Joyner calls reverse, just play Eagles need

December 16, 1992|By Frank Dolson | Frank Dolson,Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA -- It couldn't have been easy for Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Seth Joyner to do what had to be done. Surely, facing a ballcarrier in the open field, one on one, would be child's play compared to facing Rich Kotite, one on one, after that now-infamous interview in Sunday's New York Times.

In that article, Joyner was quoted as saying that the thing he cared about more than anything else was winning. Yesterday, he proved it.

First, he took it upon himself to do something about the intolerable situation he had created.

"He came in on his own," Eagles president Harry Gamble said. "He went to see Richie and he said he wanted to clear the air."

Joyner has always been a man on the football field. Now he was acting like a man off the field, a man who understood the importance of putting the team's interests ahead of his own.

He had reopened old wounds, and his timing had been atrocious. With Sunday's make-or-break game against the Washington Redskins looming, Joyner found himself -- however unwittingly -- becoming the man who tore the Eagles apart, creating dissension and distraction when unity and focus were needed.

He is more than one of the best players on this football team. He is one of its leaders. To Seth Joyner's credit, he finally realized that he was leading the Eagles in the wrong direction; it was time to make a U-turn.

By marching into Kotite's office yesterday, he made it.

That must have been a difficult trip back from the Seattle game for Joyner, and a long, soul-searching Monday night. The player who met with Kotite, and later with Kotite and Gamble together, and finally with local reporters wasn't the Seth Joyner we have come to know and quote, the Seth Joyner who seemed determined to burn all his Philadelphia bridges. This Seth Joyner wanted to put out the fires he had started.

It was Joyner's news conference, not the Eagles'. The green-and-white banner with the Eagles' logo on it that's usually on display at these affairs was noticeably missing -- as if to say, "Look, this is my idea, not theirs."

More than simply trying to "clear the air" with Kotite, Joyner seemed determined to make peace with his teammates. That was the compelling reason he put himself through yesterday's ordeal: to prove he was one of 47 Eagles trying to get to the play offs, not one loose cannon firing shots that could kill the chances of the other 46.

"It's really important for my teammates to understand that I'm not trying to stir up anything," he said. "I wanted to come forward and let my teammates know -- and I will speak to them -- let them know, that, hey, I want to be a leader. And I mean a leader in a positive way and not a negative way."

Repeatedly, he returned to that theme. "Nobody wants to win more than Seth Joyner," he said. "So why would I do things to pull the team apart or distract the team at this point in time?"

That was only one of the very good questions that Joyner himself posed.

On the Times' interview: "I haven't been talking to the media for what? -- almost three weeks -- so why would I come forward and start all of this now?"

On his relationship with quarterback Randall Cunningham: "Two years ago we sat down and hashed out everything we had to hash out. So what was the purpose of me coming out, saying this and that about Randall? All that stuff was laid to rest. Now, two years later, I'm going to bring that up. For what?"

On his feelings about playing for the Eagles next year: "Why would I say I don't want to play here? There's a lot of guys I care about, a lot of guys that I spent a lot of years with. So why would I want to pack up and go and start all over again?"

On his desire to be part of a winning Eagles team this year: "Hey, we're in the playoff hunt. We won nine games. What else is there?"

On his comment about owner Norman Braman: "Why would I call him cheap when I got the contract that I want?"

And, on the timing of the Times' article: "Why would I come forward and bring all these things out in an interview and cause problems now?"

Why indeed?

Those questions must have been tumbling around in Joyner's mind for the last two days.

If yesterday was any indication, this is a man truly sorry for what happened. There was no attempt to vilify the media, to shift blame.

"There's a lesson to be learned," he said, "and, hey, we all learn our lessons."

As far as the 1992 Eagles are concerned, Seth Joyner may have learned his in the nick of time.

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