Lions give Utley game ball, hope for a Super present NFC CHAMPIONSHIP/ LIONS at REDSKINS

January 09, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

HERNDON, VA — HERNDON, Va. -- This was one delivery Chuck Schmidt wasn't going to leave to UPS or Federal Express.

After the Detroit Lions upset the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs Sunday, Schmidt flew to Denver on Monday to present one of the two game balls the team awarded -- owner William Clay Ford got the other -- to Mike Utley.

Coach Wayne Fontes was on the phone when Schmidt presented Utley, who was paralyzed on a freak play on Nov. 17, with the ball. Utley is recuperating in Denver.

"He was excited about it," Fontes said. "He wanted to thank all the guys for the honor of presenting him the ball. He said it's [season] not over yet. [He said] 'You've got to keep right on trucking, don't lose the focus that we've had all year, just go out there and practice extremely hard and get ready for the next one.' It was a very touching thing."

Schmidt then relayed a message from Utley at a team meeting yesterday.

"He [Schmidt] told the team today what Mike had to say," said Fontes. "He said Mike just lifted him up. When you leave the room after you talk to Mike Utley, you leave on an upper, which is an amazing thing."

Utley's courageous action since he was See JUMP TO COME, 00, Col. 0JUMP TO COME, from 1Bparalyzed -- he gave a thumbs-up sign as he left the field -- has probably been a factor in the team's improbable success story this season. The Lions have won seven straight since he was injured.

"It's a tremendous inspiration to this team and this city," quarterback Erik Kramer said. "He has been optimistic from the moment he left the field on a stretcher. Anybody whose life is in danger and thinks about the team enough to say, 'Hey, thumbs up, go finish these [guys] off,' that says something about him. We've all kind of drawn quite a bit of power out of that emotionally. I hope not just for this season, but for life. It kind of gives you a new perspective on things."

Although Utley hasn't been to a Lions game since he was paralyzed, he did see the Denver Broncos-Houston Oilers game Saturday.

"He still has the halo [stabilizing his head], and he said that comes off in two weeks. He is looking forward to that day. He's been in a stiff position for . . . how many weeks?" Fontes said.

If the Lions upset the Washington Redskins on Sunday and advance to the Super Bowl, Fontes would like Utley to be there in Minneapolis on Jan. 26.

"If we were to win this game [against the Redskins], and, if there was any way possible to take that young man to the Super Bowl, it would be done," Fontes said.

The Redskins, who say they're on an emotional high of their own because they have a chance to make the Super Bowl for the first time since 1987, also have been touched by Utley.

"I think it's unfair for us on this side to be asked about the Mike Utley thing," cornerback Darrell Green said. "Who would say anything negative about the guy?

"For us to make any responses to it [wouldn't be appropriate.] We're just like any other human being. We're concerned about any person being injured, paralyzed, sick or whatever. I think the emotions come from the game itself," Green said.

Quarterback Mark Rypien, a teammate of Utley's at Washington State, has trouble talking about him. Rypien was a senior in 1985 when Utley was a freshman.

"It's tough to sit here and talk about a guy [when] all you remember is a big smile on his face," Rypien said. "He went out there and gave it his all. It's difficult for all of us. I know their team's finding it hard to deal with it, and they're dealing with it the best way, going out and playing for him. As a friend of his, it's tough. It's tough to deal with something like that."

Veteran linebacker Matt Millen said: "I have not had that kind of experience [a paralyzed teammate], but the thing with Mike, everybody in the league is aware of it [and] every time you step on the field, whether you're on his team or not, you're on his side. That plays a part in your head. It plays a part in my mind the whole time because that can happen."

Wide receiver Gary Clark said: "They're going to be up for the game for their reasons. We're going to be up for our reasons. If they beat us, they're just a better team than we are."

NOTES: Fontes is unhappy the NFL wants him to arrive in Washington on Friday. He said: "It's tough on us because I've got 9 to 10, 11 guys who need treatment. Do I put them on a plane and ice them down or put a whirlpool on the airplane? Do I land in Washington and where do I take these guys for treatment? What do I do on Saturday? Do I get to use the Washington complex? I've got guys I don't know if they're going to play until Saturday night. What do I do with these guys? Do I take a Red Cross truck with me? These are things I have to find out."

NFL playoffs


Washington 24, Atlanta 7

Denver 26, Houston 24


Buffalo 37, Kansas City 14

Detroit 38, Dallas 6


AFC championship: Denver at Buffalo, 12:30 p.m., chs. 2, 4

NFC championship: Detroit at Washington, 4 p.m., chs. 11, 9

* Super Bowl: Jan. 26 at Minneapolis, 6 p.m., chs. 11, 9

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