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Original Issue

the NFC Central

A Lion Roars

Although Detroit wideout Herman Moore leads his team in scoring and is nearly on pace to break the Lions' single-season reception mark, he'll probably always be overshadowed by the NFL's Big Four wide receivers—Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, Sterling Sharpe and Andre Rison—as well as by one of his own teammates, All-World running back Barry Sanders.

Thanksgiving Day threw his dilemma into bold relief. Moore had the best performance of his four-year career—seven catches for 169 yards, including a 51-yard TD—in Detroit's 35-21 victory over the Bills. But somehow it seemed outstripped by Sharpe's four-touchdown performance in the game that followed, even though Sharpe totaled far fewer yards (122) and Green Bay lost 42-31 to the Cowboys.

Moore knows the Pro Bowl is his ticket to fame, but getting there isn't easy. "The irony is, once you get to the Pro Bowl, it allows you to stay there," says Moore, who has caught 56 passes for 931 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. All but 12 of his receptions have resulted in cither a first down or a touchdown. "People recognize you after your first trip. They'll notice you on TV, they'll look for your name in the stats. It's getting there the first time that's the hard part."

If hard work were a criterion for going to the Pro Bowl, Moore would be a shooin. From this past February until July, Moore trained with his wife, Angela, a former middle-distance runner at Virginia. She designed a rigorous program that included weightlifting, interval training, stretching and diet. Her workouts have kept Herman healthy and given him better flexibility and endurance.

"Angela's my toughest critic," Herman says. "She won't tell me it's good if it's not. Any success I have this season, she should get half the credit for."

Spent Bucs

During his eight seasons as coach of the Bengals, Sam Wyche produced offenses that finished in the top half of the NFL rankings every year. But somehow his system hasn't taken root in Tampa Bay. Although the Bucs surprised Minnesota 20-17 on Sunday, they are still 26th in the NFL in offense.

Despite the fact that quarterback Craig Erickson had the league's seventh-best efficiency rating (87.1) after Sunday's games, the Bucs' offense is atrocious. Only the Cardinals, with 154 points, have scored fewer points than the Bucs (165), and Arizona at least has the NFL's second-rated defense to depend on.

The Bucs' defense is ranked 21st. And even when it does force a turnover, the Tampa Bay offense rarely takes advantage. On Sunday, safety Tony Covington picked off a Warren Moon pass and returned it 38 yards to the Viking six-yard line. Three plays later, the Bucs scored to take a 7-0 lead. That touchdown, and a field goal after an interception in Tampa Bay's 22-21 loss to Seattle on Nov. 20, are the only points the Buc offense has scored on the 12 turnovers produced by the defense this season.

The Button-down Bears

At 32, and in his 11th season with Chicago, safety Shaun Gayle is the last remaining member of Buddy Ryan's blitzing defense that helped the Bears win the 1986 Super Bowl. A few days before Sunday's game between the Bears and Ryan's Arizona Cardinals, Gayle was asked to assess the differences between this year's team and that great Bear squad.

"Buddy figured out what each player did well, then put him in the best position to accentuate his attributes," says Gayle. "In Dave Wannstedt's defense the players are interchangeable. The program is in place, and he'll rotate players in and out to keep them fresh."

According to Gayle, that's something Wannstedt probably picked up while working for the Dallas Cowboys, his previous employers. "Unlike our 1986 Super Bowl team, you'd be hard-pressed these days to name our starters on defense," says Gayle. "This is an indication of one trend the Cowboys started—the corporate approach to winning."

On Sunday the corporate approach won out, as Chicago topped the Cardinals 19-16 in overtime.

Sibling Rivalry

Who gives his team more bang for the buck, the Rocket or the Missile? Raghib (Rocket) Ismail, the former Notre Dame All-America, will make $1.2 million this season as a kickoff returner and wide receiver for the Raiders. His less-heralded little brother Qadry, a.k.a. the Missile, a second-round pick out of Syracuse in '93, is being paid $375,000 for holding down the same jobs with the Vikings. Unlike his older brother, Qadry also covers kicks: He has made six tackles on kickoffs, including a touchdown saver, and he also does duty on punt coverage. Says Viking special teams coach Gary Zauner, "I think Qadry is a more complete player than his brother."

Here's the ammo to support that argument.




In the NFL Qadry (left) has passed his brother.

Kickoff Returns



Pass Receptions