Byner's not running on empty tank Back hits 30 and still going strong

October 23, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

ASHBURN, Va. -- Earnest Byner couldn't help hearing the Philadelphia Eagles' defensive linemen talking to themselves last Sunday.

"You could hear those guys (saying), 'Hey, man, these guys can't run on us. Nobody runs on us.' We continued to call it and ran it right at them," the Washington Redskins running back said yesterday.

They did it again and again and again.

Coach Joe Gibbs called Byner's number eight straight times on the opening drive against the Eagles.

"That drive really set up the whole game," Byner said.

When the Redskins took over on their first possession on their 39, quarterback Mark Rypien threw a 16-yard pass to Terry Orr on first down.

The next eight plays, he called Byner's number including a second-and-eight play and a second-and-seven play when the Eagles may have been looking for a pass.

Those two second-down runs each gained 6 yards and then Byner got the first downs on a pair of third-and-short runs. By the eighth carry, the Redskins had a third-and-three on the Eagle 14.

Byner had gained 2, 6, 2, 3, 6, 5, 6 and 1 yards against one of the toughest run defenses in football.

Rypien then finished off the drive with a pair of passes to get the touchdown.

The result was the Redskins had forced the Eagles to respect the run and set up the play-action passes that enabled the Redskins to take control of the game and win, 16-12.

Along the way, about the sixth play, Byner even got his bell rung, but he stayed in there.

"My head sort of expanded like B-O-I-N-G," he said with a smile.

Byner and Ricky Ervins wound up combining for 100 yards against the Eagles with Byner getting 45 in 18 carries and Ervins adding 55 in 18 carries.

Byner admits he'd rather get the 100-yard figure by himself, but he's a team player who accepts the role of sharing the ball-carrying duties.

"When you start something, you want to finish it, but I always tell Ricky, 'Hey, man, keep it going.' Obviously, it (platooning) works so the individual things sort of have to go to the side a little bit. If we both accept it and encourage each other, it works better than if we're fighting against each other. Then we'd have some problems," he said.

Byner usually goes the first two series and Ervins comes in for the third and then they split time. Even though he's sharing time, Byner is nearing some personal milestones.

With 431 yards in six games, he's on a pace for an 1,149-yard season. That would make him the first Redskin ever to get three straight 1,000-yard seasons. He'd also become only the 11th running back in NFL history to get a 1,000-yard season at age 30 or over.

Jim Brown retired at age 29 and many other Hall of Fame running backs including O.J. Simpson, Larry Csonka and Earl Campbell no longer were thousand-yard runners at age 30. It also appears that Eric Dickerson will fall into that category.

The two oldest players to do it were a pair of Hall of Famers, former Redskin John Riggins and John Henry Johnson, who both did it at age 35.

Byner, who turned 30 on Sept. 15, doesn't seem to have lost a thing. Last year, he was slowed by a knee injury after getting 747 yards in the first 10 games. He got only a single 100-yard game after that and finished with 1,048.

This year, he's made a complete recovery and should be able to top last year's figure if he stays healthy.

Byner wasn't even aware that gaining a thousand yards at age 30 was an unusual feat until a reporter told him at the start of the year, but he's got his eye on it now.

"I'd like to get up to over 500 this week," he said as the team prepares for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings in the Metrodome.

Byner has found a second career with the Redskins. When he arrived in 1988, he came with the baggage from Cleveland of his playoff mishaps that included the ill-fated fumble in the 1987 AFC title game against the Denver Broncos.

Now he's got a Super Bowl ring and he gets lauded in public, but he keeps a low profile.

"A lot of times when I go out, I'm not recognized. I think a lot of people think I'm actually bigger and taller than I am (5 feet 10 and 218) so I sneak by a lot of time," he said.

He's become one of Gibbs' favorite players because of his all-around play. He blocks as well as runs.

"This guy will knock your eye teeth out. He's so tough that I think that carries over to the rest of your team. He's going to get hit like you wouldn't believe and yet he'll step up there in pass protection and drill somebody," Gibbs said.

Byner said he has no real explanation for his longevity except that he's avoided major injuries and is never complacent.

"I continue to try to get better," he said. "If you do that and you don't get happy with anything you do, you stay fresh."

He may be fresh enough to join the Over-30 Club.

NOTES: The Redskins got through a second straight practice day without any new injuries so Gibbs may not activate a player to replace defensive tackle Bobby Wilson, who has a herniated disc. He could just be listed as the inactive player.

The 30-something club

4$

1,000-yard runners 30 and over Age Player Team Year Yards

35 John Riggins Washington 1984 1,239

35 John Henry Johnson Pittsburgh 1964 1,048

34 John Riggins Washington 1983 1,347

33 Franco Harris Pittsburgh 1983 1,007

33 John Henry Johnson Pittsburgh 1962 1,141

32 Walter Payton Chicago 1986 1,333

32 Ottis Anderson N.Y. Giants 1989 1,023

32 James Brooks Cincinnati 1990 1,004

31 Walter Payton Chicago 1985 1,551

31 James Brooks Cincinnati 1989 1,239

30 Walter Payton Chicago 1984 1,684

30 Tony Dorsett Dallas 1984 1,189

30 John Riggins Washington 1979 1,153

30 Tony Canadeo Green Bay 1949 1,052

30 Rocky Bleier Pittsburgh 1976 1,036

30 Christian Okoye Kansas City 1991 1,031

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