Deon Figures's answer is as chilling as the story about his
off-season gunshot wound. Do you have any idea, the third-year
Pittsburgh Steeler cornerback is asked, why someone you don't
know would take aim at you with a handgun and shoot?

"Because," Figures says slowly, "that's the life in L.A."

Figures was driving from South Central Los Angeles to his home
in west L.A. in a rented green Mustang at three in the morning
on May 12. Driving down Broadway, a four-lane road, with the car
stereo blaring music, Figures caught a glimpse of a man dressed
in dark clothing standing on the sidewalk on the opposite side
of the street. "He got into the position, with his hands in
front of him and kind of crouching, like he might be pointing at
me," Figures remembers. "But in that neighborhood, you don't
assume anyone's pointing. You assume that they've got a gun. I
had no time to think. I ducked. I didn't hear anything, because
I had the music on loud, and as I was driving away, I didn't
think that anything had happened.

"Maybe 10 or 15 seconds passed, and still I didn't think
anything had happened. Then I felt something trickling down my
leg, like sweat or something. I reached down to feel it and
pulled my hand up, and it was blood. I said, 'Damn! He shot me!'"

Figures still swears that he never felt the bullet enter the
side of his left knee.

"What's strange," he says, "is I've had friends who've been
shot--violence is so common where I come from--who tell me they
never felt a thing. I used to say to them, 'Come on. How do you
not feel a gunshot?' But they're right. If I hadn't felt blood
running down my leg, I wouldn't have known maybe until I got
home or until I tried to walk when I got out of the car."

Figures drove himself to Kaiser Permanente Hospital in west L.A.
It was there that an emergency-room doctor gave him a local
anesthetic and pulled the bullet out--intact--with a forceps. But
the slug had already done plenty of damage. A week after the
shooting Figures had bone chips removed from the knee and
surgery to repair a tear in the tendon associated with holding
the kneecap in place. "They told me that 25 percent of the
tendon was blown away and 50 percent damaged,'' says Figures.
"They repaired the tendon using the 50 percent that was left.''

Figures has made a quicker-than-expected comeback from the
shooting. The Steelers thought that he might be unable to play
again until at least midseason, but he began running hills with
trainers at the Steeler training camp in Latrobe, Pa., two weeks
ago, and he hopes to take back his starting spot in Pittsburgh's
secondary by the team's Sept. 3 opener against the Detroit Lions
or shortly thereafter .

At least one of his teammates thinks that the shooting might
prove beneficial for Figures. "It might be a crude thing to say,
but if there's anything positive to come out of this, it's that
Deon is working harder to get ready for the season than he has
in the past," says Pittsburgh cornerback Rod Woodson.

Figures does say that the incident has made him appreciate how
precious life is. But he also says that he refuses to run away
from his roots--he grew up only seven miles from the scene of the
shooting--or be fearful when he moves back to Los Angeles after
the football season. And he isn't going to try to figure out why
it happened. "I'm driving a dark-green car, which means nothing
to gangs," he says. "Red's for Bloods, blue's for Crips. The way
I see it, it was just somebody taking target practice. Happens
all the time in L.A." --P.K.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID LIAM KYLE[Deon Figures working out]

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)