The Jacksonville Stewart opened the season as the starting tailback but played his way to the bench by averaging only 2.7 yards per carry through the first six games. The knock against him was that he didn't break enough tackles, and it was suggested that he wasn't trying hard enough. Coach Tom Coughlin took the opposite tack, saying Stewart perhaps was trying too hard.
Coincidentally, the Vikings also questioned their Stewart about his effort. It happened in training camp, when quarterback Warren Moon wondered aloud why Stewart didn't seem to run as hard in practice as he did in games. Stewart took the criticism constructively. "I know now that I have to go all-out consistently," he said.
Nevertheless, in the Vikings' first eight games, Stewart was so far down the depth chart—behind Robert Smith, Amp Lee and Scottie Graham—that he had four carries for a total of one yard. But when Smith and Graham were injured, Stewart got his chance on Nov. 5 against Green Bay. He responded with 63 yards on 13 carries, including 36 yards on three straight runs during a third-quarter touchdown drive.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, Stewart also fumbled at the Green Bay 20 in the fourth quarter of a 24-24 game. "I'm not going to let it get me down," says Stewart, who got off the hook when the Vikings won on a last-second field goal. "I'm ready for when my number is called the next time."
It was called six times on Sunday in the Vikings' 30-24 overtime win over the Cardinals, but Stewart delivered only three yards. Meanwhile, in Jacksonville's 47-30 loss to Seattle, the other James Stewart gained 19 yards on three carries.
The Minnesota James Stewart has been compared with Chuck Foreman, the last running back the Vikings drafted out of Miami, and Eric Dickerson, the NFL's second-leading alltime rusher. He also has been mistaken for the Jacksonville James Stewart. Last summer a football trading card company sent each Stewart the other's card.
It wasn't a wonderful way to start life in the NFL.
Asked how it felt to be moved from safety to linebacker for a few plays earlier this season, the Lions' 221-pound Bennie Blades said, "Those 300-pound guys look at me and say, 'There's lunch.' " Actually, that's what foes are saying about the entire Detroit defense, which was ranked 28th in the league before surrendering 411 yards on Sunday in a 27-24 win over Tampa Bay. Coach Wayne Fontes, who has been given a playoffs-or-else edict by owner William Clay Ford, is quick to admit, "Defensively, we just can't get anything started." The Lions can't get anything stopped, either.
Under John Teerlinck, who was hired in the off-season from the Vikings to be assistant head coach for defense, Detroit went to a four-man front to promote a more aggressive pass rush. The result has been disastrous. Lion defenders lead the league with 92 penalties, including 23 for being offside. In the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, linebacker Antonio London jumped offside on a fourth-and-15 play, keeping a Buc drive alive. Later Tampa Bay drove for its final score after safety Van Malone was called for pass interference on a third-and-30 play.