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Pro Football / Bob Oates : Jackson Is Right, NFL’s Just His Hobby

They made a striking contrast Sunday in New Orleans:

--There was Marcus Allen running, catching and blocking with his broken hand in a cast.

--And there was Bo Jackson taking himself off the field after two plays when, he said, a muscle tightened up on him.

It was regrettably reminiscent of last season. After showing some promise for pro football in a Monday night game just a year ago, Jackson limped out 2 weeks later with an ankle injury, and wasn’t heard from again.

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In modern professional sports, there is a baseball mentality toward injury, and there is a football mentality. Jackson appears to have come to the Raiders with baseball’s.

Putting it one way, he’s not stupid enough to play football when hurt.

Putting it another, he isn’t a football player.

It seems clear enough already that to Bo Jackson, football is exactly what he said it was, a hobby.

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It seems clear now that he sees football only as a chance to express himself, to prove that he has a talent for the game. And in his view, apparently, this can be done only when he is physically right.

Talent alone, however, doesn’t make a football player. Talent, in fact, is meaningless without durability, without an understanding that for better or worse, pro football is mostly played by people in pain.

There is, of course, no question of Jackson’s physical courage. He obviously has that. It’s a question of attitude.

For better or worse, a football player is one who combines Marcus Allen’s talent and attitude toward the game.

It could only happen in Los Angeles:

The city’s other famous 2-sport letterman, Kirk Gibson, plays baseball with a football player’s mentality toward injury.

A one-time Michigan State wide receiver with extraordinary speed, Gibson, like Bo Jackson, came into October bearing a troublesome hamstring.

But in the ninth inning of a game that the Dodgers had to win in New York--or so Gibson saw it--he sprinted away from first base at top speed and got to second with a steal. He aggravated the hamstring pull so badly that he couldn’t play in the field after that.

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Putting it one way, it wasn’t Gibson’s wisest play of the year.

Putting it another, he’s a team player, and his team won the game.

And, where are the Dodgers now?

It’s greed time again in the National Football League.

The league this week is starting another series of televised Sunday night games that can’t be seen in much of Los Angeles--or in much of New York, for that matter--because cable television hasn’t yet come to America’s inner cities.

About half the country is still without cable, the poorer half.

Even so, the NFL’s 28 owners have chosen cable for another important Sunday night series of eight games, strictly to make more money for themselves.

Greed is a word that is often misunderstood in the sports community. When baseball plays its World Series at night, for example, it isn’t just baseball greed. It’s also a way of allowing more working people to see the games.

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In stark contrast, the NFL in recent years has increasingly abandoned working people:

--It has just about priced them out of the stadium.

--And now comes the NFL on cable, meaning that millions of less privileged Americans will be shut out of games that are being made available to wealthier millions.

The 7-1 Chicago Bears moved up this week as the season’s leading candidate for the dominant team.

In beating the San Francisco 49ers Monday night, 10-9, the Bears showed that they have the right combination for dominance--a number of tough defensive players and a winning quarterback, Jim McMahon.

There are, however, two Chicago problem areas:

--In the Bears’ own division, the Minnesota Vikings can put even more talent on the field, having proved it a few weeks ago when they shot down Mike Ditka’s team with ease, with more firepower, on offense and defense, than Ditka could bring against San Francisco.

--McMahon, who started every game in the first half of the season for the first time in his career, has had a series of injuries that raises a question about his continuing survival in a year of record quarterback injuries.

For now, though, McMahon is the NFL’s player of 1988.

At the halfway station, the 6-2 Rams appear to be second best in the league, if not first.

The Rams would be 7-1, too, but for an improbable performance by San Francisco running back Roger Craig 10 days ago.

They would be 8-0 but for Craig and a series of weird misadventures in the Phoenix game earlier in the month.

John Robinson’s offensive line is a better bet to protect quarterback Jim Everett than Ditka’s line is to save McMahon. Moreover, Everett is less reckless than McMahon. And in Henry Ellard, Everett has a better receiver than any Bear.

The Rams have the look of a team that’s en route to the Super Bowl. And on the way, in New Orleans Sunday, they will show that they have too much speed and balance for the 7-1 Saints.

Quote Department:

Kelvin Bryant, Washington running back, who since becoming a starter has led the 5-3 Redskins to 3 straight, accounting for 49% of their offense, averaging 4.9 yards a carry, and averaging 184 yards in total offense: “When I came here, we had George Rogers (since waived) and some others. I waited so long (for) my shot. I get a better feel for the game when I’m in there every down, not just passing situations.”

Wade Wilson, Minnesota quarterback, on playing in San Francisco next Sunday: “It’s the team’s big chance to improve our record to 6-3. However, it does seem that if the quarterback plays well, the team plays well.”

Jerry Burns, Minnesota coach, on Vinny Testaverde, the Tampa Bay quarterback who threw 6 interceptions last week: “The Bucs couldn’t run on us, (so) we could tee off on him.”

Dan Reeves, Denver coach, on backup quarterback Gary Kubiak, the losing pitcher as John Elway’s stand-in in the Broncos’ 39-21 setback in Pittsburgh: “The guy who replaces the starter can’t make up a difference. If Gary was as good as the starter, he’d be playing. The people around him have to pick up the slack. We didn’t do it.”

Buddy Ryan, Philadelphia coach, after the Eagles had overtaken Dallas in the fourth quarter despite having fallen behind in the first quarters of their last 6 games, 63-0: “You win in the fourth quarter.”

Tom Landry, Dallas coach, whose 2-6 start is his worst in 25 years: “The penalties (in the Philadelphia game) just ate us up alive.”

Marty Schottenheimer, Cleveland coach, on quarterback Bernie Kosar: “He’s started 2 games for us and he’s 2-0.

E.J. Junior, Phoenix linebacker, on playing against Kosar: “We wanted to hit him at least 15 times. We wanted to shake him around--make him wonder where we were going to come from next, if we were going to hit him, or if we were backing off (into the secondary).”

Jerry Glanville, Houston coach: “The key thing for us at the turn is there’s two, and only two, teams in the AFC (Cincinnati and Buffalo) with a better record than us.”


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