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Looking back on 1998 ...
Remembering Moss, Flutie, Vinny and oh, those calls
Posted: Thursday December 31, 1998 03:08 PM
My enduring memory of the 1998 season will be that of watching worried Denver owner Pat Bowlen pacing the Cincinnati sideline late in a November game it looked like the Bengals stunningly would win. I said to him, “Hey, Pat, I know you don’t want to hear this, but this is what makes the NFL so much fun.” Now that upset didn’t happen, but a lot of them did in 1998.
All six division winners changed from 1997, including an injury-prompted switch atop the NFC East. When the defending NFC East champions lost cornerback Jason Sehorn to a knee injury in August, the contending Giants became the pretending Giants. Unlike any corner in the game, Sehorn combined clingy coverage with ferocious tackling. Sehorn’s absence, plus Deion Sanders’ incredible presence, sent Dallas to a division title. For nine games there wasn’t a more valuable player on the field than Sanders. But Dallas has been merely mortal since Sanders went down with a toe injury at Phoenix six weeks ago. It’s doubtful he’ll be prime-time for the playoffs.
The balance of power was knocked off-kilter by three other mega-injuries. Pass rusher Willie McGinest, who missed half the season with a strained groin, was one of 15 Patriots starters to get KO’d from action. Green Bay running back Dorsey Levens held out through training camp to get a big deal, then broke his leg in September. The lack of a running game forced Brett Favre into 23 interceptions. After two weeks, Rams wideout Isaac Bruce led the league with 21 catches. Then for the second straight year he was forced to the pitch with a blown hamstring.
The plays of the year also illustrate the NFL’s players of the year. When Doug Flutie drew up a play in the AstroTurf and galloped around left end to beat Jacksonville in Week 7, a legend was reborn. But let’s give credit where credit is due and rarely received, to the Buffalo Bills scout who put Flutie back in the NFL. Thanks for your nagging persistence, A.J. Smith.
Now a slew of bad calls, like the Vinny Testaverde non-touchdown ruled a touchdown against the Seahawks in Week 14, turned the debate on instant replay into a shrill cry, but unless the lords of football settle on one specific plan, we could -- incredibly -- see an eighth straight season of no replay in 1999.
Also this year Randy Moss twice torched the Packers, singlehandedly swinging the balance of power in the NFL Central towards the Vikings. Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas went berserk on Monday Night Football, a perfect signature for the loss of control on Marty Schottenheimer’s team. And what a stirring and apochryphal comeback Colts quarterback Peyton Manning led to beat the Jets in Week 11, driving his team 80 yards in the last three minutes of the game. A sign of things to come in Indianapolis.
But while Manning smashed every rookie quarterback record, the impact player of 1998 was Minnesota’s Randy Moss. In training camp Moss told Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson, “If I’m even with a cornerback, unless it’s Deion Sanders or some real fast guy, I’m just playing with him. Just throw it as far as you can.” It must have worked. Moss averaged one touchdown bomb per game, connecting mostly with the revitalized Randall Cunningham.
Speaking of impact, Doug Flutie threw eight more touchdowns than Troy Aikman and 12 fewer interceptions than Favre. And what a year it was for Vinny of Elmont. Vinny Testaverde, the Long Island kid, came home to do something Testaverde-philes thought was impossible: play an efficient quarterback for the Jets. Why are the Falcons are an astounding 20-4 over the past 14 months? Because running back Jamal Anderson carried Atlanta on his back. And until this year, the most important question in Dallas history was “Who shot J.R.?” Now it’s “Is Deion’s toe healthy?” The Cowboys will go nowhere in the playoffs without Deion at full speed.
I saved the best for last: Terrell Davis didn’t break the all-time rushing record but the Broncos got to 13-0 mostly because of his prolific legs. He gets the tough inside yards and he gets the outside yards with ease. My 1998 MVP is Terrell Davis.
Biggest Injuries of the Year1) Jason Sehorn
2) Deion Sanders
3) Willie McGinest
4) Dorsey Levens
5) Isaac Bruce
Biggest Impact Players of the Year1) Randy Moss
2) Doug Flutie
3) Vinny Testaverde
4) Jamal Anderson
5) Deion Sanders
6) Terrell Davis
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