The shields' only shortcomings are that they occasionally fog up and they must be wiped off constantly when it rains. The Pittsburgh Steelers didn't wear theirs on a soggy day in Cleveland this year because they feared the shields would get splattered with mud and leave them temporarily blinded.
But the Darth Vader look should continue to increase in popularity. Miami Dolphin fullback Woody Bennett claims his shield helps him keep his eyes open when he blocks; Phoenix Cardinals offensive tackle Ray Brown says his prevents him from losing his contact lenses. And as Bengal coach Sam Wyche puts it, "Why let yourself get poked in the eye when you can avoid it?"
BUT JUST FOR AN HOUR
In a criticism of the growing number of suspensions being handed out by NHL executive vice-president Brian O'Neill for violence on the ice (page 56), Flyer defenseman Jay Wells told Philadelphia Inquirer writer Al Morganti, " Brian O'Neill is definitely out to lunch. And you can write that." When Morganti telephoned O'Neill's office for a comment, a secretary told him he would have to call back. " Mr. O'Neill is out to lunch," she said.
At a semipro soccer game in Kidderminster, England, on Saturday, a group hoping to discourage irresponsible drinking offered free bottles of nonalcoholic champagne to the six fans who could best pronounce the name of the visiting team: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Llanfair PG, as the team is known, is named for the village in North Wales where it's based.
As contest spokesman Tony Humphris explained, "Only those who drink sensibly stand a chance of getting their tongues around the name." Fifteen fans were selected to try pronouncing the team name, and six came close enough to win champagne. Kidderminster won the game 3-0.
Though space considerations prevent us from spelling it phonetically, we will tell you that the village's name translates to "St. Mary's Church by the pool of the white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by the red cave of the Church of St. Tysilio."
JUST CALL IT A BLOCK PARTY
Pity Pittsburgh Steeler punter Harry Newsome. His league-leading average of 45.8 yards per kick is the highest in the NFL since 1985, yet he's having a disastrous year. Newsome has had a league-record six punts blocked—nearly a third of the NFL total of 21. "People may say, 'This guy is terrible. He's had six punts blocked,' " says Newsome. "But I don't think it's my fault."
The truth is, it has been a curious NFL season when it comes to blocked punts. The number of them isn't unusually high—all last year there were 29, and the league record is 31 in a season, set in 1977—but two teams, the Steelers and the Houston Oilers, have had a hand in almost half of them. Houston's extraordinary kick-blocking unit has gotten to five punts, including two of Newsome's on Oct. 16, to tie the NFL single-season record held by four other teams. The Oilers have also knocked down two extra-point attempts and partly blocked one punt; partial blocks—on which the ball is deflected but still travels beyond the line of scrimmage—don't count in the official NFL statistics.