Leading 10-7 late in the third quarter, the Lions had just marched 83 yards to the Vikings' two-yard line. That is when Detroit coach Wayne Fontes inserted a short-yardage package, in which Barry Sanders, arguably the best running back in the NFL, was removed in favor of Eric Lynch. On the next play Lynch fumbled without being hit. The Lions lost the ball and ultimately the game, 17-13. Afterward, explaining why Lynch was in the game instead of Sanders, Fontes refused to second-guess himself, saying, "He hasn't fumbled in three or four years."
Entering Sunday's game, Lynch had had one carry—for no gain—since 1993. In that same period Sanders had carried the ball 645 times, and at one point last year had a streak of 703 straight carries without a turnover.
Here are some first-year players who came from humble beginnings to earn a spot on an opening day roster.
?Shar Pourdanesh, offensive tackle, Redskins: The "Shar of Iran," the 6'6", 313-pounder is believed to be the first Iranian-born player in the NFL. Pourdanesh, whose family immigrated to the U.S. in 1979, learned English by watching reruns of Gilligan 's Island. He started at left tackle on Sunday against the Eagles, protecting the back side of his li'l buddy, Gus Frerotte.
? Joe Nedney, kicker, Dolphins: He made only 55.7% of his field goal attempts at San Jose State. But after kicking "about 10,000 balls," as he puts it, last winter, Nedney came in as a free agent and unseated eight-year vet Pete Stoyanovich. In the Dolphins' 24-10 defeat of the Patriots Sunday, Nedney made his only field goal attempt, a 34-yarder.
?Moses Regular; linebacker, Giants: A rookie from Missouri Valley, an NAIA Division II school, Regular, despite wearing uniforms numbered 86, 51 and 46 in camp, caught coach Dan Reeves's eye. He will also be the team's long snapper.
And then there's David Diaz-Infante, a guard for the Broncos. He's 32 years old and doesn't qualify as a rookie, but he is worth watching. The last time he played in an NFL game was with San Diego as a replacement player during the '87 strike. The quarterback he was protecting was Rick Neuheisel, who is now the coach at Colorado.