New New England
It's only four games—keep repeating that—but new coach Dick ( Norman Vincent Peale) MacPherson has pounded his power of positive thinking so deeply into the Patriots that they already have scraped themselves off the bottom of the NFL barrel and become a competitive (2-2) team. MacPherson tries to give most of his players quick individual pep talks before each game, and before Sunday's meeting with the Oilers, he went up to wideout Greg McMurtry, who had only one catch for this season. "I feel deep in my heart that you're going to have a great day," MacPherson told him.
So, of course, McMurtry went out and caught a pass, zigzagged 34 yards with it and scored the winning touchdown with six seconds left. Final score: New England 24, previously unbeaten Houston 20.
Credit for the victory goes to an unheralded Patriot secondary and to the defensive scheme devised by coordinator Joe Collier, who deployed three linemen, two outside linebackers and six defensive backs to thwart Warren Moon and the Oilers' run-and-shoot offense. But credit also must go to MacPherson for his work on the minds of players who are coming off the 1-15 nightmare that was the 1990 season. "All I've done is made them realize how great they are," MacPherson said on Monday. "Only 1,316 people in the world do what they do at such a high level. They are the stars. I've told them they've got maybe 1,000 plays in a season. Play every one right. Pay attention to detail. And have a good time doing it."
Dumb Rule of the Week
Although the NFL took some teeth out of its anticelebration rule last week—the five-yard penalty for high-fiving fans or throwing the ball into the stands was revoked, but the $1,000 fine for tossing the ball to the fans was retained—there's still a ridiculous double standard. Why is Saints owner Tom Benson not fined for dancing with a parasol on the sideline late in games that New Orleans is about to win, while celebrations by players are subject to penalties or fines? If Benson can boogie, then why can't Ickey shuffle?
This is a clear case of the 800-pound gorilla sitting wherever he wants. Benson is an owner; Bengal fullback Ickey Woods is a player. "It's a loophole that commissioner [Paul] Tagliabue is rapidly trying to close, along with getting a collective-bargaining agreement and making sure our clubs have stadiums with satisfactory terms," said NFL vice-president of communications and development Joe Browne in a cryptic rejoinder to an inquiry last week about whether the anticelebration rule applies to Benson.
Unsportsmanlike conduct was called 12 times in the first three weeks of the season for excessive or prolonged player demonstrations, with nine of those penalties imposed for either throwing the ball into the stands or high-fiving fans. (Excessive end-zone celebrations accounted for the other three flags.) Tagliabue said negative fan reaction to the penalties is the reason that he eased up on the rule. There were no violations of the revamped anti-celebration statute in Sunday's games.
Smith-Green Stats of the Week
?In nonstrike games they have played since 1985 without star defensive end Bruce Smith, the Bills are 8-0, including their 17-10 win over the Bucs on Sunday.