San Francisco running back Wendell Tyler had a great game—125 yards rushing—against Minnesota Sunday. Unfortunately, there were a couple of major flaws in his performance. Late in the second quarter, Tyler fumbled on the Viking 10. Then, with 3:30 remaining and the 49ers leading 21-14, Tyler fumbled on his own 30 and Viking defensive end Doug Martin ran the ball to the 49ers' one. Running back Alfred Anderson scored two plays later and the game was tied 21-21.
Tyler was distraught. He dragged himself off the field, plopped himself on the bench away from his teammates and stared at the ground, perhaps trying not to notice the final TD Minnesota scored to upset the defending Super Bowl champions 28-21. In the locker room later, Tyler was doing some blocking of a different sort.
"All I can remember is the great runs I had," he said, "some great blocks." Ah, what about the fumbles, Wendell? "I can remember hitting up into the line," Tyler said, "and after that I don't remember." Probably just as well.
Coach Bill Walsh, however, will make sure that Tyler—and tight end Earl Cooper, who dropped two passes in the 49ers' final, futile drive—don't forget Sunday's mistakes for some time.
"The men who have the privilege to carry the ball and to catch it ought to do their damn jobs, so the rest of the men's efforts are fully warranted," Walsh said. "A man who carries the ball...is an extension of his teammates, and he can't frivolously and recklessly fumble it the way we did today. Our dropped passes on that last drive were unforgivable."
Can it really be so simple? Last Friday, before the Miami game, Houston quarterback Warren Moon called a 20-minute team meeting and, in his best Norman Vincent Peale appeal, convinced the Oilers that if they truly believed in themselves, they could beat the Dolphins. Moon's teammates evidently bought the power of positive thinking because on Sunday they upset Miami 26-23. Moon, who played with a chipped bone in the thumb on his throwing hand, showed a particularly positive attitude, completing 12 of 17 passes for 270 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown to Butch Woolfolk, the former New York Giants back.
"It's time for me to get vocal," Moon said later. Last season he was caught in the middle of a philosophical feud over game strategy between Oiler general manager Ladd Herzeg and rookie coach Hugh Campbell and had to stand by and watch as Houston sputtered to a 3-13 record. Thus the need for the pep talk before the Miami opener. "I don't want to be overbearing," Moon said, "but I want to get my point across."
On the other side of the field, it was evident that Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino was nowhere near the phenom he was last season. For the first time since Nov. 13, 1983—and only the second time in 30 career starts—Marino failed to complete a touchdown pass. And for the first time in his career, he was benched for backup Don Strock.
Marino was tentative. His passes sometimes fluttered. His confident strut was gone. Why, he played as if he had missed 37 days of training camp in a contract dispute.
"I just wasn't stepping up and throwing the ball the way I know I can," Marino said. "I thought I made the right decisions, but...."
Sounds like he needs a more positive approach.
Speculation among the Kansas City Chiefs is that Tom Condon, the veteran offensive lineman/lawyer/NFLPA president/teammate favorite, was cut two weeks ago because Condon was a threat to coach John Mackovic's authority. Some of the K.C. vets have shunned Condon's replacement, Bob Olderman, a rookie from Virginia. During a recent practice, Olderman tried to make a line call—adjusting the blocking—and tackle Dave Lutz growled, "You don't make the bleeping line calls!" Counters Olderman, "All the guys who are here have gone through the same thing. Everybody's neck has been on the block once during their career. There's nothing you can do about it. I think I've proved I belong."
Darryl Rogers, the Lions' rookie coach, has a happy team—for now, at least. First, he announced that the players who have the best games on the road will fly first class to the next away game. "This is my version of a 'game ball,' " he says. Rogers also established a player relations committee of eight veterans; they will meet periodically to discuss policy decisions. Some recent edicts: designer jeans are acceptable on team flights; the team will not fly all night following West Coast games, but rather, leave the next day.
Wide receiver Leonard Thompson, an 11-year veteran and a member of the committee, says the changes are welcome. Former coach Monte Clark had claimed his door was always open, Thompson says, but players believed Clark was too stubborn to listen to their gripes and that he sometimes held a grudge against those who did speak out. "Darryl is a former college coach. He knows it's time to bring football into the modern age," Thompson says.
Steve Courson, who in May revealed to SI his involvement with steroids, owns the starting left guard spot in Tampa Bay. He says he is steroid-free and says it has changed his life.
"I'm 30 pounds lighter—down to 268—the lightest I've been in five years," he says. "My resting heart rate is 68, a far cry from the 150 I had during a mini-camp [last April]. Thankfully, I don't have the mood swings I used to have when I was on the juice. I'm not nearly as aggressive.
"I'm not as strong in the weight room—I'm down about 50 pounds in each lift—but I'm more flexible than ever, much less robotlike. I used to come off the ball, drive into my man, and I had so much force moving forward, I couldn't change direction. Now, I can.
"The best thing I ever did was get off the drugs. I've found that I can compete in the NFL without them. Getting off them was hard; I was an addict, a steroid junkie. And when my lifts started to decrease, I thought about going back on. I still do. But there's such a thing as being too strong to play football, and there are just too many medical risks."
Warren Welsh, the NFL director of security, met privately with Courson in Tampa a few weeks before the Bucs' training camp started. Courson said Welsh did not reprimand him for admitting that he used steroids, which are forbidden by the NFL.
"On the contrary," Courson says, "Warren said he came to see me to learn more about steroids. He was interested in the psychological effects. He had no idea how aggressive steroids can make you. Like a lot of the higher-ups in the NFL—a lot of older people—Warren is trying to wrestle with steroids and other drugs. Drugs aren't part of their generation. But I really think the NFL is finally getting its head out of the sand."
Two guys not to be left together on a deserted island: Howie Long of the Raiders and Mark Gastineau of the Jets. The All-Pro defensive ends are close—but in talent only. Long is almost consumed by his dislike for Gastineau. Why, Howie even stole Mark's helmet after the Pro Bowl last January and wore it to practice the other day. Here's what Long said about his nemesis:
"To me, there are two ways to play defensive end. You can be flashy like he is—which is the kindest way I can put it—or, you can take a blue-collar approach, as I do. You make your play, then go back to the huddle.
"He's three parts show and one part sincerity. He drives his Rolls-Royce and he wears fur coats when he goes to visit children in the hospital. Does that sound like he cares? Can you imagine me owning a fur coat?"
On the subject of Gastineau's off-season training camp at a Palm Springs, Calif. resort-hotel, where fans paid to see Mark work out, Long said, "Can you imagine charging people to watch you lift weights?"
Madison's big man was back on campus.
RICH ADDICKS/THE ATLANTA CONSTITUTION
Rambo? No, it's Fralic of the Falcons.
TOON WISHES THE JETS WOULD WHISTLE HIS TUNE
Like most 22-year-olds, Al Toon longs for the bright lights and the big city. "I read the New York papers all the time," he says. "I want to be there." Where the Jets' No. 1 draft pick was on Sunday, though, was in Madison, Wis., on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, not with the Jets in Los Angeles, because he and the Jets have been unable to agree on contract terms. Toon, a wide receiver, wants $1.9 million over four years—a request that seems in line with what other high picks have received—while the Jets have offered him a four-year, $1.6 million deal. Through his agent, Toon has asked the Jets to trade him, but they have refused.
"I'm maturing as a business person," says Toon, who has a year left in his consumer science major. "I'm giving up a few weeks of experience, trying to gain things that have lifelong ramifications."
Toon is enrolled in Poli Sci 101 and Statistics 301. "That class is titled Probability," Toon says. "Maybe I should have taken that before the draft."
JUST 'A FREE-SPIRITED, AGGRESSIVE SORT...'
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution featured Falcons rookie offensive lineman Bill Fralic on the cover of its annual pro football special. Fralic, from the University of Pittsburgh, was decked out in Rambo garb, complete with a 23-pound, M60 machine gun, bandoliers across his bare chest, army pants and a headband with a Falcon logo. The cover billing read: NEW BLOOD. A headline asked, "How much can one he-man do?"
The photograph was taken behind the Falcons' Suwanee, Ga. practice field. Rich Addicks, the photographer, wanted to use a clip of ammunition so that the bullets would stick out of the gun—to add to the realism—but Charlie Dayton, the team's publicity director, nixed the idea. No sense risking an accident.
Hey, guys, Rambo mowed down a lot of people in the movie. With machine guns and grenades and....
"We don't think football is life or death," says Journal-Constitution sports editor Van McKenzie. "Fralic is a free-spirited, aggressive sort of guy. It's a very impressive cover. It catches your eye. We're not selling blood and guts. This is only meant to be a spoof."
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
OFFENSE: Steelers quarterback Mark Malone completed 21 of 30 attempts for 287 yards and five touchdowns—tying a club record—and ran for a sixth TD as Pittsburgh routed the Colts 45-3.
DEFENSE: Minnesota cornerback Rufus Bess had 10 tackles, recovered one fumble, caused three others and intercepted a Joe Montana pass with 14 seconds left as Minnesota stunned San Francisco, 28-21.