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Losing Their Luster
Peter King
November 10, 1997
The Patriots aren't what they're cracked up to be, Bills' Spielman faces reality, Money well-spent for Harbaugh
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November 10, 1997

Losing Their Luster

The Patriots aren't what they're cracked up to be, Bills' Spielman faces reality, Money well-spent for Harbaugh

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"If it's my time to go, it's my time to go," the 32-year-old Spielman said last Friday, two days after learning he would have to undergo neck surgery that could end his career. Now his voice rose. "I will not go out on that field again and be the player I despise—a player who's collecting a paycheck, who doesn't give everything he has, who's afraid to stick his head in there. I will not dishonor the game I love. And if it's over, I won't sit in front of any TV camera crying, wallowing in pity. You know why? Because I played every game like it was my last. I did it the way it was supposed to be done. How can I regret anything?"

This week Spielman was due to have surgery to remove a herniated cervical disk that was pressing dangerously on his spinal cord. It's very similar to the injury that has sidelined Cowboys fullback Daryl Johnston, who had surgery last Friday and doesn't know if he'll play again. Four times during recent games against the Colts and the Broncos, Spielman says his body went numb for several seconds after hard hits. "I was living on borrowed time," he says. "It could have been catastrophic." He'll resume his career only if he and the doctors agree he won't risk serious injury.

Worth Every Penny

During an AFC wild-card playoff game last December, Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh lost a large piece of a front tooth on a jarring hit by Steelers linebacker Jason Gildon, and what remained of the tooth ripped through the tissue in his mouth. He never found the piece of tooth, and he believes he may have swallowed it. After the game Harbaugh shrugged when recalling the incident. "That's football," he said.

These things happen in the macho world of the NFL, and the worst label you can put on a player is that he's gutless, which is basically what former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly called Harbaugh on Buffalo TV recently. The remark led Harbaugh to confront Kelly on Oct. 25 in the Colts' San Diego hotel. In the brief scuffle that ensued, Harbaugh fractured a bone in his passing hand. The Colts will dock his pay—$147,000 a week—until he's ready to play, which he says will be this Sunday against the Bengals. The $147,000 was money he could afford to spend, Harbaugh said, and money well-spent. "Money I have," Harbaugh said last week. "You can't buy your pride."

He went to confront Kelly, he said, but not to fight him. Harbaugh says the physical part—he declined to be specific about the fisticuffs—happened only when Kelly wouldn't admit he was wrong when he said the Colts quarterback was a "baby" who "overdramatized" his injuries. Kelly denies a punch was thrown. "If I'd done nothing," Harbaugh said, "I'd feel a lot worse than I do now. You've got to be able to look yourself in the mirror. I can do that now."

Dispatches

Playoff contenders San Francisco and Washington fought to sign defensive tackle Chris Zorich, who was released last week by the then 1-7 Bears. Washington won, in part because Zorich wanted to play against the Bears on Sunday....

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue calls "ridiculous" Oakland owner Al Davis's assertion that he has some hold on the Los Angeles expansion territory, a claim Davis made last spring. "There's nothing in the universe that supports the idea," Tagliabue said....

The Bengals have decided to let underachieving defensive end Dan Wilkinson leave in free agency after the season if some team throws more than $2 million a year at him, which is likely....

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