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Inside The NFL


Like a Real Pro
With his Redskins showing a balanced but opportunistic offense,
Steve Spurrier bagged his first NFL win

Last Friday, two days before he coached his first NFL game, Steve
Spurrier walked off the practice field at Redskin Park and
pondered a comment that Broncos coach Mike Shanahan had made this
summer. Shanahan said that the NFL newcomer, known in the college
ranks for his fun-'n'-gun aerial show, might have to learn that
the pro game is about winning, not entertaining. Spurrier shook
his head, a hint of disbelief in his eyes. "Believe me," he said,
"it's all about winning for me. Nothing else."

In his much-anticipated debut Spurrier proved that he does know
what the NFL game is about. We saw the offensive swagger, his
instinct for when to take the shots downfield. Against a suspect
secondary, he called for six passes of 20 yards or longer, and
two hit pay dirt: a 26-yard strike to Kevin Lockett in the second
quarter and a perfect 43-yard throw to Rod Gardner in the third.

We saw a balanced attack, more so than expected. Spurrier ran
bullish back Stephen Davis into the line five times in the first
five minutes, 26 times overall for 104 clock-eating yards.

We saw Washington rip off yardage in chunks and score a bunch of
points. With plenty of time to throw, journeyman Shane Matthews
completed 70% of his passes (28 of 40) for 327 yards and three
touchdowns in the 31-23 win over the Cardinals.

The scoring pass to Gardner was vintage Coach Visor, who called
all of the plays on Sunday. From the Arizona 43, Gardner, lined
up in the right slot, sprinted straight downfield with the
Cardinals' best corner, Duane Starks, glued to him. Matthews
threw it up anyway. "I'm not comparing us to the Rams by any
means," Matthews said, "but Kurt Warner takes chances downfield.
Sometimes he hits 'em. Sometimes he doesn't. We want to take
chances and let our big receivers go get the ball. I was hoping
Rod would body him, and he did." The physical Gardner and Starks
leaped, and both got their hands on the ball. Gardner fell into
the end zone with it in his possession.

Walking to his office after the victory, Spurrier said that
little surprised him in his first game. Though he is as
calculating as the day is long, there is something very basic
about him. While most coaches prepare dense play sheets on a
computer and have them printed out and laminated for game day,
Spurrier held three handwritten sheets with plays so elementary
you would have thought he was calling a high school jayvee game.
ARIZONA PLAYS was scribbled atop one sheet. GOOD RUNS came next
and included a simplistic Slot 15/16 Toss Right.

"I usually have two sheets, but today I had three," he said.
"Don't know why. Once I got on the field, I looked at those
sheets maybe two minutes total. I usually know what I'm going to
do when I get out there."

It was only one game, and the Eagles and the 49ers will be eager
to put Spurrier in his place the next two weeks, but he knows
what the NFL game is about. "Last week I told him I had a tee
time at Caves Valley," said former Redskins quarterback Sonny
Jurgensen, now the team's radio voice, referring to a highly
regarded course not far from Redskin Park. "He said, 'No thanks.
Not during the season.'"

Williams's Dolphins Debut
Off on the Right Foot in Miami

Ricky Williams won over his new teammates long before he rushed
for 111 yards and two touchdowns in the Dolphins' 49-21 defeat of
the Lions on Sunday. He did it in the spring while running
110-yard sprints in the sticky South Florida heat. During his
three tumultuous seasons in New Orleans, Williams wasn't
committed to off-season conditioning and readily admits, "If they
had asked me to do all this with the Saints, I would've said,
'Hell, no.'" But he changed his ways after Miami acquired him in
a March 8 trade.

"He earned our trust. If he hadn't worked like the rest of us,
the guys would've been alienated from him," says Dolphins wideout
Oronde Gadsden. "To be accepted here, you have to go through the
whole process--off-season workouts, minicamps, passing camps,
training camp--and also produce on Sundays."

Williams certainly did that against Detroit, displaying the power
and toughness that the Dolphins expected in giving up a first-
and third-round draft choice to get him. Williams's presence also
opened up the play-action passing attack installed by new
offensive coordinator Norv Turner; Jay Fiedler completed 18 of 27
throws for 207 yards and three touchdowns. Miami finished with
389 total yards and no turnovers. "Defenses fear Ricky, and that
helps us all," says fullback Rob Konrad. "We had a rhythm to our
offense that we haven't had in a long time."

It appears that Williams has the drive to be a dominant back,
something he clearly lacked in New Orleans. Williams vexed
teammates and coach Jim Haslett with his enigmatic behavior, and
he skipped 90% of the Saints' off-season workouts before the 2001
season. The determination in February 2001 that Williams has
social anxiety disorder helps explain his reclusiveness, but he
doesn't use that diagnosis to excuse his actions. "I was still
the person who did all those things," he says.

Miami coach Dave Wannstedt says, "Judging from March to
September, Ricky has been excellent." Of course, it remains to be
seen if Williams can avoid the injuries and fumbles that plagued
him in New Orleans. He thinks people will see that he's a new
man. "I've looked at great running backs like Barry Sanders and
Marcus Allen, and I know I'm special like that," Williams says.
"And when I look at all the things that have prevented me from
reaching that level, I know what the biggest problem was: Me."
--Jeffri Chadiha

Titans Rookie Steps Right Up

After losing Jevon Kearse for at least six weeks with a broken
bone in his left foot, Tennessee has turned to rookie defensive
end Carlos Hall, a seventh-round draft pick, to fill the
pass-rushing void. Hall, who had 12 sacks in four seasons at
Arkansas, made three in the Titans' 27-24 win over the Eagles on
Sunday. That's one sack more than vaunted end Kevin Carter had in
his first 16 games with Tennessee.... Texans defensive tackle
Gary Walker, after his team's 19-10 stunner over the Cowboys: "We
ruined their season." He's probably right. With Tennessee,
Philadelphia and St. Louis next on its schedule, Dallas is likely
to start 0-4.

The End Zone
Taking Her Best Shot

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the MVP of Super Bowl XXXVI,
recalls his strangest off-season request: "A girl on my block, a
really sweet kid, came to my door and asked me to her high
school prom. Imagine how much guts that took. I felt bad, but I
politely declined."

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TWO COLOR PHOTOS: JOHN IACONO (2) Spurrier had Matthews (6) throwing deep, and Gardner had this TD to show for it.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES The new Williams acted and played like the one the NFL had envisioned all along.