Plummer, Graziani hope for start of something big

On the NFL

October 26, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Jake Plummer and Tony Graziani have one thing in common -- they were both quarterbacks in the Pac-10 last year.

The similarities end there. Plummer was a high-profile player at Arizona State who took his team to the Rose Bowl and was drafted in the second round by the Arizona Cardinals.

Graziani, a left-hander, played in obscurity at Oregon, where he was limited to six games last year because of a knee injury and was drafted in the seventh round by the Atlanta Falcons only because defensive coordinator Rich Brooks, who recruited him in college, gave him a strong recommendation.

Now the two quarterbacks will have one more thing in common. They'll both make their first NFL starts today.

Not surprisingly, the circumstances are different.

After leading Arizona on a 98-yard touchdown drive on his first possession in Philadelphia, Plummer is the hope of the franchise as he gets the nod against the Tennessee Oilers.

"There's something inside him that's kind of contagious," Cardinals coach Vince Tobin said. "He did it at Arizona State and he did it for us. He's got something that's kind of like an itch, and I want to scratch it and see exactly what he's got. Jake gives us the best chance to win."

Michael Bidwill, the team's vice president, said, "The ticket itself from Jake's first start might be something of great value one day, like a ticket from Johnny Unitas' first start."

Does anyone have a ticket from Unitas' first start?

Plummer said, "I never expected this to happen this early in my career, and no matter how long it lasts, I want do do a great job."

Graziani, by contrast, is getting a start because the Falcons have run out of quarterbacks. Chris Chandler keeps getting hurt and Billy Joe Tolliver has been ineffective.

Graziani is so obscure that USA Today called him Dan last week.

But he gets an endorsement from Plummer. "People are going to see he's one tough guy. Trust me," Plummer said.

Graziani has had to deal with tough times. Nine days before camp opened, his mother died of lung and bone cancer after beating breast cancer four years ago.

He's eager for the challenge of playing the Carolina Panthers.

"I try to lead by example, but sometimes my emotion gets the better of me, but I do like having all eyes on me. I like guys counting on me to set the tempo," he said.

Apology from Cowher

When Chris Hudson ran past the Steelers' sideline after picking up a blocked field-goal try on the final play of the first Pittsburgh-Jacksonville game, Steelers coach Bill Cowher shook his fist as Hudson ran by. It looked as if Cowher was ready to go onto the field and tackle him or to pull a Woody Hayes and hit him.

The teams meet again today, and Cowher said he wants to apologize to Hudson.

"I've got to make sure I apologize to Chris, because it certainly had nothing to do with him," Cowher said. "It was just a reactionary thing. When the kick got blocked, and it was bouncing toward me, I was going to kick the ball. I was thinking the game was over. I knew there was no time left.

"When Chris picked it up and ran, there was frustration and a little flinch, but I certainly would have never done anything like that. Watching the way he plays, he probably would have run me over anyway."

Redskins on hot seat

It was well-documented last week that the Ravens-Redskins game doesn't mean as much to Washington as it does to Baltimore. The Redskins' Brian Mitchell called it "just another game."

But don't tell that to coach Norv Turner and quarterback Gus Frerotte, because it's a pivotal game for both.

If Frerotte can't put good numbers up against the worst pass defense in the league, the pressure will increase on Turner to bench him for Jeff Hostetler. And if the Redskins lose, they'll be 6-10 in their past 16 games and questions will be raised about the direction of the team under Turner.

By contrast, if the Redskins win, they can go to 6-3 by beating the winless Chicago Bears next week and would need to only go 4-3 the rest of the way to finish 10-6.

Running to daylight

There's more emphasis on the run this year. Teams are averaging 113.1 yards a game on the ground, 5 more than a year ago. The average per rush has improved from 3.9 to 4.1 yards, and rushing touchdowns are up from 120 to 139.

This is a trend the Ravens haven't become a part of. They've dropped from 14th to 27th in rushing. Last year, they rushed for an average of 109.1 yards a game. That has dropped to 83.9 this year.

Giants' Young: 'maybe'

The George Young retirement rumors are getting to be like the NFL injury report. There are certain categories.

Young, who won't deny the rumors that he'll step down as the New York Giants' general manager to take a job in the league office next year, upgraded himself to "maybe" last week when he was asked again about the reports.

"I don't know," he said in another nondenial.

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