American Football: Harrison sets record to upstage the greats
Tuesday 17 December 2002
The three greatest wide receivers in the history of the game were on display together when the Oakland Raiders, featuring Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, visited Miami, the current home of Cris Carter. Much was made of the fact that they are the only men ever to catch 1,000 career passes, but all were upstaged by a man who may, one day, gain membership of their élite club.
Marvin Harrison of the Indianapolis Colts caught nine balls for 172 yards and a pair of touchdowns to help his side to an important 28-23 win in Cleveland, taking the Colts a step further to qualification for next month's play-offs.
Harrison's haul means that he has now caught 127 passes this year, breaking the old single-season record of 123 set by Herman Moore of the Detroit Lions in 1995. One of the quietest men in the game, Harrison was probably more delighted that his efforts helped his team overcome an early 16-point deficit. A pair of touchdown runs from James Mungro sealed the deal, although the Browns almost stole it in the last few seconds, only to falter at the Indianapolis five-yard line.
Typically, the man of the moment was strictly business afterwards. "A lot of good things have been going my way this season,'' he said. "We still have two games left, and my focus is on the New York Giants next week.''
Given such single mindedness, Harrison could establish a target which may stand for many years to come.
In contrast, the three veterans in South Florida struggled to impose their class. Carter, the former Minnesota Viking lured of out retirement, enjoyed his first touchdown in Dolphin colours – a dazzling one-handed effort at the back of the end zone; but neither he, nor Oakland's Rice and Brown, were central figures.
That honour fell to the Miami defence, who held the prolific Raider quarterback, Rich Gannon, to a mere 218 passing yards, sacking him five times, three from Jason Taylor. Gannon was then intercepted in the closing stages to enable the Dolphins to hold on for a gritty 23-17 verdict.
The Philadelphia Eagles and Tamper Bay Buccaneers confirmed their post-season participation with victories over Washington and Detroit, respectfully. The Eagles are looking particularly impressive, winning their fourth game in a row after losing their brilliant young quarterback, Donovan McNabb, to a broken ankle.
In his absence, the unproven A J Feeley continues to show promise, throwing a pair of touchdown passes to Duce Staley and Antonio Freeman. However, the team's real strength remains a defensive unit which terrorises opponents, Carlos Emmons scoring with a 44-yard fumble recovery, Philadelphia prevailing 34-21.
Tampa Bay made hard work of it in Detroit, revitalised under the quarterback Mike McMahon, who threw one touchdown pass, then ran for another to tie the scores of 20-20 in the fourth quarter. A major upset loomed, only for Martin Gramatica to spare Buccaneer blushes with a late 38-yard field goal to win.
In a meeting of two teams already assured of post-season play, the Green Bay Packers maintained their hegemony over the San Francisco 49ers with a 20-14 triumph in California. Since 1995, the Packers have won nine of 10 meetings, and this one was never in doubt once Brett Favre threw a five-yard touchdown to Donald Driver for a 17-6 Green Bay lead late in the third quarter.
Pittsburgh and Baltimore both won to keep hopes alive, but San Diego's nosedive continued with a 20-13 reverse in Buffalo, while defeat in Chicago extinguished the prospects of the New York Jets.
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