So many players retire before their children can see them shine, and Esiason took pleasure on the most prolific day of his 13-year career in knowing that his son got to see him at his best. "To play like that with him there," Esiason said, "well, I don't know what the future holds, but if ever there was a sense of closure, this was it."
Bryan Cox was talking retirement after undergoing season-ending thumb surgery last week. Three days after the operation the Bears' high-priced middle linebacker told SI that the numbness he has been experiencing in his right hip and right toes for more than a year—the result of a bulging disk that is putting pressure on his spinal column—may drive him out of football. "I'm not willing to risk hurting myself any further," says Cox, who after spending his first five seasons with the Dolphins signed a four-year, $13.2 million free-agent deal with Chicago last February. "I'm playing with a short fuse right now. If this problem doesn't disappear, I'm going to have no choice but to retire."
Cox's setback is the latest blow in a season-long run of disastrous injuries for a Bears team that had realistic playoff hopes in September but is only 4-6 after a 17-12 loss to the Broncos on Sunday. Ten players are on injured reserve, compared with two all of last season. In 1995, 103 games were missed by Chicago players because of injury; this year the count has already reached 131.
Quarterback Erik Kramer played four games before being sidelined for the season with a herniated disk in his neck. The Bears are also playing without tight ends Chris Gedney (stress fracture in his right foot), Keith Jennings (broken left fibula) and Ryan Wetnight (sprained right knee), leaving the starting job to rookie free agent Bobby Neely. Only Wetnight is expected back this season. On his first snap as a pro, in a 37-6 loss to the Packers on Oct. 6, quarterback Steve Stenstrom broke his right foot when Chicago left tackle Andy Heck stepped on it. Bears trainer Fred Caito says it's the worst season he has seen for injuries in his 30 years in the game.
There's a smidgen of good news: A month ago the Bears feared Kramer's career was over, but his rehab is going so well that the club will try to re-sign him in the off-season.
Having won five of six interconference games on Sunday, AFC teams were 24-15 (61.5%) against their NFC rivals this season going into the Lions-Chargers Monday-nighter. That's the conference's best winning percentage since it went 33-19 (63.5%) in 1980. The dominant force: Buffalo, which is 4-0 against the NFC East this year and 22-6 against the NFC in the '90s....
Auburn coach Terry Bowden's reaction to being on our list of prospective NFL coaches (SI, Nov. 4): "I'd rather coach in high school."...
Coming off surgery on the right Achilles tendon he ruptured in the 1995 opener, Cowboys cornerback Kevin Smith has four interceptions. He autographed the balls he picked off, adding his thanks, and gave them to four individuals who played roles in his recovery....