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The Party's Over
Peter King
December 15, 1997
Lawrence Phillips gets another shot, but there's little room for error, Dillon cuts loose, Forget replay
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December 15, 1997

The Party's Over

Lawrence Phillips gets another shot, but there's little room for error, Dillon cuts loose, Forget replay

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PLAYER

YEAR DRAFTED

ROUND DRAFTED

HEIGHT

WEIGHT

SACKS BEFORE 1997

1997 SACKS

SMITH, DE

1992

2

6'2"

262

28

11�

OWENS, DT

1990

2

6'3"

280

22

6

HALL, DT

1995

6

6'5"

288

6

10�

ARCHAMBEAU, DE

1990

7

6'5"

275

12�

8

"How's this for irony?" Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson said one day last week, pointing to the calendar on his desk. On the day that second-year running back Lawrence Phillips, a man for whom crises are commonplace, reported for his first practice as a Dolphin, the inspirational message for the day read: WHEN ADVERSITY STRIKES, IT MAY BE WHAT IS NEEDED TO BE SUCCESSFUL.

Johnson hopes Phillips, waived by the Rams on Nov. 20 for repeated violations of team rules, wakes up on one of these Sundays and realizes his opportunities are fast running out. Otherwise, Phillips will soon be looking for a job again.

In St. Louis as many as six people devoted some of their time to dealing with Phillips. Johnson says he should expect no special treatment in Miami, and the coach makes it clear that he thinks coddling Phillips led to his downfall in St. Louis. "Sometimes people feel a need to rehabilitate others, to right all the wrongs in the world," he says. "I'm not that way. I can't rehab in three weeks what has been 22 years in the making with Lawrence Phillips. Lawrence has been taken care of through all his problems, probably by people he didn't trust. At Nebraska the adversity was handled for him. At St. Louis the adversity was handled for him. Where did [all the attention] get him? Fired. Here, he'll have to be responsible for himself."

The hard-line stance is not unusual for Johnson, who has never exactly been big brother to his players. "I've got a Corvette, a two-seater. There's a reason for that," he says. "I don't want a lot of passengers." The only message he gave Phillips about his rules was basically this: Do what's right and we'll get along fine. "I can't be writing what the rules are because my rules vary from player to player," Johnson says. "It's like I told Lawrence: In Dallas we had a linebacker named John Roper, who got cut for falling asleep in a meeting. If Troy Aikman fell asleep in a meeting, I'd go over and whisper, 'Wake up, Troy.' "

Phillips, who signed with Miami through 1998 but received no guaranteed money, will be used sparingly the rest of this season—he suited up but didn't play in Sunday's 33-30 win over the Lions—as a backup to Karim Abdul-Jabbar. If Phillips screws up and Johnson decides he has seen enough, the coach will shrug and cut him.

Rams coach Dick Vermeil tried hard to reform Phillips, picking him up in Nebraska after he had served a 23-day jail term in the off-season and recommending him to other coaches after cutting him. But even this extremely loyal man sees a dark side. " Lawrence may not have a drinking problem," Vermeil said last week, "but he has had problems when he drinks."

Though he isn't close to Phillips, Rams running back Craig (Ironhead) Heyward, who in 1994 admitted to being an alcoholic, saw enough to conclude that Phillips's problems are far from over. "I know you've got to hit rock bottom before you can turn yourself around," says Heyward. "Jail didn't help him. It allowed him to rehab his knee, and it gave him three hots and a cot. What kind of punishment is that? Then the coach picks him up at the end of his sentence. Basically somebody here always held his hand."

The moral of the story? "You can't have a moral yet because the story's not finished," says Johnson. "It can be a Cinderella story, or it can be the harsh reality of life. It's up to Lawrence."

Bingo, Bengals

The Bengals have taken a lot of knocks for poor drafting, but they deserve kudos for taking Washington running back Corey Dillon with the 43rd pick in last April's draft. After a string of arrests as a youth, Dillon, a veteran of two junior colleges before enrolling at Washington, looked as if he would be a handful for any NFL team. But Al Roberts, his running backs coach at Washington, took a job last winter as Cincinnati's special teams coach, and on draft day he gave the staff a glowing report on Dillon's character. Although he played only eight games for the Huskies, Dillon also had shown enough to impress Bengals running backs coach Jim Anderson.

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