AM: Well, uhh, do you still think you have a shot? Is there any good news?
MM: If I stick, I could be the worst player in the league. Imagine it. The Kwitcher would go nuts.
Let me explain. Jim Kwitchoff was a teammate of Mark's at BC. Every fall, it was their custom to identify the player they thought was the worst in the NBA and to spend the season rooting for him. "It was Granville Waiters of the Pacers and the Bulls for a while there," says Mark. "Then, in Manute Bol's first year with the Bullets, it had to be Manute." Tim Kempton, when he was with the Hornets, carried the ignominious mantle for a season, says Mark, 'but right now, I'd have to go with Frank Brickowski [of the Spurs]."
If the Lions were the worst team in the NFL and they kept him, Mark figured, "then by the transitive property, I'd be the worst player in the NFL. Pretty neat, huh?"
That distinction eluded you, Mark—it belongs to some anonymous Dallas Cowboy—but at least you dared to dream. During dinner at camp on Aug. 18, just as Mark was polishing off his training-table Tater Tots, the Turk heaved into view. Serving as Detroit's Turk, or designated doom-messenger, was Joe Bushofsky, a kindly longtime apparatchik in the front office. Bushofsky made a lousy Turk, in Mark's increasingly expert opinion. "Too nice," he says. "The way he just stood there watching me eat, you could tell he was nervous as hell about something."
"Uh, Murph, Coach wants to see you in 15 minutes," Bushofsky finally blurted out. "And bring your playbook."
Thus tolled the death knell of Mark's five-week NFL career. As it turned out, Mark wasn't cut so much as he just disappeared. Most NFL releases are listed in the back of your newspaper's sports section under Transactions, where they look like tiny obituaries for deceased hopes, set in agate type. "Detroit Lions: Waived: Mark Murphy, defensive tackle," Mark's would have read. The problem was, most cuts are announced on Sunday and Monday. Mark's Friday sacking was a sneak play, which the wire services muffed. They never picked it up, robbing Mark of a million flashes of sympathy from a million coffee-sipping, sports-page-browsing Americans.
He bore up bravely. Within a day of being waived, Mark was straining a foldout beach chair at the surfs edge in Rhode Island as Sabrina, his girlfriend, applied Coppertone to his back and shoulders. We, his family, offered our condolences, casting dutiful, if insincere, slurs on the Lions for allowing a talent of his caliber to get away. Finally, Mark put an end to it. "Hey, it's not like I was having fun up there," he said.
Only Ethel, our 84-year-old grandmother, was insensitive. "Out of college three months, and he's already lost his first job," she muttered between belts of sherry. "I believe that's a record even in this family."
She was bitter; actually, we all were. Camp had started with such promise. For the first three weeks of two-a-days, Mark handled the Lions' long-snapping duties. As it turned out, however, he was first-string only because Eric Sanders, Detroit's deep snapper for the previous three seasons, was holding out. The instant Sanders reported, Mark was back on the scout team. "Stay in shape," Lion head coach Wayne Fontes told Mark after relieving him of his playbook. "You never know when someone's going to need a long snapper."