The NFL, like the NBA, NHL and major league baseball, used to have a disabled list on which a club could place an injured player for a specified period of time, then bring him back when he was healthy. Unfortunately, many teams saw the potential for cheating and placed promising young players who weren't going to make the regular roster on the disabled list; that way the prospect could be, in effect, redshirted for a week, a month or a season and was protected from waivers until the following year.
The NFL therefore amended that rule in 1977 so that every player placed on injured reserve is now required to remain out for the entire season—no matter what his physical condition—unless his team is willing to risk sending him through waivers.
The effect of the rule change has been to leave many teams shorthanded at key positions. The Baltimore Colts, for example, lost Quarterback Bert Jones to a shoulder injury in the preseason; Jones' replacement, Bill Troup, then broke three fingers against Denver four weeks ago. The Colts could have put Jones, or Troup, on the injured-reserve list and picked up another quarterback. But when they weighed the possibility of losing Jones for the duration of the season, they decided to go with third-stringer Mike Kirkland. The week before the Baltimore- Miami game, Kirkland not only had to run the team's offense in practice, but he also had to imitate Bob Griese for the defense. The Colts' gamble paid off when Jones returned to action on Monday night a week ago and led Baltimore to a 21-17 upset of Washington. Last Sunday, though, Jones reinjured his shoulder and had to be removed from the Colts' game at Seattle.
The Oakland Raiders are without John Vella, Terry Robiskie and Clarence Davis because of the rule, even though all three are now feeling fine. Things reached such a sorry state in the Raider camp earlier this season that Coach John Madden had to hire someone off the street so he would have enough bodies to go around during practice.
The New England Patriots lost Defensive End Julius Adams, Punter Mike Patrick and Kicker John Smith to the injured-reserve list early this season because Coach Chuck Fairbanks decided he couldn't wait for them to get healthy. Now that the players are ready to return, but can't, Fairbanks is moaning. "It's a bad rule and something should be done about it," he says. "It doesn't make sense to have healthy players just sit out and not be able to play."
Fairbanks is in favor of a short-term injured-reserve rule, and when he presents the idea at the league meetings next year he will no doubt get plenty of support from Denver's Red Miller. Miller is down to five healthy offensive linemen as a result of injuries. "We've got to do something," Miller says. "With a 16-game season, you're getting teams that are using men at less than full physical ability because they don't have replacements. We've got to come up with some way to take care of the injured and not be forced to put them back into action too soon."
Phillies Relief Pitcher Tug McGraw was asked recently to appear at his children's school, but it wasn't because they had been jumping off teeter-totters, or hanging from the monkey bars by their teeth, or for any of the other reasons parents usually get invited unexpectedly to school. It seems that each day when McGraw dropped off his 5-year-old daughter Cari and his son Mark, 6, the other young scholars began piling out of buses in a mad scramble for Tug's autograph. In the interest of safety—McGraw's as well as the kids'—the teachers asked the pitcher to visit classes and conduct autograph parties, and he agreed. But when the announcement of Tug's forthcoming appearance was made in his daughter's kindergarten class, one little girl was unmoved. "I don't know that it's so important to have Tug McGraw's autograph," she said. "It's not like he's Donald Duck or something."
It was fitting and yet sad somehow that after bringing so much excitement and invention to hockey for such a long time, two of the most glamorous players in the history of the sport should have hung up their skates within seven days of each other. Bobby Hull, 39, who popularized the slap shot and breathed life into a whole new league—the World Hockey Association—was the first to call it quits. Then Bobby Orr, 30, whose bold rink-long rushes and brilliant shotmaking revolutionized theories of what a defenseman should do, announced that his knees had failed him so completely he could not go on. Orr was the first defenseman ever to lead the NHL in scoring.
Both men's skills had been diminished by age or infirmity for some time, but it is still hard to believe that they have packed up their magic and gone home.