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Dolphins' Smith was hurt by boos, lack of support

Where was Sam Wyche when Sammie Smith really needed him?

The embattled Cincinnati Bengals coach could have given a speech in Miami last week about how the fans shouldn't take these games too seriously in Miami.

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When Smith fumbled on the 1-yard line for the second straight week, costing Miami a chance to take a 20-17 lead over the Houston Oilers with three minutes left, he was greeted with a chorus of boos.

As he left the field at the end of the 17-13 loss to the Oilers, the obscene chants from the fans left Smith distraught.

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Coach Don Shula said that Smith "had trouble talking" after the game. Smith wanted to tell Shula he wanted to skip practice Monday, but never got it out.

That's why Shula fined him $1,500 for missing the session, although he considered not fining him because of what he called the "cruelty and sarcasm and viciousness" of the fans.

Shula said, "The fans have a right to boo and criticize, but I didn't like the meanness and ugliness that crept in at the end."

Smith spent three days at his home in Zellwood, Fla., before returning to practice on schedule Thursday. He talked with his pastor, Mayetta Sexton, who counseled him 22 months ago when his only son died of crib death.

"It doesn't get any worse than that. But then I had support from people; people supported me because they knew I was down. But Sunday, I was just crushed by what happened in the game, and there was no support. If I was in the same situation, sitting in the stands, I never would have done that," he said.

Smith said he now thinks he can cope with the situation.

"I forgive the fans for how they acted out there. It may happen again, but this time I'll be prepared to accept it. That's just life," he said.

He now has a week to get ready for the next game in Indianapolis next Sunday.

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Another player who felt the wrath of the fans last week was offensive tackle Tony Mandarich of the Green Bay Packers. The fans threw coins at him during a 10-0 loss to the Chicago Bears. Mandarich responded by throwing a cup of water at a group of fans, which resulted in a meeting with coach Lindy Infante.

Mandarich then broke his silence with print reporters this season by saying: "I apologize for throwing the water. But I think that just because somebody buys an $18 or a $28 dollar ticket or whatever, they don't have a right to throw coins or anything at any player, whether it be Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Los Angeles or whatever. It's just not fair."

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Speaking of fans, it's now up to the fans of Baltimore to stand up for the city's expansion bid.

When Herbert J. Belgrad, the chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, arranged for the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints to play an exhibition game next August at Memorial Stadium, he was careful not to make any attendance predictions.

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It also could be argued that exhibition games don't prove anything one way or the other about a city's ability to support a team.

But the reality of the situation is that that these games are litmus tests, and if Baltimore fans are serious, they'll have to buy tickets for this game and buy them quickly once they go on sale if they want to make a positive impression.

It's also a fact that exhibition games were controversial in Baltimore even in the heyday of the Colts because of the debate about whether they should be included on the season-ticket package.

If Baltimore fans have changed, this will be their chance to prove it.

Meanwhile, the next step for Belgrad will be to make a presentation to the league in December although he hasn't yet ** been informed by the league about what it is looking for at this presentation.

Belgrad was at the owners' meeting in Dallas last week only because the Saints' Jim Finks and the Dolphins' Tim Robbie wanted to discuss the exhibition game and kept a very low profile because the expansion cities weren't invited. He informed the league why he was there and didn't attempt to meet with any other owners.

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Despite all the speculation about who's ahead in the expansion derby, nobody really knows.

For example, take Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys' owner who at various times has publicly said he supports St. Louis, Baltimore and Memphis, Tenn.

When a Charlotte, N.C., reporter asked him Wednesday about Charlotte, he said: "There's no market more attractive than Charlotte. I would support Charlotte."

On Thursday, he said he hadn't made up his mind. "I really do have an open mind," he said.

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It was two years ago yesterday that Paul Tagliabue was elected commissioner, but he still seems to be having problems from making the transition from lawyer to commissioner.

For example, Tagliabue recently said it was likely the World League of American Football would suspend play for 1992 and resume the next year.

Tagliabue didn't take into account that Dan Rooney, the Pittsburgh Steelers' president who heads the league's board of directors, would do such a good job of lobbying that he collected the minimum 21 votes to get the green light to play for next year and two years after that.

Tagliabue also announced earlier this season that players convicted of drunken driving could be suspended for up to four games. But the first player affected, kicker Kevin Butler of the Bears, was only fined $10,000. Four game checks would have cost him $100,000. Tagliabue then warned a second offense could result in a suspension. So, in effect, the policy now is that a suspension comes after a second offense.

Then there's the Terry Long case. He's the Steelers offensive lineman who tried to commit suicide in training camp after flunking a steroids test. He received a hearing in September, but Tagliabue never announced a ruling.

When he was in Pittsburgh last week and was asked about Long, Tagliabue said, "That's being processed, and we'll have the decision when the process is completed."

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The anti-celebration penalty is now so confusing that the league doesn't seem to know what the rule is.

Finks, the head of the competition committee, said a week ago that the Steelers shouldn't have been penalized for Eric Green's fourth-quarter end zone celebration against the New York Giants because it wasn't "prolonged" or "excessive."

As the head of the competition committee, Finks should know the rules.

But Tagliabue has a different version. "What was called Monday night was exactly what was presented to the clubs at the May meeting. And they said that should be called because of the concern that what looks like a celebration can quickly escalate into a fist fight in the end zone if the defensive players perceive it as taunting," he said.

When Finks was asked to comment, he said he feels demonstrations are fine as long as they're not "contrived or orchestrated."

But he added, "In the final analysis, it's his decision, not mine."

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What it seems to mean is that Tagliabue is going to support whatever the officials call. He said he fined a coach -- apparently Marv Levy of the Buffalo Bills for $5,000 -- and said: "We are not going to have an open season on officials. Abuse of officials will not be tolerated."

It might help them if the league could agree on what the rules are.

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Dan Henning, coach of the San Diego Chargers, in a speech at a luncheon: "You have to understand what you read in the newspaper is not always gospel. Certainly, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John do not work for the papers in the San Diego area."

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Stat of the Week: Bernie Kosar, who threw 15 interceptions last year, has thrown 211 passes this year without an interception, and his two-year string of 233 has tied Steve DeBerg for the second-longest all-time streak. Bart Starr holds the record of 294.


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