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Despite various tries, NFL can't seem to sack QB injury epidemic

THE BALTIMORE SUN

John Friesz of the San Diego Chargers had the dubious honor of being the first quarterback to fo down for the season this year.

The odds are he won't be the last.

It just happened that Friesz sustained a season-ending knee injury last Saturday night in the exhibition opener against the Phoenix Cardinals, a team that lost its quarterback, Timm Rosenbach, for the season last year. Rosenbach was making his return in that game.

Of course, Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers also was sidelined all last year, and Randall Cunningham of the Philadelphia Eagles was injured in the first half of the first regular-season game.

That doesn't count the quarterbacks -- Troy Aikman, Rodney Peete, Jeff Hostetler, Bubby Brister, Steve Young are some major examples -- who were knocked out at various times during the season.

Quarterbacks remain an endangered species in the NFL, especially because there's so much emphasis on getting to the quarterback in today's pass-oriented game.

The NFL has tried various rule changes, including the one-step rule and the in-the-grasp rule that eventually was scrapped, but hasn't reduced quarterback injuries.

The Cardinals' Ken Harvey was penalized for a late hit on Friesz, but it wasn't a flagrant one. And when Rosenbach went down a year ago, he wasn't touched.

This doesn't mean quarterbacks necessarily get more injuries than players at other positions. Their injuries just receive more attention because they're high-profile players.

While owners and players contin ue to battle over money, neither side seems to put much focus on injuries and ways to prevent them. And some former players pay the price as long as they live.

Another question is whether playing football a long time tends to shorten a person's life. The NFL Players Association has made this contention at times, but hasn't backed it up with conclusive studies.

If the players and owners ever find a way to work together, injuries should become a top priority.

A second chance

Did coach Joe Gibbs give up too soon on Stan Humphries?

That has been a debate within the Washington Redskins organization since 1990, when Humphries entered Gibbs' doghouse by not being in top shape when he had to replace the injured Mark Rypien and started five games.

When Earnest Byner didn't catch a Humphries pass in the end zone against the New York Giants in the fourth quarter that could have given the Redskins the lead, Gibbs blamed Humphries. He never gave Humphries another chance.

As Humphries said when he was traded to the San Diego Chargers last week, "I was told last year I would have an opportunity to fight for the No. 1 job because neither of us was really set as the top guy. I went to camp, Mark held out. I came in in the best shape I've been in since I was a junior in high school, having the best camp I ever had. Then Mark signed, and it was his job, just handed to him. There wasn't any fight. It was just handed to him."

Rypien went on to become the Super Bowl MVP. Humphries never took a snap.

Gibbs conceded he had "some disagreements" with Humphries, but added, "He's got talent. I think he can play. This will be a good start for him some place else."

Playing hard to get?

Of all the behind-the-scenes information that has come out during the antitrust trial in Minneapolis, an intriguing tidbit was that Giants general manager George Young signed a five-year, $5 million deal in 1991 that runs through 1995. Some of the money is deferred until after 1995 as long as he's not working for another team at that time.

Young wasn't asked to explain the reason for that contract provision about not working for another team in court, and he isn't about to do it out of court.

"There's a reason for why it was done. There's no unseen motive," Young said. "They were trying to make up for something else. That's what was offered. They gave me the contract, both of the owners [Wellington Mara and Robert Tisch]. I didn't really negotiate."

All this seems to indicate that the Giants have Young locked up and that he won't be coming to Baltimore to run a possible expansion team.

A former Baltimore schoolteacher and high school coach, Young said his "track record" is that he honors his contracts.

But he skillfully talks around the subject of coming to Baltimore. "I've never been a part of that speculation," he said. "I don't have any comment on that. I work for the Giants. My hat isn't in the ring for anything but my job. I have no complaints in the world."

Living in the past

Al Davis, managing general partner of the Los Angeles Raiders, finally made it to the Hall of Fame this year. That may be appropriate because he seems to be living in the past. His teams have won only one playoff game since 1983.

The latest to suggest the game has passed Davis by is Bill Walsh, the former San Francisco 49ers coach who is now coach at Stanford.

At the Pac-10 media day, Walsh managed to needle Davis for his offense that depends on the long pass. Walsh likes the short passing game.

"They use such a dated style offensively. It is a Ty Cobb-type of style," Walsh said. "They want to go downfield all the time, and that sounds fashionable until they keep missing all the time on third-and-10."

Walsh was mixing his metaphors, because Cobb was a singles hitter and Walsh is complaining about the Raiders throwing the bomb. But it obviously wasn't complimentary.

Undefeated?

Steve Emtman, the first pick in the draft by the Indianapolis Colts, has a lot to learn about playing for the Colts.

"I just came from a 12-0 team that won the Rose Bowl and the national championship," he said. "I see a lot of similarity here. We may not go undefeated, but I feel we're going to be successful."

Losing his touch?

Quarterback Tony Sacca of the Phoenix Cardinals, a rookie from Penn State, insists he doesn't like the NFL's footballs. He said they slip in his hands.

Said coach Joe Bugel: "He came to the sidelines and said, 'I can't throw the NFL ball.' So I said, 'Well, if you can't throw the NFL ball, you might as well quit playing because that's the ball we use.' "

Sacca later threw a 64-yard touchdown pass, but said, "I can't believe these guys play with these balls."

The holdout game

Philadelphia Eagles holdout Calvin Williams, a Dunbar High graduate, is working out at the Randallstown High track as he awaits a better offer from the team.

He told a Philadelphia reporter that most people don't know who he is when they see him running.

"They do tend to notice that I'm going kind of fast. Then they come up to me and ask who I am," he said. "There are a lot of people who follow the Eagles down here, so when I tell them, they know who Calvin Williams is."

Williams is one of the 56 starting wide receivers in the league, but his agent, Ed Sewell, said he has been offered a contract that would make him only the 100th-highest-paid receiver in the league.

Last year, Williams got $107,000 plus $15,000 in bonus money. He wants $500,000. Williams' problem is that he was drafted on the fifth round in 1990, and in the illogical world of the NFL, young players are paid on where they were drafted, not on how well they play.

Where's the contract?

When Chuck Noll, the former coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, testified at the antitrust trial in Minneapolis last week, he said he knew he was making $100,000 as a consultant this year, but didn't know how long the contract was or how much it was for.

"I don't particularly focus on funds," he said. "You might feel that's hard to believe, but that's a fact."

The contract showed he'll get $1 million over 10 years, but Noll never put much interest in making money. When he was !B coaching, he declined to do endorsements or a TV show.

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