Inside The NFL

September 05, 1999

REMEMBER ME?
Giants quarterback Kent Graham gets ignored, though he's the
starter

In the Giants' impressive preseason wins over the Vikings and
the Jaguars, starting quarterback Kent Graham completed 66% of
his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Two days
after the victory over Jacksonville, as Graham walked toward the
cafeteria at New York's training camp in Albany, none of the
media members who had assembled in the area asked him a thing.
Eight reporters instead surrounded Graham's backup, Kerry
Collins, who was questioned about his already well-documented
abstention from alcohol. That's the way it has gone in the
Giants' camp: Graham has owned the playing field; the newcomer
Collins has owned the interviewers.

Though he won't say it, the lack of attention bothers Graham, an
eight-year journeyman who, in addition to two stints with the
Giants, has played for the Cardinals and the Lions. It also irks
him that the football world seems to be waiting for his first
bad game so Collins, who signed an eye-popping four-year, $16.9
million deal in February can move into the starting job. After
all, Collins is making so much more than Graham, and money talks.

"Four times as much," Graham said last Saturday after completing
13 of 22 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown in the Giants'
16-10 loss to the Jets. "I think the media have blown it up a
bit, but I understand it's a valid story. It's something I've
thought about."

The most stunning aspect of the Giants' acquisition of Collins
was the $5 million signing bonus he received, though he was
coming off a disastrous season with the Panthers and the Saints,
and hadn't performed well in 1997 either. With 11 completions in
24 attempts, Collins has done little to distinguish himself this
preseason, but his presence apparently has done plenty for
Graham, a career 51% passer. "I'll tell you why Kent's a
different player," says cornerback Jason Sehorn. "Kerry Collins.
Kent's a battler, and he knows the team has given all that money
to Kerry and everyone's handed the job to Kerry. It's been all
the motivation he needs."

Spielman Retires
KNOWING WHEN, AND WHY, TO GO

What was going through the mind of Browns linebacker Chris
Spielman as he lay on the field at Cleveland Browns Stadium last
Saturday, with no feeling in his arms and legs? What was he
thinking later that night when he knew retirement was
inevitable? After sitting out last season to care for his wife,
Stefanie, who was battling breast cancer, and their two
children, he must have been contemplating how unjust this turn
of events was. Surely, after 10 seasons with the Lions and the
Bills he thought he had to fight through this injury so he could
play one year for the team he had worshiped as a kid in
Massillon, Ohio.

"He had a couple of emotions," Stefanie recalled on Monday,
after her husband was forced to retire because of a narrowing of
his spinal canal. Doctors told him that stingers like the
45-second deadening of the nerves that he experienced after
colliding with Bears center Casey Wiegmann would only get worse
with every tackle. (Spielman missed the second half of the '97
season after having neck surgery.) "He said that he felt like he
was letting down [their children] Madison, and Noah because
they'd never get to see him play. And he said he felt sorry for
all those people who bought his Browns jersey, the 54 SPIELMAN
jersey."

She sighed deeply, trying to collect herself as she recalled
Chris's words. "That shows what kind of man I married," Stefanie
said. "He feels so much for other people."

On Sunday morning Chris, one of the best middle linebackers of
his generation, met with Browns coach Chris Palmer. Head bowed,
he told Palmer, "I'm sorry I let you down."

"Let me down?" Palmer said, repeating the story with
incredulity. "He had to be kidding. This guy's one of the most
inspirational players the league has seen." So it shouldn't have
surprised Palmer when he walked into the weight room at the
Browns' training facility at 7 a.m. on Monday to find Spielman,
alone, getting in some lifting. That work ethic, as much as his
being from Massillon or having played at Ohio State, was why
Spielman was the reborn Browns' poster boy.

A few years ago, when SI wanted to do a profile on Spielman, I
asked him if I could spend an evening at home with him, watching
game film and understanding how he prepared for his weekly Sunday
war. "My life ain't The NFL Today," he snarled. "Some things are
sacred."

Fans can bemoan the loss of the retired John Elway and Barry
Sanders all they want. I'll miss Spielman even more.

Turf Wars
GRASS GETTING A HARD LOOK

Every year the NFL Players Association polls its members to find
out what their major concerns are, and every time a hot-button
issue is artificial turf. Last year 87% of the players said they
would prefer to play on grass. In 1992, 15 of the league's 28
teams played their home games on artificial turf. Assuming that
grass is installed at Giants Stadium, as is likely, 23 of 32
teams--including an expansion club in either Houston or Los
Angeles--would be playing on grass by 2002.

Teams are exploring various options for using natural turf.
Grass trucked in from Alabama and installed over the artificial
surface at the Superdome held up well in the Packers-Saints game
last Saturday. Giants Stadium, which was sodded for the
preseason, would be the ultimate test; at least 26 football and
soccer games are scheduled there from August through early
January. However, the number of games shouldn't be a problem,
because sections of a field can be replaced. A walk across the
grass after the Jets-Giants game last Saturday found the
midfield area worn but eminently playable.

Quarterback Controversy
BILLS SHOULD STAY WITH FLUTIE

"I need to get two quarterbacks ready," says Bills coach Wade
Phillips, explaining his rationale in having Doug Flutie, who
finished '98 as one of the league's best quarterbacks, and Rob
Johnson split passing duties in camp. Flutie is expected to
start the opener against the Colts, but Phillips added to the
air of uncertainty by announcing that Johnson will get the final
preseason start on Saturday against the Steelers. "Teams have
used two quarterbacks successfully," Phillips says. "Look at
Dallas, with [Roger] Staubach and [Craig] Morton."

Not so fast, Wade. In 1971 the Cowboys played Staubach and
Morton during the first half of the season, going so far as to
alternate the two repeatedly during a Week 7 loss to the Bears
that dropped Dallas to 4-3. Then coach Tom Landry gave Staubach
the job full time, and the Cowboys ran off 10 straight wins,
culminating with a 24-3 rout of the Dolphins in Super Bowl
VI--of which Staubach was the MVP.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER In three preseason games, Graham has five touchdown passes and a gaudy 122.9 rating. COLOR PHOTO: DAVID LIAM KYLE Soon after the numbing collision, Spielman knew his career was over.

Dispatches

Quarterback Trent Green was playing like Dan Fouts reincarnated
in the Rams' revamped Air Coryellesque attack. He had 28
completions in 32 attempts in preseason play and hadn't missed
on any of his 11 throws last Saturday when Chargers strong
safety Rodney Harrison dove into Green's left knee, tearing two
ligaments and sidelining Green for the season. St. Louis players
considered the hit a cheap shot, but in an illustration of why
he has a checkered relationship with his team, coach Dick
Vermeil said afterward the hit didn't look malicious.... Here's
why the Lions will fight to get the prorated portion of Barry
Sanders's signing bonus back: Sanders is due to count $5.5
million against the cap in 2000; by getting $7.3 million from
Sanders, the Lions will receive a $1.8 million credit on their
cap, freeing up money to pursue a star free agent.... After
watching Jaguars running back Fred Taylor twice in preseason,
one AFC scout says, "The only back better--and it's close--is
Terrell Davis."

For up-to-the-minute NFL roster news, go to cnnsi.com/football.

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