Lost star teaches coach a lesson in what's smart

On The NFL

August 30, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

When Dan Reeves coached cornerback Jason Sehorn in his first three years with the New York Giants, he ignored Sehorn's pleas to let him return kicks.

Reeves followed the same policy when he went to Atlanta last year and cornerback Ray Buchanan lobbied him to return punts.

"I can find a punt returner," Reeves said. "But I can't find a cornerback."

Unfortunately for the New York Giants, Sehorn finally wore down second-year coach Jim Fassel and got permission to return the opening kickoff 10 days ago against the New York Jets.

It's a decision Fassel probably will regret all year. Sehorn tore up Sehorn his right knee on the kickoff and was lost for the season.

The Giants were in virtual shock.

Linebacker Corey Miller said, "It was just like the president being shot or something. It was just total disbelief."

Running back Tiki Barber said: "It was surreal, like it didn't really happen. You're thinking: 'Stuff like this doesn't happen.' Ten seconds into a preseason game and the best athlete on the team is gone, just like that."

Defensive end Michael Strahan said, "He was the guy that if anything, you don't want to lose him. I'm still in shock. I could cry myself."

In one play, the Giants lost their fastest player, their best athlete and a team leader. They also lost the heart of their defense. Sehorn could take the opposing team's best receiver out of the game and let the rest of the Giants' defense dominate a game.

With Sehorn, they were a dark-horse Super Bowl team. Without him, they know they won't be earning any rings this season.

Fassel's colleagues quickly defended his move.

Even Reeves said, "You can't blame Jim. I'm sure Jim is kicking himself in the butt. The only reason Jim considered it was because Jason wanted to do it."

But coaches can't let players do what they want to do all the time. San Francisco's Steve Mariucci learned that lesson when he let Jerry Rice come back last Dec. 15 after tearing up a knee in the season opener. Rice promptly cracked a kneecap. This year, Mariucci wouldn't even let Rice take a snap during the preseason.

Sehorn had no second thoughts. He'd fit in one of those ESPN Classic old-school commercials.

"I can't get upset about it and ask why. I play the game of football, the risk is out there, and I got hurt," he said.

Fassel admitted he couldn't sleep after the game but tried to defend the decision.

"You can't coach scared," he said. But you can coach smart. This wasn't a smart move.

Don't expect Fassel to let Sehorn do it again.

As Strahan said, "I think we saw history here. The first and only time Jason Sehorn will return a kick here in New York."

Life's work

When Paul Brown founded the Cleveland Browns in 1946, he talked about football being an avocation for players when they were young before they went on to their "life's work."

Those were the days when players had second jobs in the off-season. Now, in this era of multimillion-dollar salaries, the life's work for many players after they retire is to hit the golf links.

Adam Hernandez, who was waived last week by the Ravens, is a throwback. His life's work will be to become a doctor. The Yale graduate, who scored 1,400 on his SAT, has been accepted into Cornell Medical School.

But Hernandez isn't quite ready to go on to his life's work. He made the transition from defensive to offensive lineman, and the Ravens think he has some potential.

They've invited him to sign with the team at the end of the season, go through the off-season program, and try again next year.

Hernandez plans to ask Cornell to delay his entrance for a second year while he chases his dream of playing football.

If he makes it and plays for several years, he'll have to go through the medical school admission process again.

But he figures this is his only shot at football.

"Once football is over," he said, "you can never return to it."

Quarterback curse

NFL quarterbacks are in the limelight, and they make a lot of money. But in the past few years, several have suffered a lot of heartache in their personal lives.

"I call it the 'Quarterback Curse,' " said Cheryl Esiason, Boomer's wife. "It's just terrible."

Their son Gunnar, 7, has cystic fibrosis.

Mark Rypien's son Andrew, 3, died last week of brain cancer. Jim Kelly's 18-month-old son Hunter has Krabbe's disease, a degenerative disorder of the nervous system, and is expected to live only a few more months.

Doug Flutie's son Doug Jr., 6 , has a severe form of autism, and Dan Marino's son Michael, 9, has a mild form of autism.

Elvis Grbac's son Jack, 2, was born with spina bifida and recently underwent surgery. Jeff Blake's son Trey, 2, was born with a congenital defect called Hirsch Sprung's disease. It required surgery to have his lower intestines repaired. Jeff Hostetler's son Jason had three open-heart surgeries in his first 11 months of life, but is now 13 years old and doing well.

"To understand what Jim and Mark are going through -- I don't think you can unless you've been through it," Hostetler said.

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