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A LOOK AT SUNDAY'S RAIDER, RAM OPPONENTS : Atlanta QB Campbell Isn't About to Return to Seat

December 12, 1987|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI | Times Staff Writer

Scott Campbell needs another Falcon quarterback dispute the way Atlanta needs another visit by William Tecumseh Sherman.

But there it is, another controversy waiting impatiently to happen. Too bad, too, since Campbell probably deserves better than detailed directions to the sideline come next fall.

You want improbable? Imagine this:

It's November, 1986. Campbell, recently released by the Pittsburgh Steelers, decides to attend a Falcon game against the Chicago Bears at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. He and his wife, Kim, are on their way to a vacation at Hilton Head Island, S.C.

So there they are, watching the game when Bear defensive end Richard Dent slams into quarterback David Archer. Archer's shoulder is separated. He's out for the year.

Suddenly Campbell, who had received an invitation to attend the team's 1987 training camp, is paged at his seat. It's the Falcons. Does he have a moment to chat?

"They knew I was there because I asked them for tickets," he said.

The Falcons lose the game but gain a quarterback. Campbell signs a contract for the remainder of the season before leaving the stadium that day. By the next afternoon, he is wearing a Falcon uniform and attending practice. The vacation will have to wait. No one minds.

"We had been out of work for eight weeks," he said. "There were eight weeks there where things were pretty boring, pretty frustrating times because I felt I deserved to be in the league somewhere. Finally, we got a chance again."

Shortly thereafter, the storybook tale seemingly turns as sour as a slice of lemon. Dan Henning, the coach who approved Campbell's signing, is fired and replaced by Marion Campbell, no relation. The Falcons select Oregon quarterback Chris Miller in the first round of the 1987 draft. Already on the roster are veteran quarterbacks Turk Schonert and, of course, Archer.

If you are the Campbells, Scott and Kim, that is, you start looking for those Hilton Head brochures.

But then fate adopts Campbell as its very own. Miller, angered by the Falcons' reluctance to meet his contract demands, becomes a holdout. Schonert is released. Archer falters in the season opener and is replaced by--ta-da!--Campbell, in time to play against the feared Washington Redskins.

The rest is pure cornball. Campbell leads the lowly Falcons to a 21-20 upset of the Redskins.

"Kind of a highlight of our season," Campbell said.

Later, he returns from the player strike and throws three touchdown passes against the Houston Oilers. After assorted trying times--six consecutive losses--Campbell presides over last Sunday's unlikely 21-10 win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Not only did Campbell provide the Falcons with only their third victory of a lost season, he helped prompt postgame second-guessing by Cowboy owner Bum Bright and team President Tex Schramm.

Bright and Schramm couldn't understand, among other things, how they had been beaten by a team whose quarterback had been discovered in, say, Row GG.

"There were a lot of doubters," Campbell said. "I know I (proved people wrong) in Pittsburgh.

"You know, it's a real blow to your ego when you think you're good enough, but others tell you to take a walk because they don't think you're good enough. You have to fight through that and still try to keep a good, hard-working attitude.

"When I got here, it seemed like I was the odd man out. But I think I've gained some respect about my ability, and that's gratifying."

And there's the rub. No matter what he does this season, including Sunday's game against the Rams at Anaheim Stadium, Campbell still will find the antsy Miller waiting for him next training camp. After all, the Falcons paid a reported $2.8 million for Miller's services, which presumably don't include five years' worth of bench time.

Marion Campbell has said that much before, suggesting that Miller could make his debut anytime.

"He's a talent," he said. "I like what he's doing. We're very pleased with him. It's unfortunate that he missed training camp. The last time he had anybody in his face was at Oregon his senior year. He missed camp and he hasn't had anybody slapping him upside the head and roughing him up. It's just difficult to expect anything."

And next year, when Miller has a training camp to call his own, what will Marion Campbell do with the quarterback position?

"Watch 'em battle," he said.

So for the rest of the season, Campbell is the starter, unless someone figures its the proper time to put Miller into the lineup.

"I'm still committed to him," said Marion Campbell of Scott. "He's a young guy, he's got talent and he can only get better. He's got a future."

But is it in Atlanta? Neither of the Campbells can know for sure, what with the questions surrounding Miller.

In essence, though, this is a lesser publicized version of the Vinny Testaverde-Steve DeBerg mini-drama being played out in Tampa. High-priced rookie vs. veteran . . . losing franchises . . . impatient fans.

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