According to reports out of Dallas, Tony Romo, the Cowboys' glamour-puss passer, still might play against the Washington Redskins on Monday night, despite a fractured rib and collapsed lung. At least, we think he has a fractured rib and collapsed lung. After the way the New York Giants conducted themselves earlier this week in their win over St.Louis, who knows for sure? Maybe he's faking.
I mean, has anybody outside of Valley Ranch actually seen Romo's X-rays or the results of his CT scan? It could all be a ruse, yet another attempt by dastardly Dallas to mess with the Redskins' minds.
I'm joking — sort of. After all, in the Nefarious Football League, you have to be careful about taking anything at face value. As we saw with the Giants, a player lying on the turf, claiming injury, may not necessarily require medical attention. He may just be trying to give his mates a respite from the relentlessness of a no-huddle attack - and perhaps give his club an opportunity to make some substitutions.
What gave New York safety Deon Grant away — and will probably cost him the Emmy for Best Performance by an Actor in the Middle of an Offensive Series — is that at the same time he hit the ground, so did another Giant, linebacker Jacquian Williams. So either a new sport has been invented, synchronized swooning, or one of them, and probably both, was putting us on.
Indeed, you wondered if you weren't watching a Three Stooges routine. About all that was missing was Grant claiming, "I've got a weak back! I've got a weak back!"
Team doctor: "How long have you had this weak back?"
Grant: "Oh, about a week back."
Unfortunately, the officials couldn't do much about it. There's a rule to discourage these theatrics in the last two minutes of a half — so that teams out of timeouts can't stop the clock by feigning injuries — but the Giants' simulated suffering didn't take place at the end of a half. It took place with 4:04 left in the first quarter, with the Rams at the New York 7 and the Giants' defense hyperventilating because of the visitors' hurry-up tactics.
It turned out to be a good move, too. After a brief intermission, St. Louis ended up settling for a field goal and still trailed 7-6. The Giants then "hobbled" away to a 28-16 victory.
Asked about the episode Wednesday, Redskins defensive end Adam Carriker smiled knowingly and chalked it up to gamesmanship — the Hidden Cramp Trick. As he put it, "There are certain things [where] maybe we're kind of bending the rules, but it's all part of the game — ever since I can remember, all the way back to high school. I mean, if the offense is rolling and we can't stop 'em, somebody fakes an injury.
"I've seen a guy go as far as to jump in the air and land flat on his butt. It was ridiculously fake. Actually, it happened not so long ago. It's somebody in this locker room, but I can't say who it is. Anyway, he comes out of the game, and he's running up and down the sideline laughing."
One of the many problems with this kind of behavior, of course, is that it does a disservice to those who, well, come by their cramps honestly — such as the 1999 Redskins in their season opener against Dallas. Remember that one? On a warm September day, they led 35-14 in the fourth quarter when calves started convulsing and defensive backs began limping to the bench. The Cowboys rallied to win in overtime on a bomb from Troy Aikman to Rocket Ismail, who found himself covered by two backup safeties. The starters, Leomont Evans and Sam Shade, had been incapacitated.
Which brings us back to Romo. There's a very good chance his fractured rib and punctured lung are quite real - and may even keep him out of action Monday. But when you have stooges like Grant and Williams taking a dive, it just casts suspicion on everybody. (Besides, you don't think clubs manipulate injury information to their own advantage? If not, I have some "temporary seats" for the next Dallas Super Bowl I want to sell you.)
Still, a fractured rib and punctured lung are pretty serious stuff. They're also part and parcel of playing quarterback - as Rex Grossman and John Beck, the Redskins' two QBs, are well-aware. In his third year, when he was with the Chicago Bears, Grossman fractured an ankle in a preseason game. He returned in Week 15 with a metal plate and 14 screws holding him together and quarterbacked the Bears in the playoffs. His wife, Alison, who saw X-rays of the repair job, told Sports Illustrated: "They looked like Frankenstein."
As for Beck, he dislocated his throwing shoulder in the first game of his sophomore year at BYU and basically toughed it out the entire season — but only because they shot him up with painkillers every Saturday. Otherwise, he said, he wouldn't have been able to raise his arm. (Five weeks later, he threw 67 passes against UNLV to set a school and Mountain West Conference record.)
"You have to be mentally tough as a quarterback," he said, "and I think playing with pain is one of the things you have to do. All quarterbacks want to play through everything they can. It's the medical staff that's going to tell you you can't. And even then sometimes you tell 'em to shove it and to try to play anyway."
The NFL, by the way, sent out a memo Wednesday reminding clubs of the "Supplemental Note to Rule 4 (Game Timing), Section 5, Article 4, on Page 19 of the Official Playing Rules," which essentially says: Make-believe misery has no place on the playing field and demeans the game. If players don't cease and desist, the memo added, the league office might hand out fines and suspensions, take away draft choices or even send the guilty parties to bed without their supper.
If that doesn't eliminate this pox on pro football, nothing will. (Wink, wink.)
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