexander was the sole
offensive lineman among seven quarterbacks, three kickers and a
tight end to qualify for the final 18. ''It's tough grinding
over eight-inch putts for three days,'' he said. ''After a while
you start seeing breaks in those things.''

The toll on the players' nerves was evident. On Friday, Dan
Marino dribbled his tee shot 50 yards on the par-3 3rd hole, and
L.A. Raider punter Jeff Gossett left a 30-foot putt 15 feet
short on the 15th. Meanwhile Gossett's teammate kicker Jeff
Jaeger sent his drive on the 2nd hole screaming into a knot of
bystanders standing near the green on 3. Jaeger was forced to
make small talk as he waited for the approaching threesome to
hit up on 3. Then, with two galleries watching, he hit his
second shot. On the 9th hole Jet quarterback Glenn Foley bounced
his second shot off the clubhouse. He took a drop, then muffed
one chip before knocking his next one into the hole.

If their uneven play did not betray them as amateurs, their
uniforms did. In their white knickers, caps and argyle socks,
the players appeared to have escaped from The Great Gatsby. The
Payne Stewart getups lent them a certain stateliness, an effect
that dissolved only occasionally, such as when Nagle sent a
stream of tobacco juice hissing onto the 13th green or when
Kinchen, squatting to line up a putt on the 8th green on
Saturday, split the seat of his pants.

Kinchen's knickers weren't the only thing coming apart at the
seams. The previous evening, at Eccola, an Italian bistro in
Parsippany, Del Greco looked up from his veal marsala and said
to Kinchen, one of his best friends in the NFL, ''Wouldn't it be
great if we were in a playoff tomorrow?''

Such a finish seemed implausible by the time Kinchen made his
embarrassed way off the 8th green. Del Greco had apparently
self-destructed, playing the front nine at six over. Having
started the day with a one-stroke lead over Del Greco, Kinchen
now had a four-stroke lead.

In sending out invites to the NFL players, tournament organizers
had been seeking a blend of glamour boys--name guys like Smith,
Jim Kelly and Steve Young--and lesser lights who happen to be
good golfers. Del Greco and Kinchen fall squarely into the
latter category. Del Greco, an 11-year NFL vet out of Auburn,
was in frequent phone contact over the weekend with his agent,
who was finalizing the details of the most remunerative contract
of Del Greco's career.

Kinchen has played for two teams in his seven years in the NFL.
It is his dream to play golf for a living after his football
career, confides his wife, Lori. She reports that her husband
reviews videos of his swing, splitting the screen of his
television to compare recent and old footage of his technique,
then comparing his swing with those of established pros. ''He'll
kill me for telling you this,'' she said as she followed her
husband around the course on Saturday. She often finds him in
the garage of their Baton Rouge home, critiquing his swing
before a full-length mirror. ''When he talks about playing golf
for a living, I tell him, 'Prove to me you can do it at a
tournament like this.'''

Kinchen proved instead that he should keep his day job,
staggering down the stretch like a man carrying a sofabed. He
made three bogeys and a double bogey over the last 10 holes,
flinging the door open for Del Greco, who finally settled down,
and the charging Nagle. When Del Greco's eight-footer lipped
out, ensuring a playoff, Nagle's wife, Mallie Jo, sitting in the
rough behind the 18th green, looked at her watch.

''Four-eleven,'' she said. She and Browning had a 5:30 flight
out of Newark. They were going to Memphis to visit her family,
for whom they had an announcement: Mallie Jo is pregnant with
their first child. Now it looked as if the announcement might be
delayed.

But Browning three-putted the first playoff hole from 45 feet,
and he and Mallie Jo made their flight. Del Greco was left with
a two-foot gimme for the win and his third straight year of
bragging rights. This time he didn't boot it.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN IACONO Del Greco got another NFL Players' trophy and a hold from Cadillac's Pete Gerosia to boot. [Al Del Greco and Pete Gerosia holding NFL Classic trophy]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN IACONO Senior success forced Archer to rethink his five-year plan. [George Archer swinging golf club]THREE COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN IACONO Marino (top), Taylor (above) and Smith were big draws because of their names, not their games. [Dan Marino with golf club; Lawrence Taylor swinging golf club; Emmitt Smith with golf club]