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Starting Over
Peter King
December 22, 1997
Jerry Jones is relishing his opportunity to rebuild the Cowboys, Decision time for Kelly, A Pro Bowl snub
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December 22, 1997

Starting Over

Jerry Jones is relishing his opportunity to rebuild the Cowboys, Decision time for Kelly, A Pro Bowl snub

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Jim Kelly has attended one NFL game as a fan this season, the Bills-Dolphins Monday-nighter in Miami on Nov. 17, and he drove his wife, Jill, nuts as he squirmed in his seat. "I wanted to be in there so bad," he recalls. Now he may do something about it, in part to raise money to find a cure for 10-month-old son Hunter's fatal illness, Krabbe's disease.

In one breath Kelly, who will be 38 on opening day 1998, says, "If I decided to play, I'd donate most of my salary to our charity, Hunter's Hope Foundation. But honest to God it's less than 50-50 I'll play again." In the next breath he says, "I know I can still play. Look at my stats last year in Buffalo, after I started calling my own plays."

In November, Kelly commandeered the play-calling from offensive coordinator Tom Bresnahan. Before the change Kelly was a 57% passer with four touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 61.0 rating. In the six games that followed, Kelly was a 59% passer, with 10 touchdowns, seven interceptions and an 89.4 rating.

Kelly would prefer to be on a team that runs primarily a three-wideout set similar to what the Bills used. Nirvana would be the freedom to call his own plays, as he did for much of his career in Buffalo and as he would with the Ravens. The coach, if he survives, would be former Bills offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda. The incumbent quarterback, Vinny Testaverde, has fallen out of favor. All sides denied a report that an agreement had been reached with Kelly last week, but the deal makes too much sense not to happen. Plus, it's the type of headline-grabber owner Art Modell drools over.

Mr. Smith Stays Home

The player robbed most glaringly in last week's Pro Bowl voting was Falcons defensive end Chuck Smith, the most valuable player on one of the league's most surprising teams. Rams coach Dick Vermeil says Smith is the best defensive player his team has faced this season. Smith had a five-sack demolition of the Saints on Oct. 12, including three against Pro Bowl starting tackle William Roaf, and leads the Falcons with 12 sacks. Nevertheless, the Packers' Reggie White (10 sacks) and the Giants' Michael Strahan (14 sacks) were voted the NFC starters, and the 49ers' Chris Doleman (11 sacks) was named the reserve.

"I whupped a lot of people's butts the last three years, but I'm not bitter," Smith says. "Reggie's our Michael Jordan and Doleman's practically Scottie Pippen. For me to get to the Pro Bowl would be kind of like a big underdog winning a championship fight: I've got to knock the champ out, and I guess people think I haven't done that."

The Immaculate Deception

The 25th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, among the most controversial, and famous, plays in NFL history, is Dec. 23. There has always been debate about the legality of the catch that Franco Harris took for the winning score, but now Harris suggests that he might not have even made the catch.

The situation in the AFC first-round playoff game: Oakland led 7-6, but Pittsburgh had the ball at its 40, facing a fourth-and-10 with 22 seconds left. A scrambling Terry Bradshaw threw to halfback Frenchy Fuqua. The ball and Raiders safety Jack Tatum got to Fuqua simultaneously, the ball ricocheted into the air, and the next thing anyone knew, Harris had it and was galloping 42 yards into the end zone. Tatum claimed the ball bounced from Fuqua to Harris. At the time a pass that was deflected from one offensive player directly to another would have been ruled an incompletion.

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