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The only things Bear quarterback Jim McMahon throws at wide receiver Willie Gault these days are verbal barbs.

"Football's on his mind," McMahon said sarcastically after Gault took a day off from camp to attend a Lay Witnesses for Christ program at the Olympics.

Coach Mike Ditka gave Gault permission for the trip but now may be regretting the decision because it widened the rift between Gault and his teammates—especially McMahon—who question Gault's commitment to football. Gault missed most of last year's camp while competing in track and has had a hard time learning his routes. But when his production slipped near the end of the season, he claimed that McMahon was overlooking him.

Says McMahon, "I told him last year, 'If you don't run the right route or you don't catch the ball, you won't see the football.' If I yell at him, it's not because he's Willie Gault. It's because I want to make him better, and I want to make myself not look like an ass because I threw him an out and he went deep."

This year Gault missed a May mini-camp to attend a hearing at which he sought to have his amateur track status reinstated—it wasn't—and was the only veteran receiver who failed to report to training camp early.

"Willie's going to have to work this year," McMahon says. "That's not me talking, that's the coaches."

Gault seems unfazed. "We have too many people around here worrying about other people," he says.

Falcon tight end Arthur Cox was all set to have arthroscopic surgery July 30 on his right knee...until Dr. John Garrett discovered his patient hadn't followed doctor's orders.

"Did you have anything to eat or drink after midnight?" Garrett asked.

"No," said Cox, "but I had a big breakfast this morning."

The surgery was rescheduled for the next day.

J. William Oldenburg, the financially troubled owner of the USFL's L.A. Express, will try almost anything to keep the team afloat. A few days after Gene Klein sold his 56% share of the San Diego Chargers, Oldenburg asked Klein to buy into the Express. Klein declined.

Talk about contract demands...Ronnie Lott, the 49ers' All-Pro cornerback, who held out nine days before signing for four years and an estimated $2.6 million, refused to give any ground on one aspect of his contract: two season tickets to Golden State Warrior games. But that's nothing compared with teammate Fred Dean's laundry list. Dean wants deferred payments over 25 years, life and health insurance for the next 25 years, two round-trip airline tickets from either Shreveport, La. or San Diego to all 49er games, two suites at all away games in which he competes and a room and meal money the entire week before any future Super Bowls in which the 49ers compete. Says a 49er exec, "That's not a contract. Those are adoption papers. He is filing to be known as Freddie DeBartolo."

At first, the injury to Eric Dickerson seemed serious. He and Ram safety Nolan Cromwell were sprinting toward each other in a non-contact passing drill, both focusing on the flight of the ball, when Cromwell's shoulder' pads caught Dickerson's jaw and snapped the runner's head back. Dickerson's left side went numb, and his feet crumbled underneath him. He lay motionless on the ground.

Coach John Robinson immediately canceled practice, 30 minutes early.

Dickerson remained absolutely still for nearly half an hour. His teammates stood over him, awaiting paramedics. His mind, however, never stopped racing.

"I was praying a lot," he says. "I think if they'd said I couldn't ever play football again, but that I'd be able to walk, I'd have said. That's fantastic.' "

What did Dickerson think about on the way to the hospital? "Here I am strapped down, my right shoe killing me because the toepiece on it is pinching me, and then there's this fly landing in my mouth, in my eyes, down around my ankles," he says. "I keep asking. 'Will somebody kill this fly?' I figured if I could kill this fly, I would be all right."

The injury was diagnosed as a severe cervical sprain, and Dickerson was told he'd be back on the field in seven days. But that didn't make the frightening memory go away.

"I'm never again running that cut route." Dickerson said of the play, a 15-yard post with a quick cut to the middle. "It's out of my playbook. If they call it, I'll just bat the ball down. That route's what I call a knockout route."


Dickerson feared he'd never run again.



The Cincinnati Bengals lost three defensive backs in their preseason opener against the New York Jets, leaving only six healthy bodies in camp. No wonder Dick LeBeau, the defensive coordinator/backfield coach, had a horrified look on his face when he noticed Bobby Kemp, the Bengals' starting strong safety, bent over on the sideline at practice, his back locked. LeBeau rushed over to Kemp. "Are you all right, Bobby?" he asked, out of breath. "Did your back go out?"

Kemp didn't straighten up. Instead, he began slowly moving a finger through the grass. "Oh, I'm O.K., Coach," Kemp said. "But I just found a white caterpillar. I've never seen a white caterpillar before."