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News - Cooked Birds

Falcons, Hawks, Thrashers muddling through their seasons

It finally happened.

Michael Vick made his first start as a pro on Sunday. His first career touchdown (on a play-action pass to fellow rookie Alge Crumpler) was reviewed but upheld. He handed off well enough and often enough to Maurice Smith to establish a running game, which the Falcons then abandoned. And when the Falcons came out on the field for the second half, trailing 13-7, back-up Doug Johnson took over. And then Johnson and Vick began alternating plays.

No, it wasn't the Falcons just being the Falcons. It was Dan Reeves drawing on his reserve of Tom Landry lore, from the days when Landry alternated Roger Staubach and Craig Morton. Vick, excitable anyway, was going nuts out there on the field, rushing all the plays. Reeves wanted both Vick and Johnson to take the time on the sidelines to think about — really think about — the play each was going to be asked to run next. Reeves was also hoping that running on and off the field would tire Vick out, slowing him down.

"Is that what coach said?" Vick asked plaintively afterwards as he pulled on his socks and shoes. Yes, Mike, it is.

Musical quarterbacks works with Vick and Johnson because each goes on a one-two count. That's why the Falcons avoided offsides penalties. Don't try it with Chris Chandler, though. He goes on a four or five count.

Johnson, understandably, was not quite as excited about the alternating QB scheme.

"What did it do for me?" he repeated. "It got me into the game. That's what it did for me. I'm not going to complain about not finding a rhythm. As long as I can find my way onto the field."

The night Michael Jordan was in town, he singled out only one Hawk for back-handed praise: Chris Crawford. "[He]'s faster than I thought," said MJ.

O.K., so it doesn't take as much as it used to to be faster than Floor Jordan, and I say that with respect for the new leadership skills he is showing instead of the flash that once left us slack-jawed. The point is, Crawford has been ridiculed — the few times when he hasn't been ignored — for being a plodding guy. It's true he has been slow to adapt to the NBA's hand-check rules. Mostly because they change every year.

But the one thing he has never lacked is guts. Crawford has played with injuries that would have kept other guys out for half a season — a separated shoulder was the mildest of them. And he gave it everything he had every minute he was on the floor, which is not something that can be said for all pro athletes. Now he is out for the season with a torn ligament in his left knee, suffered in Saturday night's debacle in San Antonio.

It's too early to throw in the towel on the Hawks season. (I know, I say that every year about this time.) Assuming, that is, that half the roster doesn't continue to make a home on the injured list. You know the NBA season doesn't really start until February. And I can't see coach Lon Kruger failing to keep the players' spirits up even as their teammates go down. But it sure would help the cause if all the players were as tough as Chris Crawford.

And then there are the Thrashers.
Calling up Norm Maracle was a fluke. It turns out that Milan Hnilicka is good to go after catching a puck on the knee, but GM Don Waddell could not be certain of that. He was certain, however, that the Thrash couldn't go with Damian Rhodes alone. Rookie Pasi Nurminen is supposedly the goalie of tomorrow, but Waddell wants him to play every game. He'd want that even if Nurminen weren't coming back from knee surgery.

Still, it is more than annoying that Maracle, who couldn't be bothered to get himself into even passable shape over the summer (to the point that he declined to show his chubby face for training camp) gets the call instead of Scott Fankhouser.

Why Waddell has given up on Fankhouser is a mystery. If Fankhouser truly has no skills, as has been intimated, then why is he in the organization at all? And why reward a player whose head is clearly not in the game — I mean Maracle, although Rhodes qualifies, too — when the gritty, hard-working Fankhouser is available? u??





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