At first they were cordial with one another, seemed to be getting on famously. Eric Metcalf, a new member of the Atlanta Falcons, and Glyn Milburn of the Denver Broncos met for the first time this summer when they were invited to Seattle to pose for a picture. After a bit of small talk, the small fry adjourned to changing rooms to don the uniforms of their respective teams.
Upon emerging, Milburn, shod in turf shoes, glanced at the feet of Metcalf, who was wearing sneakers. "I think those give you a little extra height," said Milburn peevishly.
"You think so?" said Metcalf. "I don't think so." And the battle was joined.
In an issue larded with leviathans, we bring you this matched set of minnows, two card-carrying members of the NFLs runt fraternity. M&M had long been linked by similarities transcending the obvious one: They are the same player, a quicksilver runner-receiver-return specialist whose accomplishments are measured in all-purpose yards and whose coaches have often failed to get the most out of him.
And there are other similarities: The two men have the same number of letters in their names; both could be on the cusp of breakthrough seasons; neither, on meeting, conceded that he is more vertically challenged than the other. Metcalf claims to be 5'10" but appears to be an inch shy of that. Milburn, listed in the Denver media guide at 5'8", is actually 5'8" and change. When the two stood side by side, Metcalf seemed—even after his elevator shoes had, at Milburn's insistence, been taken into consideration—to be taller by a fraction of an inch.
That fraction was all Metcalf needed. Having established that he is the bigger man—he also has a dozen or so pounds on the 177-pound Milburn—Metcalf suddenly changed his behavior. He kidded Milburn about his wardrobe, accusing him of shopping "in the little boys' section at Nordstrom" and of buying "those kiddie Air Jordans with air bubbles in the heel."
When the talk turned to basketball, Milburn admitted that he cannot dunk. Mistake. Metcalf, a former two-time NCAA champion long jumper at Texas whose personal best in that event is 27'8¾", can jam a basketball, in a variety of ways. "Don't worry," he reassured Milburn. "When I was 5'2", I couldn't dunk either."
Milburn, 24, absorbed the abuse with aplomb. Metcalf, he figured, has earned some deference. After two seasons in the NFL, Milburn has seven touchdowns and 3,066 all-purpose yards. Metcalf, three years his senior, six years in the league and twice selected for the Pro Bowl, has scored 33 touchdowns, gained 9,108 all-purpose yards and established himself as one of the top kick returners in NFL history. Milburn, who returned five punts for touchdowns in college but not yet one as a pro, is, as one NFL personnel director puts it, "not quite a Metcalf but in the same mold."
Milburn has had Metcalf's tail-lights in view since 1988, his first and only year at Oklahoma. (What Milburn diplomatically describes as the "unusual circumstances" surrounding his stay in Norman—including a shooting and a gang rape in the athletic dorm, and the cocaine-related arrest of the starting quarterback—convinced him that he should transfer to Stanford.) The week before the Sooners took on Texas that year, Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer had Milburn masquerade as Metcalf on the scout team. Superbly prepped, the Sooners shut down Metcalf, who would later be named the Longhorns' Offensive Player of the '80s, and won 28-13. For his uncanny imitation of the Texas star, Milburn was awarded a game ball by Switzer.
Since turning pro, Milburn has turned his Metcalf act into a cottage industry. Whenever the Broncos played the Cleveland Browns, Metcalf's team for his first six years in the league, Milburn spent the week preceding the game wearing Metcalf's number 21 in practice and humbling the first-team defense.