Dolphins' Smith was hurt by boos, lack of support

PRO FOOTBALL

October 27, 1991|By VITO STELLINO

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.

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.

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.

*

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."

*

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.

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.

*

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.

*

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.

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