Scott Zolak may be picking the wrong time for a former Maryland quarterback to be going to Atlanta.
Just three days after Maryland's Scott Milanovich lost his 1995 debut to Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Zolak will make his first start this season for the New England Patriots today against the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome.
In his fifth season, Zolak, who threw only eight passes last year, is getting his fifth NFL start because Drew Bledsoe has a separated shoulder.
One of his first four starts was a 1992 game in Atlanta. He completed only nine of 15 passes, was sacked five times and had two picked off by Deion Sanders in a 34-0 loss.
His memory of that game?
"Throwing it in Deion's direction and having it come back in my face. At least I don't have that guy to put up with this time around," he said.
Zolak, whose main claim to fame is that his father, Paul, coached Joe Montana at Ringgold High near Pittsburgh, wants to continue the Maryland tradition of good quarterbacks.
"I wouldn't say it's the cradle of quarterbacks, not like where I grew up [western Pennsylvania, which has produced, among others, Montana, John Unitas and Dan Marino], but we've had our share," said Zolak, with Boomer Esiason and Neil O'Donnell probably topping the list.
Zolak knows he's only filling in for Bledsoe. In fact, coach Bill Parcells wanted Bledsoe to play despite the injury. He even put Bledsoe back in the San Francisco game two weeks after a hit by Ken Norton caused the injury to Bledsoe's non-throwing arm.
But Bledsoe's agent, Leigh Steinberg, sent Bledsoe to Birmingham, Ala., to meet specialist Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. The doctor suggested Bledsoe shouldn't play. Steinberg gave the report to owner Robert Kraft, who has a $42 million investment in Bledsoe and agreed the team shouldn't risk further injury to Bledsoe, even though the team is 1-2.
The result is that Zolak is going to get a chance and hopes to make the most of it. "We really need a spark badly. Hopefully, I'm the guy who can provide it," he said.
The Patriots hope he's more successful than Milanovich was in his '95 debut.
Shula vs. Shula II
Don Shula, the Miami Dolphins coach, will coach against his son, David, the Cincinnati Bengals coach, for the second straight year today, but the matchup hasn't gotten the attention it did a year ago when they did it the first time.
TTC "Last year, it was historic and exciting. This year, it's going to be talked about as the second year, but, obviously, the first time is very, very exciting," Don Shula said.
Last year, the Dolphins won, 23-7, and the perception was that Don Shula played it conservative in the second half with the lead to avoid running it up.
Don Shula doesn't want to answer any questions about keeping the score respectable against his son. "I don't really think about any of those things," he said.
Meanwhile, the Bengals have to worry about stopping Dan Marino after Houston's Chris Chandler completed 23 of 26 passes against them last week.
Defensive coordinator Larry Peccatiello said: "Of course, I'm alarmed. But we're not going to go crazy and do anything drastic."
Paul Tagliabue has never suspended an official since becoming commissioner in 1989, but he has to decide whether to take action against Ben Montgomery for ruling that the Pittsburgh Steelers had 12 players on the field for a Minnesota field-goal attempt last week when they had 11. The officials have problems when they can't count to 12.
Tagliabue's also got to decide whether to fine Steelers coach Bill Cowher for sticking a picture of the play in the shirt pocket of referee Gordon McCarter.
A league spokesman said Friday that Tagliabue is still reviewing the play and hasn't decided what action to take.
That play, combined with blown calls two weeks in a row in Washington Redskins games, has started the call for the return to instant replay.
But the real problem is the quality of the officiating.
Pulling the strings
When Randall Cunningham was benched by Philadelphia Eagles coach Ray Rhodes last week, he started to say the right things during a long rambling interview. He said, among other things, that he wanted to do what's best for the team.
But when he was asked how he would know when his Philadelphia career was over, he made comments that made headlines.
"Right now, I don't think that I'll be playing for another team this season. I think I'll still be on this team, and Rodney [Peete] and I will probably be switching in and out. It's the decision of the coaches.
"But it's tough to play like that. It's tough for him and it's tough for me. If you're winning, that's one thing, but when you're losing, you really start to read into things. Sometimes I wonder if Ray is the one pulling the strings or [owner] Jeff Lurie is."
This could be the beginning of the end for Cunningham in Philadelphia.