Now we are going to find out what the 5-1 Giants are made of. A day after taking sole possession of first place in the NFC East, surprising New York learned that one of its indispensable players, wide receiver Mike Sherrard, had suffered a hip injury that sounds hauntingly like the one that felled Bo Jackson. Sherrard, the Giants' leading receiver, partially dislocated his left hip and suffered a fracture of the back wall of the hip socket in the Giants' 21-10 win over the Eagles on Sunday at the Meadowlands.
Coping with Sherrard's loss—he will miss at least three months, the club said Monday—will give the Giants of coach Dan Reeves another opportunity to confound their doubters. Heaven knows they've been debunking a slew of misconceptions throughout this young season.
Misconception No. 1: The wholesale loss of talent from the good old days would make them a 5-11 team.
A lot of fans remain attached to familiar players even when those players are no longer producing. Before the '91 season the Meadowlands faithful grieved over the departure of tight end Mark Bavaro. The mourning resumed in this preseason with the losses of linebackers Carl Banks and Pepper Johnson and the demotion of nosetackle Erik Howard. "I still get questions from the Sons of Italy on Bavaro," says general manager George Young. "Hey, we can't stuff them at the taxidermist and keep putting the same guys out there for 10 years." Giant fans are drying their eyes now that they've discovered that a bunch of free agents—led by Sherrard and linebackers Carlton Bailey and Michael Brooks—and young draftees like linebacker Corey Miller are remaking their team into a contender.
Misconception No. 2: The defense, 26th in points allowed in '92, did little to improve itself in the off-season.
"We lost great players on the defense," says Miller, "and replaced them with guys lots of people had never heard of. I'm sure some people thought we'd go 1-15."
Through Sunday's games the Giants were third in points allowed—11.8 per game. Their linebacking has been superb. Brooks and Bailey are one-two on the team in tackles, and Miller has four sacks, two interceptions and two pass deflections in the past two weeks.
Misconception No. 3: With Rodney Hampton injured, the offense was through.
Through four games, Hampton was averaging 108 yards and New York was leading the NFL in time of possession. Then, on Oct. 7 Hampton underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. The rushing burden has fallen to Lewis Tillman, and in the space of eight days, the Giants ripped the Redskins and Eagles by a combined score of 62-17, with Tillman darting and powering his way for 273 yards, 169 of them on Sunday. Hampton is due back on Oct. 31 against the Jets.
Misconception No. 4: Quarterback Phil Simms can't last the season.
Simms turns 38 on Nov. 3. Quarterbacks these days seem to have the life span of a mayfly, and Simms could go down at any time. But he has been energized by this team, and he can't believe his good fortune. "You know what's great?" he says. "For the first time in years, my feet don't hurt. You know what it's like to be able to run without pain?"
In his 14th season Simms knows enough not to get too caught up in early-season optimism. But he also knows it's a wide-open race this year. "The notions we had about this league a couple of months ago are all out the window," he says. "This league is there to be had. Everyone knows the Cowboys are lurking, but for now, we're right there."
ARBITERS OF FASHION
Rest easy, fans. Your NFL is working tirelessly to protect you from forbidden headbands and logos, and the dread flapping towel. The league sends an observer to every single game, and one of his duties is to scan the field with binoculars to uncover violations of the NFL's uniform code.
Sounds silly, doesn't it, that a league whose athletes have already been rendered faceless by head-to-toe padding and birdcage helmets would seek to strip players of even the most trivial of sartorial splashes. Consider the case of Steeler cornerback D.J. Johnson, who has been fined more than $10,000 over his five-year career for, he says, "tiny, petty, nitpicky things." Among them:
•The headband. Johnson was docked $1,500 in September because the back of his bandanna was visible under his helmet. He was fined for the same offense five times last year. If he tucks the knot of his bandanna inside his helmet, the knot hurts his head. "The sweat runs into my eyes, and my helmet moves without the headband," he says. "Now, after every play, I have to push it back up inside my helmet. Imagine having to think about something so ridiculous during a game."
•The shoes. The league has contracts with three shoe companies, and those contracts spell out the following: Each team is permitted a maximum of 10 players per game who can wear Nikes and 10 who can be shod in Reeboks; the rest must wear Apex One shoes or hide the fact that they're not. Johnson has always preferred Adidas, and for a while he wore that brand, elaborately taping the shoes to cover their trademark stripes and then drawing an Apex One logo on the tape with Magic Marker. However, Johnson felt that the tape hampered his mobility, so he has switched to Reeboks. "This may be the worst rule in the history of sports," he says. "I've worn Adidas all my life. Now they say I can't wear them."
•The gloves. Two years ago the NFL had a glove contract with Neumann and Saranac, not with Easton, Johnson's preferred model. But Johnson wore Easton gloves in a game, and the uniform police nabbed him. He was fined. Now Easton gloves are legal—but they must bear the NFL Properties' QUARTERBACK CLUB logo.
•The socks. Get a load of this rule: The league specifies the exact amount of colored sock and white sock that can be shown. "I've been fined two or three times for having too much black showing," Johnson says.
Like many players, Johnson likes to drape a hand towel over his belt, though he has yet to run afoul of the rule that says no more than eight inches of the towel can show. "You have to tuck it in, and that means you can't wipe your face by just bending down," Johnson says. "You don't have time to take it out, then put it back in before a play is run. So you just throw it on the ground."
Johnson is hardly the only fashion felon in the NFL. Green Bay linebacker Wayne Simmons was fined $1,500 in September for not having his knees covered by his stirrups or pants. In Dallas's season opener wideout Michael Irvin (page 72) affixed to his helmet a small piece of tape bearing the number 22 as a tribute to teammate Emmitt Smith, who was unsigned at the time. The NFL warned Irvin he would be fined $1,500 if he did it again. Also this season, Cowboy cornerback Kevin Smith had to pay $1,500 for a too-long frontal towel, and Miami receiver Mark Ingram was warned for wearing an aqua towel instead of a white one.
Uniform uniforms are fine, but surely the league has better things with which to be concerned.
Don't be surprised if Joe Gibbs is back on an NFL sideline in 1995. "They say I'm going to be Charlotte's coach if it gets an expansion team, because my NASCAR team is based there," says Gibbs, the former Redskin coach. "I'm definitely not coaching next year; I'm going to see my son [Stanford linebacker Coy] play football. As far as down the road, I can't answer that."...It turns out the Falcons were right in not playing Eric Dickerson, who for some time had been feeling a tingling in his arm—a symptom of a serious neck injury. After Atlanta traded him to Green Bay, Dickerson flunked his physical when doctors discovered a bulging disc in his lower neck. Dickerson, who says he will probably retire, rushed for 13,259 yards in 11 seasons, second only to Walter Payton's 16,726 in 13 years.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Atlanta at New Orleans, Sunday. Fortunately for the Saints, coming off a 37-14 pounding by Pittsburgh, their kicker, Morten Andersen, is on a three-game winning streak in this series. Last year he beat the Falcons twice inside the two-minute warning, with 47- and 37-yard field goals. Earlier this year he broke a 31-31 tie with a 43-yarder at the gun. "I love putting the exclamation point on a game," says Andersen. "Even in college, I didn't do as well on midterm exams as on the finals. When the game's on the line, I want to be out there, deciding it."
THE END ZONE
The good news: Oiler right tackle David Williams and his wife, Debi, are proud first-time parents. Debi gave birth to Scot at 6:25 last Saturday evening in Houston. The bad news: Williams was expected in Foxboro, Mass., for Sunday's game against the Patriots. He did not show up, and it could cost him $120,000, a game's pay. Oiler coaches were also considering suspending him. "I don't have wings," said Williams. Said his line coach Bob Young, "They ought to suspend him for a week, maybe two. Everybody wants to be with his wife, but if World War II was going on and you said, 'I can't fly. My wife's having a baby,' would we have won the war?" The Oilers beat the Pats 28-14.