Patriots' Scott Zolak was oh, so right when he predicted return to lineup

December 08, 1992|By Ron Borges | Ron Borges,Boston Globe

FOXBORO, Mass. -- Sometimes you wonder if the doctors who work for professional sports teams actually went to medical school or just drove by one.

When it was announced last week that Hugh Millen would reclaim the Patriots' starting quarterback position after a six-week layoff caused by a separated left shoulder, his backup, Scott Zolak, took the news in stride, saying, "I think I'll be back in there again."

Scott Zolak is no medical student.

Meanwhile, nearly every football fan in New England knew last Sunday morning what the Patriots' medical staff apparently didn't realize until Monday morning -- that Millen's shoulder could not take another solid hit without disintegrating into broken sprockets.

Most of those fans are not medical students, either.

Millen's medical situation apparently became clear even to the doctors hired to repair him when he trotted off the field at halftime Sunday with his left arm pinned to his chest after being sacked by two Indianapolis Colts. He did not return to the lineup. Monday, a one-paragraph press release said Millen had "bruised his left shoulder, aggravating an earlier injury."

It also said, "The Patriots medical staff has re-evaluated Hugh's situation and have advised he be the Patriots' third quarterback. . ." Team physician Bert Zarins was not available for elaboration.

In other words, barring a disaster of massive proportions, Hugh Millen is out for the year with a bad left shoulder.

That being the case, the fans and the people who must evaluate New England's talent before deciding what to do with likely the first or second pick in the April draft now have what they wanted. They have a chance to see where Zolak stands.

"Knowing it's my job the rest of the year gives me a good frame of mind," Zolak said. "You've got to take advantage of these opportunities. I don't think it will do anything bad for me. It's a tough situation. I know there will be a lot of talk about who they should take in the draft and whether they should take a quarterback. It's up to us to eliminate that talk the next three games.

"I've got no answers. I'll just give it my best effort and hope the other 10 guys are doing the same. Then let the chips fall where they may."

Thus far the quarterbacks have fallen where they may, usually to the ground and then to hospital. With three games to go, they have been sacked 61 times, five off the club record, and every day as Zolak walks to his locker, he sees living proof that his job is a dangerous one.

On one side of him sits Tommy Hodson, cast on his hand to protect the broken right thumb that finished him for the season. Two doors down sits Millen, a lump atop his collarbone that resembles a pile of quarters stacked one on the other and then stuffed under his skin.

"I'm a big guy," Zolak said. "I can take some of the punishment. It comes with the game and the position. If you start worrying that you'll be hurt, you start playing passive and then you will get hurt."

As Zolak spoke, veteran nose tackle Fred Smerlas walked by and overheard the conversation. He listened briefly before pointing out, "Hodson and Millen have physical disabilities. Zolak has a mental disability. He's crazy. So they're all in the same spot."

Zolak laughed, but soon Hodson began sliding the cast off his arm and Millen sat in a corner talking about the expected shoulder surgery he faces Dec. 28, and his voice began to drop. The situation, he and the Patriots realize, is grave.

"As a human being, if I knew Monday that Hugh would be hurt again, then I wouldn't have put him out there," said team spokesman Dante Scarnecchia, who continues to run the Patriots in place of ill coach Dick MacPherson. "But as a football coach, a decision was made last week on the medical evaluation and Hugh's personal feeling. It was a combination of everybody and at the time we thought it was a great decision. You just hope he gets through the game all right and we're not facing the dilemma we are now."

New England is traveling to Kansas City to play one of the finest collection of speed rushers in pro football with a starting quarterback who has played three games and a backup, Jeff Carlson, who has played none. It is not the kind of situation you look forward to, but it is apparently the way things will remain until the season ends.

Millen, meanwhile, will be listed as the disaster quarterback, which in NFL parlance means he can play only if all others are injured and unavailable. If that is the case, you will see someone spend a lot of time handing off, because it is doubtful further liberties will be taken with his health by asking him to drop back behind a line that has more leaks than a congressional subcommittee.

Millen did not second-guess his decision to play against the Colts.

"It's back to the disaster status," Millen said. "I can still go in if I'm needed, but I think this is the way it will be the rest of the year. The shoulder has been hurt four times now.

"But I don't question trying to play. I did it for myself, not for anyone else. At least I know I tried. Now I can say this is a contact sport where people get hurt and this year my number came up.

"I hadn't missed a practice in six years. This season it seemed like I was hurt from the first game [he was]. But I made every effort to try and play. It's been a difficult year for all of us. We thought we'd poured some cement last year and built a foundation and this year we'd put up some walls and some windows. Instead we're back to pouring cement."

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