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The Cruelest Cut
Peter King
March 25, 1996
A devastating block remains legal, Does Natrone mean business?, London warms up to the Fridge
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March 25, 1996

The Cruelest Cut

A devastating block remains legal, Does Natrone mean business?, London warms up to the Fridge

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Packers Nosetackle John Jurkovic cued the videotape to the play he'll never forget, the one in the NFC Championship Game that almost ended his career: He's lined up across from Cowboys right tackle Erik Williams as Dallas begins to run a rushing play to the left, away from Jurkovic, who begins sprinting along the line in pursuit. Williams, late in reacting, dives at Jurkovic, his helmet smashing into the back of Jurkovic's left knee. Jurkovic's head snaps back, and he goes down.

Though eight weeks had elapsed since the incident, Jurkovic was still nearly as mad as he was when it happened. "Look!" he yelled, filling the Packers conference room with his anger. "My back is to him! He dives right at my knee! He puts his head right into my bloody knee!"

On the monitor Jurkovic is writhing on the ground, his left medial collateral ligament torn. There is no flag. There is no condemnation from the TV announcers after they watch the replay. Williams will not be fined or reprimanded by the NFL.

After stopping the video and calming down, the 295-pound Jurkovic put his left leg—with the knee brace he now wears—on the table in front of him and said, "You know why he did that? Because the NFL says that's a legal play. Anybody who says a vicious block like that ought to be a part of football is asinine."

How asinine, then, is this? Neither the NFL's competition committee nor its owners made a move to outlaw this brutal play, called the cut block, at somnambulant league meetings last week in Palm Beach, Fla. If a defender is in the three-yard zone on either side of the line of scrimmage, an offensive lineman can still block him from shoulder pad to shoe, from the back, side or front.

Granted, a block as brutal as the one on Jurkovic may occur only 10 or 15 times a season, and many of them do not result in injury. But by allowing the tactic to remain legal in the wake of this particularly telling example of how devastating it can be, the NFL reaffirmed its class system. The league routinely takes action to protect quarterbacks, but it doesn't do enough to protect the grunts in the trenches. Although the league did modify the rule on chop blocks last week—effectively reducing situations when a defender can be blocked both above and below the waist on running plays—it refused to outlaw cut blocks from behind and below the waist.

"The defensive lineman's the king of the hill if he knows he can't get hit below the waist. Then your running game is dead," says Giants general manager and competition committee co-chairman George Young. "The defensive lineman is a weapon, and you've got to be able to block him."

Fortunately, Jurkovic, a free agent, did not need surgery, and he will be finished with his rehab and ready to look for a job by the end of the month. With the NFL having done nothing about the cut block, he implies that he may resort to vigilante justice. "I'll be in the league a while longer, and Mr. Erik Williams will be in the league a while longer," Jurkovic says. "Let me just say I'm looking forward to the day when we meet again."

Means or an End?

It's put-up or shut-up time for running back Natrone Means. He has a chance to be the mail carrier for the Jaguars, who signed him last week after the Chargers stunningly waived him on Feb. 28. Publicly San Diego said it had dumped the 5'10", 245-pound Means, who's only 23, to clear enough room under the salary cap so they could sign free-agent defensive end Marco Coleman. But the Chargers' reasons ran deeper than that. San Diego felt that Means didn't take proper care of himself during the off-season, and it didn't like agent Tank Black's opening salary request of $3.75 million per year when he tried to negotiate a new contract for Means.

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