A DEVASTATING BLOCK REMAINS LEGAL DOES NATRONE MEAN BUSINESS? LONDON WARMS UP TO THE FRIDGE

March 25, 1996

THE CRUELEST CUT

PACKERS NOSETACKLE John Jurkovic cued the videotape to the play
he'll never forget, the one in the NFC Championship Game that
almost ended his career: He's lined up across from Cowboys right
tackle Erik Williams as Dallas begins to run a rushing play to
the left, away from Jurkovic, who begins sprinting along the
line in pursuit. Williams, late in reacting, dives at Jurkovic,
his helmet smashing into the back of Jurkovic's left knee.
Jurkovic's head snaps back, and he goes down.

Though eight weeks had elapsed since the incident, Jurkovic was
still nearly as mad as he was when it happened. "Look!" he
yelled, filling the Packers conference room with his anger. "My
back is to him! He dives right at my knee! He puts his head
right into my bloody knee!"

On the monitor Jurkovic is writhing on the ground, his left
medial collateral ligament torn. There is no flag. There is no
condemnation from the TV announcers after they watch the replay.
Williams will not be fined or reprimanded by the NFL.

After stopping the video and calming down, the 295-pound
Jurkovic put his left leg--with the knee brace he now wears--on
the table in front of him and said, "You know why he did that?
Because the NFL says that's a legal play. Anybody who says a
vicious block like that ought to be a part of football is
asinine."

How asinine, then, is this? Neither the NFL's competition
committee nor its owners made a move to outlaw this brutal play,
called the cut block, at somnambulant league meetings last week
in Palm Beach, Fla. If a defender is in the three-yard zone on
either side of the line of scrimmage, an offensive lineman can
still block him from shoulder pad to shoe, from the back, side
or front.

Granted, a block as brutal as the one on Jurkovic may occur only
10 or 15 times a season, and many of them do not result in
injury. But by allowing the tactic to remain legal in the wake
of this particularly telling example of how devastating it can
be, the NFL reaffirmed its class system. The league routinely
takes action to protect quarterbacks, but it doesn't do enough
to protect the grunts in the trenches. Although the league did
modify the rule on chop blocks last week--effectively reducing
situations when a defender can be blocked both above and below
the waist on running plays--it refused to outlaw cut blocks from
behind and below the waist.

"The defensive lineman's the king of the hill if he knows he
can't get hit below the waist. Then your running game is dead,"
says Giants general manager and competition committee
co-chairman George Young. "The defensive lineman is a weapon,
and you've got to be able to block him."

Fortunately, Jurkovic, a free agent, did not need surgery, and
he will be finished with his rehab and ready to look for a job
by the end of the month. With the NFL having done nothing about
the cut block, he implies that he may resort to vigilante
justice. "I'll be in the league a while longer, and Mr. Erik
Williams will be in the league a while longer," Jurkovic says.
"Let me just say I'm looking forward to the day when we meet
again."

MEANS OR AN END?

It's put-up or shut-up time for running back Natrone Means. He
has a chance to be the mail carrier for the Jaguars, who signed
him last week after the Chargers stunningly waived him on Feb.
28. Publicly San Diego said it had dumped the 5'10", 245-pound
Means, who's only 23, to clear enough room under the salary cap
so they could sign free-agent defensive end Marco Coleman. But
the Chargers' reasons ran deeper than that. San Diego felt that
Means didn't take proper care of himself during the off-season,
and it didn't like agent Tank Black's opening salary request of
$3.75 million per year when he tried to negotiate a new contract
for Means.

Means rushed for 1,350 yards in the Chargers' 1994 Super Bowl
season, but he picked up only 730 yards last year, when he
missed most of training camp because of a contract dispute and
six games because of a groin injury. The Jaguars will have a
consistent 1,000-yard back if Means can stay fit and focused on
the game. "I'm the total package," Means says. "I've been to the
Pro Bowl, I've been to the Super Bowl. I want to prove I can
still be a great back."

RAMPAGE

The most intriguing team in the NFL right now is the Rams. St.
Louis needs a quarterback, and it could sign free agent Randall
Cunningham, trade for Craig Erickson of the Colts or possibly
make a deal for Gus Frerotte of the Redskins. The Rams will also
try to move up from the 13th slot in the April 20 draft in hopes
of selecting Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips, who,
despite pleading no contest last fall to assaulting his former
girlfriend, could now be among the top 10 picks because scouts
are impressed with his combination of speed and power.

If St. Louis, which finished 7-9 in 1995, were to sign
Cunningham and draft Phillips, how good can this team be? Add
the 166 combined catches of wideout Isaac Bruce and tight end
Troy Drayton, and the Rams might not be the usual gimme on the
49ers' schedule.

THE FRIDGE IS HOT AGAIN

Defensive tackle and pro football sideshow William Perry has
ended a 10-month retirement not only to play for the London
Monarchs but also to do promotional work for the struggling
World League. Like most of the fixed-salary players in the
eight-team league, he'll make $13,500 for the 10-game season,
but he has also signed a one-year promotional contract for more
than $100,000. Perry is expected to make six to 12 appearances a
week to help pump English interest in the all-European league.
"People in England love the fact that he's fat and out of
shape--like he's one of them," World League president Oliver Luck
says. Now there's a fan-grabber.

SAME JIMMY

New Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson hasn't lost much on his
fastball. At breakfast in a room full of NFL coaches during the
league meetings, he said, "There's no doubt in my mind that
we'll win and that we're the team to beat. There are 29 other
coaches in this room, and they all know we'll win." Then he took
a shot at oft-injured Miami tight end Eric Green, saying,
"Players aren't going to miss 39 practices anymore."

Later that day Johnson was with two former proteges, Bears coach
Dave Wannstedt and Redskins coach Norv Turner, when NFL director
of broadcasting and schedule-maker Val Pinchbeck stopped at
their table. Johnson knows Miami will be a national TV
attraction next season because of his comeback and the continued
allure of quarterback Dan Marino. Johnson also remembers how
disruptive prime-time games are to a team's weekly schedule.
"Hey, Val," Johnson said. "No Monday night road games! None!
Zero! O.K.?"

DISPATCHES

Good news for the Chiefs: Mark Collins, 32, the leader of the
Kansas City defensive backfield until he announced his
retirement in January, has decided to continue his 10-year
career.... Fastest-rising players in the draft (aside from
Phillips): Ohio State tight end Rickey Dudley, who ran 4.52 in
the 40 in a recent workout, and Texas A&M linebacker Reggie
Brown and Mississippi State safety Walt Harris, who both had
good combines and private workouts.... The Raiders could re-sign
free-agent quarterback Jeff Hostetler any day, but coach Mike
White says it's essential that Hostetler throw the deep pass
better if he returns to Oakland. "We neglected two of our better
football players last year, Rocket Ismail and James Jett," White
says of his two deep-threat receivers. "We didn't emphasize the
long pass enough and didn't ingrain it enough. If this contract
gets done, Jeff's going to have to work on that aspect of his
game. He has never, in my opinion, spent the necessary time on
it." ... A few weeks ago in an impromptu workout, Bengals coach
Dave Shula threw a series of passes and pitchouts to running
back Ki-Jana Carter, the 1995 No. 1 draft choice who had
reconstructive knee surgery last August and has yet to make his
pro debut. "If we had a game this Sunday," Shula said at the
league meetings, "he'd start." ... Lions wideout Brett Perriman,
who had 108 catches for 1,488 yards last season, wants out
because Detroit won't pay him a premier receiver's salary. With
one year, at $1.2 million, left on his contract, Perriman can be
had for second- and third-round draft picks, but no team is
likely to pay that price with the best crop of receivers in
years coming out in the draft.... On March 7 agent Jimmy Sexton
told his prize free-agent wideout Fred Barnett, "You're going to
the Jets." But the next day New York balked on increasing
Barnett's signing bonus from $1.8 million to $2 million, and
Miami jumped in with a $2.1 million bonus and signed him four
days later. By landing Barnett with a package averaging $1.7
million over five years, the Dolphins made the free-agent steal
of '96. The Jets settled for Jeff Graham, at approximately $2
million per year.... The What's Wrong with This Picture Dept.:
The day before Panthers general manager Bill Polian received the
NFL's Executive of the Year award, he signed quarterback Kelly
Stouffer--who hasn't thrown a pass in the NFL since 1992--and
handed him a $20,000 bonus.... The Raiders and the Rams turned
down feelers from quarterback Doug Flutie, a Canadian Football
League free agent, after Calgary owner Larry Ryckman defaulted
on Flutie's contract. Flutie then signed with the Toronto
Argonauts.... New NBC analyst Sam Wyche, fired as Bucs coach in
December, on coaching angst: "I'd give anything to be back one
more year. A couple of lucky bounces, and I'm a hero instead of
an idiot." A couple of lucky bounces, maybe, plus a lot more out
of Trent Dilfer, who was the NFL's lowest-rated quarterback in
1995.... When will they learn? Jets linebacker Marvin Jones, who
has been healthy for about 15 minutes of his three-year NFL
career, wants to renegotiate his contract, which has two years
remaining.... Eagles coach Ray Rhodes thinks the Cowboys'
biggest free-agent loss this winter, linebacker Dixon Edwards,
was inconsequential. "The gap between them and the rest of the
league hasn't been closed much," Rhodes says.... The 49ers and
the Patriots are chasing free agent fullback Tommy Vardell, late
of the Browns, to be a blocking back.

COLOR PHOTO: VERNON J. BIEVER Jurkovic (64) is incensed that the NFL didn't ban the block Williams (79) used on him last season. [John Jurkovic being blocked by Erik Williams] COLOR PHOTO: DOUG PENSINGER/ALLSPORTHaving seen his reputation wane in San Diego, Means must now show Jacksonville he packs the goods. [Natrone Means]

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