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One Man's Cheap Shot Can Appear to Be Something Else on Flip Side

November 16, 1986|DAVE GOLDBERG | Associated Press

For all the complaining about dirty play in the National Football League, late hits and cheap shots often seem to be in the eye of the beholder.

The latest fracas is between coaches Forrest Gregg of Green Bay and Joe Gibbs of Washington over a hit by the Redskins' Charles Mann last Sunday that sent Packers' quarterback Randy Wright to the hospital with a mild concussion.

Referee Ben Dreith agreed with Gregg, assessing the Redskins a 15-yard penalty when Mann's helmet went head-on into Wright's helmet after the quarterback had rolled out of the pocket and thrown downfield.

But Gibbs complained that Mann was just doing what he was supposed to do.

"A picture tackle is a guy coming out of the pocket, and a defensive lineman coming up and looking right at him," Gibbs said. "You're going to make contact right in front of him. Just like that, as pretty as it can be. And that's exactly what Charles did. In our way of thinking , that's just the way you tackle people."

Nonsense, said Gregg.

"The first thing that was obvious is it was a late hit," he said. "The other thing that was obvious was that it was a late hit to the head."

That kind of bickering is why it's difficult for the people who make the rules to determine just how far to go in legislating protection for quarterbacks.

"What can you do about it?" asked Tex Schramm, the president of the Dallas Cowboys and the chairman of the rule-making Competition Committee after his quarterback, Danny White, suffered a broken wrist when he was sacked by the New York Giants' Carl Banks.

"You can't say you can't hit the quarterback. He was rushed and he was sacked, which is what the game's about. Sometimes you can't avoid an injury."

But sometimes you can, as in Sunday's second questionable incident.

Joe Morris, the little running back who for the last month has represented about two-thirds of the Giants' offense, had just scooted 18 yards untouched for the first touchdown of his team's game against Philadelphia.

As he slowed down deep in the end zone, Eagles' cornerback Evan Cooper grabbed him, spun him around and flung him toward the grandstand wall, where he crumbled in a heap. He lay there for a moment, but got up unhurt and finished the game with 111 yards rushing, his fourth straight 100-yard game.

Referee Fred Wyant penalized the Eagles 15 yards but didn't throw Cooper out of the game, which infuriated Giants' Coach Bill Parcells. But at least the principals acknowledged the misdeed.

"It was a stupid play on his part," said Eagles' Coach Buddy Ryan.

"I apologized to him," Cooper said. "I'm not out there trying to hurt anyone. It was just something that happened."

Moreover, while the Giants agreed it angered them, they didn't reciprocate in kind.

"It got me so fired up I just wanted to hit anything that moved," said cornerback Elvis Patterson, who picked off one Eagle pass and tipped a ball that was grabbed by teammate Gary Reasons for a second interception. "I know it was a wakeup call for me."

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