Irvin trauma adds to injury toll

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The Independent Online

INJURIES ARE an inevitable part of American football, but the 1999 season seems to be exacting a heavier toll than usual. After just four weeks of the campaign, the New York Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde, the Denver running back Terrell Davis and his counterpart in Atlanta, Jamal Anderson, led the roll call of players already lost for the season.

INJURIES ARE an inevitable part of American football, but the 1999 season seems to be exacting a heavier toll than usual. After just four weeks of the campaign, the New York Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde, the Denver running back Terrell Davis and his counterpart in Atlanta, Jamal Anderson, led the roll call of players already lost for the season.

On Sunday, however, came potentially the most serious of all. Michael Irvin, the Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, was rushed to a spinal hospital after suffering neck and head traumas following a collision with Tim Hauck of the Philadelphia Eagles. The preliminary indication is that, despite swelling in his spinal cord, Irvin is likely to make a full recovery.

There was little indication of that, however, as he lay motionless on the field in Philadelphia for 15 minutes. An unpopular player because of his boorish antics on the field and arrogance off it, Irvin was also forced to endure the jeers and taunts of the Eagles fans while he received treatment, behaviour which drew condemnation from all sides.

"I know our fans pride themselves on being tough, but that wasn't tough, that was just plain ignorance," said the Philadelphia receiver Charles Johnson. "I was embarrassed to be standing on that sideline."

Concern for Irvin may have overshadowed all else, but the Cowboys also lost the game and their unbeaten record when Johnson caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from Doug Pederson to give the Eagles a 13-10 victory.

Success came at a price for the Denver Broncos, the defending Super Bowl champions winning for the first time this season, 16-13 in Oakland. Already missing Davis and the linebacker John Mobley, Denver will also be without their prolific tight end Shannon Sharpe, who will miss up to eight weeks having sustained a broken collarbone. "I think there might be a hex on us," said Trevor Pryce of the Broncos. "Every game we go out there, we lose someone."

Similarly, the Arizona Cardinals defeated the New York Giants 14-3 despite losing the services of their quarterback Jake Plummer with a bruised hip pointer, while Shane Matthews threw a pair of touchdown passes to help the Chicago Bears prevail 24-22 in Minnesota before leaving the game with a torn hamstring.

The Atlanta Falcons are celebrating their first win of the season, last year's beaten Super Bowl finalists coming from behind to defeat the New Orleans Saints 20-17. In contrast, the New England Patriots lost their unbeaten record when they were dispatched 16-14 in Kansas City, their kicker, Adam Vinatieri, missing a game-winning 32-yard field goal as time expired.

Losses by the Patriots and Cowboys mean that the league's only unbeaten team is the surprising St Louis Rams. Considered no-hopers at the start of the season, the Rams continued to impress with a 42-20 demolition of the San Francisco 49ers. Kurt Warner, their unheralded quarterback, was again the inspiration, completing 20 of his 23 passes for 323 yards and five touchdowns, four of which were claimed by the receiver Isaac Bruce. Warner has now thrown 14 touchdowns in his first four games, an all-time league record.

While Warner may be a new name, an old one showed he still has the magic touch. Criticised by his coach for disappointing play the week before, Miami's venerable quarterback, Dan Marino, responded in style to lead his team to a thrilling 34-31 triumph over the Indianapolis Colts.

The Dolphins' cause seemed hopeless with time running out. Marino held his nerve, however, converting a fourth down with a 47-yard pass to the receiver Oronde Gadsden inside the final minute, then completing the job with a three- yard touchdown pass to the same player with just 27 seconds remaining.

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