Cleveland at Washington, Sunday. Four years ago, Earnest Byner's fumble at the goal line in the AFC Championship Game kept the Browns from their first Super Bowl. A year later in the playoffs, Byner was flagged on consecutive plays for unnecessary roughness, and those two 15-yard penalties crippled Cleveland in a 24-23 loss to the Oilers. On the day of the 1989 draft, the Browns, wanting more speed and fewer snakebites, dealt Byner to Washington for Mike Oliphant, a running back-receiver-return man.
In the George Allen and Bobby Beathard eras, the Redskins made a jillion trades, but few were better than this one. In yards gained rushing and receiving since the trade, the score is Byner 3,238, Oliphant 119. Byner enters this first meeting with his old team as the featured back for a 6-0 team, and he ranks third in the NFC in rushing, with 526 yards. Meanwhile, Oliphant returns to Washington as running back Eric Metcalf's caddie—a special teams player only.
The End Zone
The Dolphins signed free-agent defensive end Donnie Gardner on July 11, cut him Aug. 26, re-signed him Sept. 4, cut him Sept. 14, re-signed him Sept. 17, cut him Sept. 28, re-signed him last Saturday and watched him get his first NFL sack, in a 20-10 win over the Patriots, on Sunday.
SAME OLD COLTS
While in Los Angeles for a recent game against the Raiders, Colt general manager Jim Irsay met with his friend rock 'n' roll singer Stephen Stills. Their visit prompted Irsay to think of a line in the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song American Dream: "How could something so good go so bad so fast?" That's the lament of the 1991 Colts, whose season of promise, tied to a diversified offense led by Jeff George and Eric Dickerson, has turned into an 0-6 nightmare, brought on by injuries to six offensive linemen and culminating in the firing last week of coach Ron Meyer. But the lyric speaks as well for the franchise's eight-year history in Indianapolis.
When owner Bob Irsay, Jim's volcanic father, packed up the Colts and moved them from Memorial Stadium in Baltimore to the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, he got a state-of-the-art facility, a cushy lease and an arena full of grateful fans. However, when Irsay's first eight years as owner, in Baltimore, are compared with his seven-plus seasons since then, in Indy, it's clear that the franchise shift has had no impact on the football bottom line.
The Colts haven't built a solid base on their offensive or defensive fronts, in large part because they traded a total of six first-and second-round draft picks, plus All-Pro offensive tackle Chris Hinton, to get Dickerson in 1987, linebacker Fredd Young in '88 and the No. 1 pick in the '90 draft, which was used to select George. Indy also has a penchant for drafting players at the glamour positions.
Several times in recent seasons, the Irsays felt that they were one or two players from being a playoff team, when, in fact, they were a good five or six players short. "They could have had four or five good prospects, instead of going for the quick fix," says former Colt linebacker Johnie Cooks, now with the Giants.
Look for Indy to hire an offense-minded coach (Raider quarterback coach Mike White, perhaps) at the end of this dismal season. The Colts then will have to think long and hard about whom to choose with two high 1992 first-round draft picks—their own, plus the one they got from the 1-5 Bucs for quarterback Chris Chandler in 1990. "There's no doubt in my mind this team will be back," says Jim Irsay, "and it will be back big. We'll win big."
Pardon our skepticism.