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

PRO FOOTBALL

August 16, 1992|By VITO STELLINO

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.

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