Hebron finds success slippery with Eagles Fumbles, loss negate good rushing day

November 16, 1993|By Stan Hochman | Stan Hochman,Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- So many guys patted Vaughn Hebron on the head, there's a slick, shiny spot on his helmet now.

So many whispers in his ear, so many arms wrapped around his hunched shoulders, so many hang-in-theres, so many soft words of solace.

"If they didn't have confidence in me," Hebron said Sunday, in a quiet Eagles locker room, "if they didn't believe in me, they wouldn't bother to come over. They'd leave me alone."

He is a little guy, bright-eyed, soft-voiced.

He played at Virginia Tech, where he seldom fumbled. Ignored in the draft, they couldn't measure the size of his heart.

He hit the ground running at training camp, cat-quick, with a tantalizing change of direction, a change of gears.

Hebron, a graduate of Cardinal Gibbons, is Philadelphia's "Rudy," but this is not a Hollywood year for the Eagles, more agony than ecstasy.

"He had one of those days," Eagles coach Rich Kotite said, after the Miami Dolphins beat Philadelphia, 19-14. "Good day, bad day."

Hebron rushed for 61 yards on 12 carries, including one 22-yard scamper. He also caught three passes for 25 yards. Good day.

Lost two fumbles -- one that led to a Miami field goal -- and dropped a pass. Bad day.

The Eagles have lost five straight after a 4-0 start. Hebron is the ray of hope on this injury-crippled team.

He fumbled twice against the New York Giants on Oct. 17 and saw skimpy action until Sunday, when Kotite stuck him out there, the Eagles leading, 7-6, early in the second quarter.

He scampered for 14 yards on his first carry, the crowd came alive.

"They're a quick-reacting team," Kotite said of the Dolphins. "And with his quick moves and the fast track, I thought it was a good changeup. When he started off so well, I just kept going with him."

Hebron a flare pass early in the third quarter and darted back inside with it. Dwight Hollier poked it loose and recovered it at the Philadelphia 20-yard line.

Miami squandered the opportunity when third-string quarterback Doug Pederson fumbled at the 1 and Andy Harmon pounced on it.

Seven plays later, Hebron caught another Ken O'Brien pass for a yard gain. Someone jarred the ball loose and this time Troy Vincent claimed it for Miami.

Double jeopardy. This time, Miami wound up with a 46-yard field goal that gave the Dolphins a 16-14 lead.

"I threw him right back in there after he fumbled," Kotite said. "That's being a pro. And everybody on the sideline was with him. It's a learning-type thing, but we all believe in that kid and I believe in him."

Hebron accepted the praise in training camp when he was a charming story, and he accepted the grilling patiently Sunday.

"I feel bad, of course," he said. "The saddest thing is that this was one of my best games as far as carrying out my assignments.

"I did everything I was asked to do, did it well, played hard . . . "

He could not explain the fumbles, he would not alibi.

"This is the NFL," he said. "I've got to grow with it. Continue to learn. It will come. A lot of running backs go through this. I wish I wasn't one of them."

It was a strange ballgame. Miami finding a way to win with a third-string quarterback after Dan Marino backup Scott Mitchell separated his shoulder.

The Eagles finding a way to lose, a missed field goal, Andre Waters coming within a whisker of snatching an interception with nothing but pale, green Astroturf between him and the goal line.

And, James Lofton, who has been around longer than George Halas, missed a perfect, chest-high pass in the final three minutes that would have given the Eagles a first down at the 5-yard line.

"It was," Lofton confessed, "a very agonizing moment."

No more agonizing than the near-miss by Waters late in the third quarter.

"We were in blitz coverage," Waters said. "I knew, from studying film that [Keith] Byars was gonna do a high route or go to the flat.

"I got a good break on the ball and tried to cradle it. Byars reached in and hooked it free. I knew the defense needed a big play. I had the opportunity.

"I'll dream about that play all night long," Waters said. "I won't sleep at all."

And what about Hebron, who says he dwells on mistakes until he can correct them?

can study the shiny spot on his helmet, he can replay all the whispered hang-in-theres. He can strengthen his grip on the ball, on himself.

"That's part of the game," Waters said. "You have to look at all the positive things he did. He got our offense going.

just gotta learn that when he goes up the middle, guys are gonna try to strip him from behind.


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