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THE NFL
Peter King
November 25, 1991
They Even Played Football
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November 25, 1991

The Nfl

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YEAR

STARTER

STATUS

1983

Boomer Esiason

Bengal starter

1984

Frank Reich

Bills backup

1985

Stan Gelbaugh

Cardinals starter

1986-87

Dan Henning

San Diego St. student

1988-89

Neil O'Donnell

Steeler starter

1990

Scott Zolak

Pats third-stringer

They Even Played Football

A week in the life of the Patriots: Lawyers for the former owner took the depositions of witnesses in the owner's suit against the NFL; lawyers for the current majority owner wrangled for a deadline extension on a $38 million payment owed to the current minority owner; lawyers for a former beat writer covering the Patriots prepared for a sexual-harassment trial; New England's new CEO worked to engineer an out-of-court settlement of a dispute between the Foxboro Stadium owners and the team; some coaches and front office staffers fretted about losing their jobs if yet another owner is brought in; turf experts rushed to install a new grass field because the grass laid last spring at Foxboro was dying; the ticket department worried that the stadium might not be half filled on Sunday; and, oh, yeah, the players prepared to play a football game.

"The adversity is always there," said coach Dick MacPherson last week, "but who's better suited to handle it than this team? We're pretty experienced at it."

New England is 3-8 after losing 28-21 to the Jets. Looking every bit like the 1990 Pats, who went 1-15, they dug themselves a 21-0 hole. But these aren't the '90 Pats, and they showed it during 10 minutes of the fourth quarter, when they scored three touchdowns to tie the game. After New York went ahead 28-21 with 57 seconds left, New England drove all the way to the Jets' one before rookie running back Jon Vaughn was stopped for no gain on the game's final play.

In each of the last four weeks the Patriots have had a chance to win or tie a game with less than two minutes to play and have come up short. "I'll die again tonight," said quarterback Hugh Millen. "Then I'll watch the sun come up again."

Of course, these Pats aren't the '85 Pats, who lost to the Bears in Super Bowl XX, either, but they've got spunk. They fight to win, and they're fun to watch. The players seem to be able to shut out the off-field negatives and play all-out, MacPherson-style football. And they care. "Guys were crying after the game," said nosetackle Fred Smerlas on Sunday.

But all this will count for naught if some new owner with a big broom comes in this winter and sweeps out the current administration. "To do something like that would take a very crazy man," said Vaughn. Study your Patriot history, Jon.

Deion's Difficult Decision

The Atlanta Braves have put Deion Sanders on their 40-man roster with the intention, says general manager John Schuerholz, of doing "all we can to convince him to play baseball full time. We think he can be one of the real dynamic players in the game, but at some point—and soon—he needs to devote his full time to baseball."

It sounds more and more as if Sanders, a cornerback for the Falcons, might make baseball his priority sport in 1992. "We'll discuss it after the Falcons' season," says Sanders's attorney, Eugene Parker. "A lot will depend on what the Braves have in mind for him."

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