Name one of today's great NFL backs--Terrell Davis, Barry
Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Ricky Watters--and look at his rushing
total over his last 359 carries. None has exceeded 1,700 yards.
In fact, none has approached the yards gained in that number of
carries by the league's most unheralded featured back, the
Raiders' Napoleon Kaufman.
In 2 1/2 seasons as a pro, Kaufman, a part-time player until two
weeks ago, has carried 359 times for 1,908 yards. He was always
told that, at 5'9" and 185 pounds, he was too small to be an
every-down back. But after carrying 53 times in his last two
games (27 for 126 yards on Sept. 21 against the Jets, 26 for a
career-high 162 yards in Sunday's 35-17 rout of the Rams),
Kaufman has dispelled the notion that he can't take the
punishment. "I say as long as he wants, let's give him the
rock," Raiders tackle Lincoln Kennedy said after Sunday's game.
"Undersized?" said Rams cornerback Todd Lyght. "That's
ridiculous. He's so explosive at the line, and he can outrun
secondaries. I think it's an advantage to be a small back, as
long as you're not getting pounded all the time, because you can
get in and out of tight spots and outrun people. He can
definitely do that."
Kaufman, out of Washington, was the 18th pick in the 1995 draft.
Ki-Jana Carter (first to the Bengals) and Tyrone Wheatley (17th
to the Giants) were the only running backs selected ahead of
him. While Carter and Wheatley have been injury-prone and
largely unproductive, Kaufman has averaged 5.3 yards a rush. For
too long he was an unselfish player who never protested when he
was replaced. But after a tough run against the Jets, he
uncharacteristically waved backup Joe Aska off the field. Some
in the Raiders' organization view that as a turning point. He
hasn't come out of the lineup since. "People will have their
questions about my durability," he says. "I've dealt with it
through high school, college and now in the pros. I just want
the ball. I just fight when I get it."
Kaufman maintains, nevertheless, that Sanders, Smith and Davis
"are on a different level. I study those guys. I study all
backs. I saw [former Raiders back] Clem Daniels today, and I
told him, 'I know your stats: 5,100 yards, 30 touchdowns.' But
as far as the guys today, they've done it, game in and game out."
Clearly, Kaufman hasn't. Not yet anyway. He won't say whether he
thinks he should get 20-plus carries every game. "I don't
judge," he says. "I just run."
PACE'S FIRST START A MEMORABLE ONE
Rams left tackle Orlando Pace, the first pick in the '97 draft,
was terrific in his NFL debut as a starter. Working mostly
against Raiders defensive end Lance Johnstone in the 91[degree]
heat, Pace was in for all of St. Louis's 77 snaps, allowing no
sacks and two quarterback pressures. "Big dude, man," said the
250-pound Johnstone, who, despite being 84 pounds lighter than
his opponent, couldn't beat Pace around the corner. "I couldn't
bullrush him, but he's got such quick feet I couldn't get around
"I feel good about my day," said Pace, who, because of a
training camp holdout, played only 82 snaps in the Rams' first
four games. "Our goal today was to give our quarterback [Tony
Banks] time to throw, and I think we did that." After being
sacked 15 times in his first four games, Banks wasn't dropped in
49 pass attempts against Oakland. The combination of Pace on the
left side and 26-year-old Wayne Gandy at right tackle should
serve St. Louis well for years to come.
Nineteen months in Baltimore haven't mellowed Art Modell. Nor
have they given him any reason to think he's at fault for moving
one of the most beloved teams in sports. As he sat on a golf
cart and watched his Ravens practice last week, the
controversial owner defiantly defended his decision to move out
"I'm the only owner in the history of professional sports who
moved but left the team intact--the nickname, the colors, the
franchise," said Modell, who generally avoids discussing the
matter. "I moved my players and two jockstraps. That's it."
He remains convinced that he never could have gotten the stadium
deal that the new Browns, who are expected to begin play in
1999, received. "When I said I wanted stadium improvements," he
said, "the columnists blistered me. I was called a shakedown
artist. The politicians would have never given me a great
stadium deal. I'd never have gotten anything unless I went
through hell to get it."
True, had Modell persuaded Cleveland politicians that he was
serious about negotiating with Maryland interests and as a
result won the concessions that would have kept him in
Cleveland, he would have gotten the rap of a shakedown artist.
He also would have had a new or refurbished stadium in the city
he still so clearly loves.
TV TALKS, CONTINUED....
The league's television contracts expire after this season, and
the Monday-night game could command the most interest among the
networks. ABC, which has held the rights to Monday Night
Football for 28 years, wants to keep the starting time at 9 p.m.
Eastern, in part because the hour preceding the game is such a
moneymaker ($1.5 million per week). But because ratings in the
Eastern and Central time zones often plummet in the last hour of
the game, the league would like to move the kickoff up 60 minutes.
ABC, which has exclusive negotiating rights until Nov. 1,
remains the odds-on favorite to keep the package, but if it is
inflexible about the starting time, the league could turn to CBS
or long-shot Fox. Sources close to the talks say that neither
would have a problem upping the ante from the $230 million per
year that ABC is paying to about $360 million annually.
CARTER SETS SIGHTS ON 1,000
Vikings wideout Cris Carter caught the 700th pass of his NFL
career during Sunday night's 28-19 win over the Eagles, and
though he turns 32 in November, he believes 1,000 catches and
100 touchdowns (he has 81) are reachable before he retires. The
scoring mark shouldn't be that tough, but rare is the receiver
who can catch 70 or more passes a year into his mid-30s. "In
this system, where I know I'm going to get a lot of chances, I
believe 1,000 is realistic," Carter says.
He shakes his head at how high Jerry Rice, soon to be 35, has
set the bar (1,054 catches). "Times have changed, and receivers
are catching so many more balls," Carter says. "How amazing is
it that Jerry's got 400 more catches than almost any receiver
still playing? He's got to be the greatest player ever."
PACKING A PUNCH
Redskins defensive tackle Marc Boutte earned a game ball for his
fourth-quarter interception of the Jaguars' Mark Brunell on
Sunday, but in the locker room the 320-pound sixth-year player
isn't even the most heralded member of his family. That
distinction belongs to his wife, Tananjalyn, known
affectionately as "Ms. Ali" since Sept. 14, when she decked a
woman believed to be a stripper during the inaugural game at
Jack Kent Cooke Stadium. Try this for family entertainment: The
stripper stood up in a section filled with players' wives and
said, "I don't know what y'all are doing here," explaining that
after the game their husbands would be viewing a certain part of
her anatomy. That set off Tananjalyn, who was whisked away by
security and missed the end of Washington's 19-13 overtime
victory over the Cardinals. "My baby doesn't back down to
anyone," Marc Boutte says. --MICHAEL SILVER
The Packers allowed 3.5 yards per rush last season. But in the
past two weeks, the Vikings' Robert Smith ran for 132 yards and
the Lions' Barry Sanders for 139, leaving Packers' opponents
with a 4.4 yard average through five games this year.... Arizona
held unbeaten Tampa Bay to six first downs and 147 yards, and
only Kevin Butler's missed 47-yard field goal prevented the
Cardinals from winning. "I watched more film this week than I
ever watched in my life and could not get a feel for them," said
Buccaneers quarterback Trent Dilfer.... The Eagles-Vikings game
was the first prime-time matchup in NFL history to feature two
African-American head coaches. "That doesn't mean s--- to me,"
said Philadelphia coach Ray Rhodes, who is good friends
nonetheless with Minnesota's Dennis Green. "We're out here
trying to win a f------ game, and I wouldn't give a s--- what
was over there. You think I give a s--- who's on the sideline?
That could be my mom over there, I'd want to whip her ass."...
Former Bears defensive tackle Steve McMichael and his old
defensive coordinator in Chicago, Buddy Ryan, don't stay in
touch the way they used to. "He fell out of love with me when I
wouldn't go in on some horses with him," McMichael says. "He
said it would be a great tax deduction. When somebody says that,
it means you're going to lose money."
THE END ZONE
Replacement games--those three weeks of faux football while the
players were on strike--began 10 years ago this week. Oilers
general manager Floyd Reese was the club's linebackers coach at
the time. "We'd heard a lot of talk about the unions choosing
our first game in Denver as one to picket," Reese recalls. "On
the team bus, I usually sat in the first seat on the left behind
the driver, but when I got on that day, there was a guy in my
seat. He had a newspaper under his arm. He looked suspicious. I
asked him who he was. He opened his paper, showed me a small
machine gun and said, 'I'm with the FBI.' I said, 'Oh, please,
sit anywhere you want.'"
KICKING IN THE CLUTCH
"Field goal kicking," says Rams special teams coach Frank Ganz,
"is like driving a nitroglycerin truck. You have to be
absolutely precise to do the job right." In the first five weeks
of the NFL season, 10 games have been decided in the final
seconds or sent into overtime by made or missed field goals.
Four games have been won with overtime field goals.
Who comes through when the game is on the line? To find out, we
ranked active players in clutch-kicking efficiency. Our
definition of a clutch kick: one that ties the score or puts a
team ahead in the last two minutes or wins a game in overtime. A
kicker needed at least 10 clutch field goal attempts in his
career to make the list. Here are the top 10:
Player Clutch Inside 40 40-plus
kicks Pct. yards yards
1. STEVE CHRISTIE, Bills 10-11 .909 9-9 1-2
2. GARY ANDERSON, 49ers 13-15 .867 8-8 5-7
3. CHRIS JACKE, Steelers 10-13 .769 7-7 3-6
4. DOUG PELFREY, Bengals 9-12 .750 4-4 5-8
5. PETE STOYANOVICH, Chiefs 14-19 .736 11-11 3-8
6. JEFF JAEGER, Bears 7-10 .700 4-4 3-6
7. JOHN CARNEY, Chargers 9-13 .692 7-7 2-6
8. MORTEN ANDERSEN, Falcons 16-24 .667 8-9 8-15
(tie) NORM JOHNSON, Steelers 12-18 .667 6-7 6-11
10. EDDIE MURRAY, Vikings 11-18 .611 5-8 6-10
1. MELEE AT MILE HIGH Denver and New England will put their
perfect records on the line Monday night. The Broncos have
busted the Patriots in their last two meetings--both at
Foxboro--by a combined 71-11. Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe
handed New England all the motivation it needs near the end of
last year's game, when he picked up a sideline phone and yelled
into it, "Mr. President, we need the National Guard! We need as
many men as you can spare because we are killing the Patriots!"
Says New England tackle Bruce Armstrong, "[Sharpe] seemed to be
enjoying it, but ask him where he was last Jan. 26."
2. LET'S MAKE A DEAL? The trading deadline is Oct. 7, but that
doesn't mean much in the NFL. The only body of significance who
could change time zones is Raiders defensive tackle Chester
McGlockton. Don't hold your breath.
3. FIGHTING EAGLES Admit it. You wanted Ty Detmer to belt Ricky
Watters for appearing to short-arm that pass against the
Vikings. The two Eagles had to be separated. Detmer took the
blame for the incident, but the exchange never would have
happened had Watters made a better effort to catch the ball.
4. THANKS, BUT.... Minnesota pols are considering a plan to
build the Twins their own ballpark. If there's no money left to
fund a football stadium, the Vikings could land next to Lake
Erie. Bad news for Cleveland, which would prefer an expansion
team and the built-in edge that Carolina and Jacksonville had
when they entered the league in '95.
5. BLITZED The Bengals are four games into their zone-blitz
experiment, and let's just say the club can stop production on
the Dan Wilkinson for MVP video. The Jets held the ball for
almost 43 minutes in a 31-14 rout. Cincinnati's most ignominious
numbers this season are three and 4.5--as in three sacks and 4.5
yards allowed per rush. --P.K.