As the rest of the Steelers celebrated their 42-34 win over the
Ravens on Sunday with high fives and hugs in the locker room,
linebacker Greg Lloyd stood off to the side. He rolled down his
socks, took off his gloves and replaced his helmet with a
baseball cap. The Steelers may have rallied from a 21-point
deficit to win their third game of the year, but Lloyd was in no
mood to celebrate.
During the 1996 opener in Jacksonville, Lloyd tore the patella
tendon in his left knee, and he is still struggling to regain
the form that earned him Pro Bowl honors from 1991 to '95. He
sat out all of last season. Now, five games into 1997, he has
tallied just 13 solo tackles (25 total) and half a sack.
Statistically, he's headed for the worst season of his 11-year
NFL career, but numbers have never defined Lloyd. Although small
for a linebacker at 6'2", 228 pounds, his ferocious drive and
warrior mentality put him among the elite group of defenders
capable of cutting an opponent's field in half. Now that
intimidating presence seems to have evaporated. "I'm doing
fine," Lloyd, 32, said after Sunday's game. "People expect me to
run around and make plays all the time. But that requires people
to run the ball at me. I'm doing my job fine, I know, because
they still aren't coming my way with the ball, are they?"
October 12, 1997
Indeed, as if by habit, the Ravens rushed almost exclusively to
the other side of the field. The Pittsburgh defense, though it
is on pace to give up more points than any team in franchise
history, held the Ravens to 52 rushing yards and is ranked first
in the league against the run.
Lloyd, a black belt in taekwondo, is still quite a physical
specimen. Mentally, however, he's a long way from getting over
the injury. He still doesn't trust the knee enough to fly to the
ball or to make a hard cut as he rushes the passer. Desperate
for an advantage, Lloyd has already been flagged five times for
being offside. "Let's not forget, a lot of people don't make it
back from this kind of injury, period," Pittsburgh defensive
coordinator Jim Haslett said last week. "If Greg misses one play
in the open field, that doesn't warrant people saying this guy
can't play anymore."
But Lloyd's lapses have been much more frequent than that. In a
30-21 loss to Jacksonville on Sept. 22, he played almost the
entire game, yet finished with only one solo tackle. Lloyd
"disappeared," according to one Jaguars scout. "He did nothing,"
admitted a member of the Steelers' organization. Unable to cover
a large area, Lloyd has also become a liability in Pittsburgh's
dime package, which has left the Steelers ranked last in the
league in stopping opponents on third down (37 of 71 converted).
Against the Ravens, coach Bill Cowher sat Lloyd in favor of
Levon Kirkland in those situations. One NFC director of player
personnel suggests Lloyd's problems may be more than just
physical: "To play as he plays, Lloyd must have a special energy
and commitment. If he doesn't have that anymore, he's just like
a ton of other guys in this league."
Since coming back, Lloyd has distinguished himself as an
ambassador of ill will. During the preseason American Bowl in
Dublin, Lloyd called the Irish people rude. This season he has
flipped off a reporter, told another to "eat s--- and die" and
threatened to placekick another. Last week he shoved a Russian
television journalist who was working for a Pittsburgh station.
To his credit, Lloyd is active in several charities. But the bad
p.r., coupled with his slow recovery, must have the Steelers
wondering if they made a mistake before the 1996 season when
they signed Lloyd, who'd already had two knee operations, to a
three-year, $11.2 million contract and opted not to extend the
contract of linebacker Chad Brown, who joined the Seahawks as a
free agent in the off-season. Since the start of the '96 season,
the 27-year-old Brown has had 124 tackles and 16 sacks.
The Steelers certainly could have used Brown on Sunday. Lloyd
never even sniffed quarterback Vinny Testaverde, and he was
often pushed out of plays by a single blocker. "A few years
ago," said one Baltimore lineman, "we called him Lloyd's of
London because it was smart to get an extra insurance policy if
you were playing him."
What about now? Do blockers still check their premiums before
facing Lloyd? "Nope," said the Ravens lineman. "Not anymore."
In more than a decade almost nothing has changed in the smallish
office of Giants general manager George Young. The walls are
pictureless, the wooden furniture worn, the desk covered with
correspondence, the bookshelves crammed with three-ring binders
of player data. There is no computer. In the next year or so, we
will find out if this is the office of a wise old owl or a
The Giants' rabid fans are watching the 67-year-old Young--and
his director of player personnel, 66-year-old Tom Boisture--to
see if their old-fashioned approach to building a team will
work. In the NFL's five-year history of unfettered free agency,
no team has thumbed its nose at the free market as blatantly as
the Giants have. Only one starter--free safety Tito Wooten--is
not signed through 1998. This is a team that, even after
Sunday's 20-17 win over the Cowboys, is 14-24 since the start of
the '95 season.
"This is not a perfect science," says Young. "On the one hand
sometimes you sign a guy to a big, long-term deal and he coasts.
That's a worry. But on the other hand I feel you need
continuity. Our guys are getting better as they play. You've got
to have patience with them, and the unfortunate thing is that
free agency has sapped us of patience. Fans want instant
success. That means free agents, and I think that means
Band-Aids, not solutions."
But what happens when the guys you sign to long-term deals
aren't the right guys? Look at quarterback Dave Brown, who
agreed to a four-year, $13 million contract in 1996. He's
likable off the field and full of moxie on it, but Brown had the
second-lowest rating among starting quarterbacks last year; he's
23rd this season. "I know what's going on here," Brown said last
week. "I'm probably the first guy to go if [the offense] doesn't
Maybe second. Boisture could well be first out the door if
ownership, as some Giant insiders think, tinkers with the
scouting department. Although the club did well in the April
draft, selecting Florida wideout Ike Hilliard and Virginia
running back Tiki Barber with its first two picks, those
selections can't negate the lemons the team has taken with high
draft picks in the 1990s. Between 1991 and 1996, fullback Jarrod
Bunch, tight end Derek Brown, wideout Thomas Lewis, running back
Tyrone Wheatley and defensive end Cedric Jones came in the first
round. The list doesn't include Dave Brown, who was a
first-round supplemental pick in '92. Through the end of last
season, none of the last 64 players the Giants had taken in the
draft had been to a Pro Bowl.
WHO'S GOT THE VOODOO DOLL?
Since the start of training camp, 11 Dolphins have undergone
surgery and three others have broken bones. This summer the
Dolphins' mascot tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his
right knee and now sports a knee brace. In September offensive
line coach Larry Beightol had arthroscopic knee surgery. Last
week came the news that kicker Olindo Mare had strained a
hamstring while doing stretching exercises on his bedroom floor
before retiring for the night. Miami had to sign Joe Nedney for
insurance, though Mare did kick the game-winning field goal in a
17-14 win over the Chiefs on Sunday. "Great year," coach Jimmy
Johnson said. "My kicker gets hurt getting ready for bed."
STAT OF THE WEEK
On seven attempts running the QB Wedge, the Vikings' name for a
quarterback sneak, Brad Johnson is averaging 7.9 yards per carry
THE PARTY'S OVER
Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard, considered a genius
three years ago when the team took its magic-carpet ride to the
Super Bowl, is feeling the heat. San Diego has overspent on free
agents ($3.2 million a year for Marco Coleman in '96, for
example), traded future first-round picks for questionable
prospects (most recently wideout Bryan Still, a second-round
selection in '96) and dumped worthy players with attitude
problems who have enjoyed success elsewhere (such as running
back Natrone Means). "In this job," Beathard said last week,
"you make some good moves, some bad moves and take some big
risks. What's happened here is no different than [what went on
in] Washington. I don't plan to change my approach."
Lions running back Barry Sanders had carried the ball 2,480
times in the NFL without being tackled for a safety when he
lined up for a play late in Sunday's game against the Bills. On
carry number 2,481 Sanders was dropped in the end zone, breaking
a 13-13 tie. Buffalo won 22-13.... Oilers owner Bud Adams has
informed club employees that he must approve all expenses of
more than $200. Good thing he's so vigilant about such big
issues, even though little matters, such as where to play home
games, don't merit close attention.... Wonder why athletes
sometimes get fed up with the fans? Jaguars quarterback Mark
Brunell worked gallantly to come back in six weeks from his Aug.
9 knee injury, then threw for 306 yards in his debut, a 30-21
win over the Steelers. The next week, he played poorly in a
24-12 loss at Washington, and the Florida Times-Union asked fans
if they thought Brunell came back too soon. The results: 749
said yes, 268 said no.... In Green Bay last month for a game
against the Packers, Vikings running back Robert Smith knew he
had arrived as an NFL player. "For the first time in my career I
looked up and saw somebody had a number-26 doll that was hanging
in the stands," he said. "That was it. Being hung in effigy is
what every player wants. You know you've made it when they
really hate you."... Oilers quarterback Steve McNair, completing
just 52% of his throws, is getting testy. He thinks his
receivers aren't selling out to catch his off-target passes, two
of which were intercepted during Sunday's 16-13 loss to the
Seahawks. "We didn't go for the ball either time," McNair said.
THE END ZONE
Dating back to his days as a quarterback at Northern Michigan in
the mid-1970s, 49ers coach Steve Mariucci has sent his mother a
postcard during every road trip he has made.
Send your NFL questions to Peter King and read more Dr. Z at
CLOSE ONLY COUNTS...
Bill Parcells considers the 1990 Super Bowl champion Giants one
of his best teams because of its ability to win close games.
Counting the playoffs, New York went 5-2 that season when the
margin of victory was seven points or less. "They would never
crack, and that's what made them a championship team," Parcells
said recently. "You've got to get in some of those close games
and win them." Here are the teams with the best and the worst
regular-season records in games decided by three points or less
and by seven or less since 1994.
SEVEN POINTS OR LESS
1 Chiefs 18-7 .720 1 Oilers 6-21 .222
2 Steelers 11-5 .688 2 Jets 7-17 .292
3 Chargers 15-7 .682 3 Ravens 4-8 .333
4 Bills 17-8 .680 4 Redskins 10-19 .345
THREE POINTS OR LESS
1 Chargers 7-2 .778 1 Redskins 2-11 .154
1 Steelers 7-2 .778 2 Ravens 1-5 .167
3 Patriots 9-3 .750 3 Oilers 3-14 .176
4 Eagles 8-3 .727 4 Packers 2-7 .222
1. KORDELL STEWART Bad Kordell: The Steelers quarterback threw
three interceptions in the first half against the Ravens, and
Baltimore cashed in for three touchdowns and a 21-0 lead. Good
Kordell: He got one of those scores back with a second-quarter
touchdown run. All-World Kordell: He threw three touchdown
passes and scored on a 74-yard run in the second half. Final:
Pittsburgh, 42-34. "There are going to be some other
three-interception games coming up, too," Steelers coach Bill
Cowher said afterward. "But he'll never lose confidence."
2. ONE INCREDIBLE SUNDAY Be still, DirecTV hearts. In 10 of the
12 games the trailing team had the ball with an opportunity to
tie or win in the final three minutes. Here's how scintillating
the games were: Even the Saints were exciting.
3. COMMITMENT TO MEDIOCRITY Can we please put the Raiders to
bed? They're 86-84 over the past decade and only 2-4 this
season. They can't fill Oakland Coliseum. They lose to the
Chargers by 15 at home. "Teams don't fear us anymore," said
tight end Harvey Williams. No kidding.
4. NFL JUSTICE An antitrust trial begins this week in St. Louis,
with the city challenging the legality of the $29 million
relocation fee it agreed to pay when the Rams moved east from
Anaheim in 1995. Damages could run to $375 million, which means
the 24 teams that opposed the Rams' move could be socked for $15
5. BAD CARDS They led Cincinnati by 21 in the fourth quarter and
lost. They fumbled in overtime at Washington and lost. They held
the Buccaneers to six first downs, had the lead in the fourth
quarter and lost. They were nine points up on the Vikings with
five minutes left, missed a 31-yard field goal in the last
minute and eventually lost by one. "This is a good team,"
Cardinals quarterback Kent Graham said on Sunday. He must be
having flashbacks to his days at Ohio State. --P.K.