THE PARTY'S OVER
"How's this for irony?" Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson said one
day last week, pointing to the calendar on his desk. On the day
that second-year running back Lawrence Phillips, a man for whom
crises are commonplace, reported for his first practice as a
Dolphin, the inspirational message for the day read: WHEN
ADVERSITY STRIKES, IT MAY BE WHAT IS NEEDED TO BE SUCCESSFUL.
Johnson hopes Phillips, waived by the Rams on Nov. 20 for
repeated violations of team rules, wakes up on one of these
Sundays and realizes his opportunities are fast running out.
Otherwise, Phillips will soon be looking for a job again.
In St. Louis as many as six people devoted some of their time to
dealing with Phillips. Johnson says he should expect no special
treatment in Miami, and the coach makes it clear that he thinks
coddling Phillips led to his downfall in St. Louis. "Sometimes
people feel a need to rehabilitate others, to right all the
wrongs in the world," he says. "I'm not that way. I can't rehab
in three weeks what has been 22 years in the making with
Lawrence Phillips. Lawrence has been taken care of through all
his problems, probably by people he didn't trust. At Nebraska
the adversity was handled for him. At St. Louis the adversity
was handled for him. Where did [all the attention] get him?
Fired. Here, he'll have to be responsible for himself."
The hard-line stance is not unusual for Johnson, who has never
exactly been big brother to his players. "I've got a Corvette, a
two-seater. There's a reason for that," he says. "I don't want a
lot of passengers." The only message he gave Phillips about his
rules was basically this: Do what's right and we'll get along
fine. "I can't be writing what the rules are because my rules
vary from player to player," Johnson says. "It's like I told
Lawrence: In Dallas we had a linebacker named John Roper, who
got cut for falling asleep in a meeting. If Troy Aikman fell
asleep in a meeting, I'd go over and whisper, 'Wake up, Troy.'"
Phillips, who signed with Miami through 1998 but received no
guaranteed money, will be used sparingly the rest of this
season--he suited up but didn't play in Sunday's 33-30 win over
the Lions--as a backup to Karim Abdul-Jabbar. If Phillips screws
up and Johnson decides he has seen enough, the coach will shrug
and cut him.
Rams coach Dick Vermeil tried hard to reform Phillips, picking
him up in Nebraska after he had served a 23-day jail term in the
off-season and recommending him to other coaches after cutting
him. But even this extremely loyal man sees a dark side.
"Lawrence may not have a drinking problem," Vermeil said last
week, "but he has had problems when he drinks."
Though he isn't close to Phillips, Rams running back Craig
(Ironhead) Heyward, who in 1994 admitted to being an alcoholic,
saw enough to conclude that Phillips's problems are far from
over. "I know you've got to hit rock bottom before you can turn
yourself around," says Heyward. "Jail didn't help him. It
allowed him to rehab his knee, and it gave him three hots and a
cot. What kind of punishment is that? Then the coach picks him
up at the end of his sentence. Basically somebody here always
held his hand."
The moral of the story? "You can't have a moral yet because the
story's not finished," says Johnson. "It can be a Cinderella
story, or it can be the harsh reality of life. It's up to
The Bengals have taken a lot of knocks for poor drafting, but
they deserve kudos for taking Washington running back Corey
Dillon with the 43rd pick in last April's draft. After a string
of arrests as a youth, Dillon, a veteran of two junior colleges
before enrolling at Washington, looked as if he would be a
handful for any NFL team. But Al Roberts, his running backs
coach at Washington, took a job last winter as Cincinnati's
special teams coach, and on draft day he gave the staff a
glowing report on Dillon's character. Although he played only
eight games for the Huskies, Dillon also had shown enough to
impress Bengals running backs coach Jim Anderson.
After 14 games Dillon has zoomed past Ki-Jana Carter, the first
pick in the 1995 draft, to become Cincinnati's franchise back.
In the Bengals' 41-14 win over the Oilers last Thursday, he ran
for an NFL-rookie-record 246 yards, breaking the mark of 237 set
by Jim Brown in 1957. Dillon has surpassed the 100-yard mark in
three of his last six games, and he leads all rookies, with 942
yards, averaging 5.1 a carry. "I'm a very humble person," Dillon
says. "I can't get really excited about these things."
NO REPLAY FOR REPLAY
Although two or three questionable calls a week highlight the
need to bring back instant replay, don't count on its happening.
Reinstating replays after a six-year hiatus would require
approval from 23 of the 30 teams, and there have not been enough
changes of heart among the nine clubs that didn't vote for the
measure last March. "There is no such thing as absolute justice
in the NFL, any more than in real life," says Bengals president
Mike Brown, a member of the NFL's Competition Committee, the
body that recommends rule changes. "To me this has been debated
about as thoroughly as an issue can be, and I've seen nothing
that has changed, including the state of the art on instant
replay. We should let it rest."
Chiefs tight end Derrick Walker calls backup quarterback Rich
Gannon (4-1 as a starter this season) "a relief pitcher, not a
second-stringer." When Elvis Grbac returns this week or next
from a broken collarbone, coach Marty Schottenheimer will wisely
reinsert him. Grbac is simply the better player.... In Chicago,
fans are rooting for the Bears to lose meaningless games so they
have a shot at one of the marquee quarterbacks who will probably
be available in the draft--Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. The
Bears have responded by winning two of three. "I'm trying to
play us out of that sweepstakes," quarterback Erik Kramer said
on Sunday after Chicago's 20-3 win over the Bills.... Asked last
week if he would play for the Colts, Manning replied, "I guess I
will."... The Jaguars have built one of the best offensive lines
in football, and the Patriots have had trouble disrupting
passing games. On Sunday, though, New England, blitzing more
than it had all season, had a four-sack, nine-pressure day
against Mark Brunell, and that has the Jaguars concerned. "I
think we gave other teams something to think about," said
Jacksonville guard Ben Coleman. "You know teams are going to
blitz us now."... Coaching rumor of the week: Al Davis wants
George Seifert to replace Joe Bugel in Oakland. (Check that
bloated payroll before you sign anything, George.)... After 37
years of coaching, which ended midway through last season when
he resigned from the Saints, NBC analyst Jim Mora says, "I
haven't missed it one day. The best thing about the TV job is
never having that feeling I had as a coach when you lose, like
your guts are getting torn out."
THE END ZONE
For seven years Broncos backup quarterback Bubby Brister played
with the Steelers in Three Rivers Stadium. Last week, as Denver
prepared for a game in Pittsburgh, he was asked what December
weather can be like in a facility located near the confluence of
the Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers, which forms the Ohio.
"It's cold there," Brister said. "You've got that wind coming
off the lake."
1. KORDELLICIOUS Just keep telling Kordell Stewart he doesn't
have what it takes to be a great quarterback. He sure looked
like one (303 passing yards, three touchdown passes, two scoring
runs) in the Steelers' 35-24 win over the Broncos. "My best game
so far," Stewart said. There's more where that came from.
2. DAY OF THE DOLPHIN For the first time, the state of Florida
hosted, in a single day, three NFL games with division leads on
the line. In Tampa the Packers ruined the Bucs' NFC Central
title hopes 17-6. Simultaneously, 202 miles to the northeast,
Jacksonville lost its share of the AFC Central lead by falling
26-20 to New England. Left to salvage the state's rep, Miami
kicked a last-second field goal to beat Detroit 33-30 and stay
tied atop the AFC East with the Patriots.
3. THE RUN FOR 2,000 Only two players, O.J. Simpson and Eric
Dickerson, have run for 2,000 yards in a season. With two games
left, the NFL's three best backs have a shot. Barry Sanders
needs 269 yards, Terrell Davis 278 and Jerome Bettis 415 to hit
4. HERE COMES HOSS The Giants can break the Cowboys' five-year
hold on the NFC East title by beating the Redskins on Saturday.
But the Meadowlands could become Heartbreak Hotel if the last
man to quarterback the Giants to a Super Bowl win, Jeff
Hostetler, has his way. The Washington signal-caller warmed up
for the showdown with a three-touchdown day at Arizona.
5. JET CRASH For the eighth time in nine years, the Colts beat
the Jets at the Meadowlands. The losers looked like the Kotite
Jets. "I know a bunch of their guys," Indianapolis defensive end
Dan Footman said afterward, "and now maybe they'll be home for
the holidays with me." Count on it. --P.K.
A NO-NAME, BIG-TIME FRONT FOUR
Travis Hall is from Alaska. Dan Owens was signed as a free
agent. Lester Archambeau came in a 1993 trade with the Packers
for some wideout named James Milling. Chuck Smith is one of the
best defensive ends you've never heard of. Meet the Falcons'
front four, who this season have more sacks than 14 teams. The
Falcons lead the league with 53, and the pass rush is a major
reason why Atlanta (6-8) has won five of its last six games.
Here's a tale of the tape for the Falcons' anonymous defensive
YEAR ROUND SACKS 1997
PLAYER DRAFTED DRAFTED HEIGHT WEIGHT BEFORE 1997 SACKS
Smith, DE 1992 2 6'2" 262 28 11 1/2
Owens, DT 1990 2 6'3" 280 22 6
Hall, DT 1995 6 6'5" 288 6 10 1/2
Archambeau, DE 1990 7 6'5" 275 12 1/2 8
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