American Football: Aikman pain without gain

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The Independent Online
CASUALTY WARDS around the United States have again been busy as this week's round produced another crop of walking wounded. Just two weeks into the regular season, and already survival is the watchword: at this rate the Super Bowl will be won by the team with the best medical staff.

Last week, eight quarterbacks were forced out of action. On Sunday night, three more joined their crocked colleagues on the sidelines, their absence certain to have profound implications.

The most seriously hurt is the Dallas playmaker, Troy Aikman, who was engulfed under a pile of Denver Broncos defenders, and came up clutching his shoulder. An X-ray revealed the worst: Aikman has a broken left collarbone and will miss between four and eight weeks.

Even with a healthy Aikman, the Cowboys were being soundly beaten by the rampant Broncos, the final scoreline of 42-32 barely reflecting Denver's dominance. The Cowboys' hopes of reaching the play-offs may have been similarly crushed.

The Broncos did not escape unscathed, however. Their veteran quarterback, John Elway, limped off after pulling a hamstring during the fourth quarter. Elway, playing the last season of a glittering career, completed 16 of 22 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns before breaking down. His status will be determined later this week.

Another quarterback who will be spending more time with his physician than his playbook this week is Brad Johnson, of the Minnesota Vikings. Johnson, formerly of the London Monarchs, twisted an ankle against the St Louis Rams. With the scores tied at 31-all, Johnson's replacement, the veteran Randall Cunningham, threw the game-winning touchdown to Cris Carter late in the fourth quarter.

"We're very concerned about Brad's ankle," the Vikings' head coach, Dennis Green, said. "Right now, we just don't know how long it's going to be." Green has already indicated that Cunningham will start next week against Detroit.

The Green Bay Packers have also emerged from the weekend's carnage with mixed fortunes. The Pack, winners of the Super Bowl two years ago and beaten finalists last season, defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23-15, thanks to two touchdown passes from the quarterback Brett Favre. However, they lost their leading running back, Dorsey Levens, with an ankle sprain, and the tight end Mark Chmura, a favourite Favre target, with a strained right Achilles tendon.

The Baltimore Ravens produced one of the shocks of the season so far, but their 14-10 victory over the much-fancied New York Jets was achieved with the loss of the safety Kim Herring with a dislocated left shoulder, and the tight end Brian Kinchen, who sustained a broken finger.

Joy and pain also for Jacksonville's tight end Rich Griffiths. His Jaguars defeated a Kansas City side already hampered by the absence of their quarterback, Elvis Grbac, but Griffiths now has to wait for the verdict from the medical staff on his hip injury.

Atlanta's promising start continued when they defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 17-12. The unbeaten Falcons will now have to see if they can continue winning without the services of the linebacker Henri Crockett, who will miss at least six weeks with a broken wrist.

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