Eagles' Carson is reel good eater

December 29, 1992|By Bill Lyon | Bill Lyon,Philadelphia Enquirer

PHILADELPHIA -- Bud Carson pokes at the cole slaw withou interest.

The sandwich sits, untouched, on his plate.

He cannot eat because there isn't a projector and a spool of football film and flickering shadows on the wall.

"I usually just grab something and have it while I'm watching film," he admits.

Whatever it is he grabs, he does not savor it. Doesn't even taste it, really. His wife says you could feed him a sawdust sandwich while he is watching football film and Bud Carson wouldn't even notice that it seemed just a touch dry.

Genius is supposed to be like that, isn't it?

Genius is supposed to be preoccupied, isn't it?

Genius is supposed to be absorbed and consumed and oblivious, isn't it?

So while the fog closed like a shroud around Veterans Stadium yesterday and ice laid a sheen of treachery all around, Bud Carson watched film and schemed and plotted and ate cole slaw on automatic pilot, never really tasting it.

Up on the screen, a running back named Ironhead blots out the sun and barrels into the line and comes out the other side, bodies thrashing in his wake, and up from the secondary rushes a defensive back and he makes the fatal mistake of hitting Ironhead up high, and now the back is flung violently backward, as though shot.

And worry lines dig seeper furrows into Bud Carson's creased forehead.

"We sure don't want to end up with No. 29 having to tackle that monster," he says.

That monster is Craig Heyward, alias Ironhead, who goes every bit of 280 pounds and who plays locomotive back for the New Orleans Saints, and No. 29 is Mark McMillian, the gutsy gnat who now plays left corner for the Philadelphia Eagles and who is RTC about the size of Ironhead Heyward's lunch.

And Bud Carson is trying to scheme a way for those two never to meet at a busy intersection come Sunday in New Orleans in the NFL playoffs.

"Hopefully, we'll have a couple of new wrinkles for them," he says, smiling a soft, slyly deprecatory smile.

He is a nice man, Bud Carson. He reinforced his reputation as genius last season when the Eagles defense, which is his, swept the boards. No. 1 all the way across.

Actually, though, it is this season that makes you think that Bud Carson absolutely is a genius because last year he had horses, he had all those fearsome athletes and he could dream up all those wild games for them to play and they could play them, execute them just like he drew them, no matter what he came up with, because they were, well, in a word awesome.

But this year, well. . . . Jerome Brown, Ben Smith, Andre Waters, Wes Hopkins. . . .

A tackle, a corner, and both safeties gone. No one to furnish that elephant-crashing-through-the-underbrush push up front. No bandit on the corner. No run force, no run support, none of those paralyzing, concussive hits.

"We don't intimidate people like we used to," Bud Carson concedes. "Because we don't have 20 [Waters] and 48 [Hopkins]. And, of course, Jerome. . . .

"So we have to try to play smarter. We cover up weaknesses where we can. We try to stay away from situations that can hurt us."

4 Like 29 meeting Ironhead at a busy intersection?

"Exactly."

So he has gone down into his sorcerer's sack, gone down elbow-deep this season, and he has pulled up a lifetime collection of doodads and gimgaws, a lifetime of tricks and prestidigitations mined from watching flickering shadows on the wall and doodling on napkins and day-dreaming and eating food without really tasting it.

And the Eagles defense isn't the marauding, pillaging wolfpack that it was, and teams can run on it now, can pound right at its navel, can get it to bite sometimes on play-fake.

It is a defense that has some give to it now, like an elastic waistband that begins to sag after too much use.

So Bud Carson does with smoke and mirrors what the Eagles used to do with overpowering force and speed, and it must be a pretty good routine because the Eagles are 11-5, which is actually better than they were when they had a defense that swept the boards.

"No one ever expects to be a part of anything like what we had last year," he said. "This year, our contribution hasn't been nearly as much and it sure doesn't show up in the statistics. But we've kind of made do."

It has invigorated him, and though he would never say it, it has been a season of immense personal satisfaction for him. For he has been challenged and he has had to go deep into his sorcerer's sack, and already he is thinking ahead to next year and anxious to put in all the other alignments and twists and tricks he has schemed.

"Everyone has taken on the over-defense that we used last year," he said, "and so everyone attacks it so much better. You just can't sit in that like we did last season. You have to come up with something new."

And he is poking at the cole slaw and the wheels are turning and you can almost hear them saying:

"Now this mound of cole slaw is Ironhead and this little shred of lettuce is 29. So, what if we put 29 here, in behind the tomato wedge, and then we move the cucumber over to the right and then. . ."

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