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Friday, January 28, 2005

The Blaine Bishop Syndrome

There's been a ton of talk about Terrell Owens over the past few days. (Of course, the silliness of pre-Super Bowl hype is that the three most talked about Eagles are Owens, Donovan McNabb and free agent TE Jeff Thomason, the construction site supervisor on leave). Specifically, the talk has focused about whether Owens should play, whether he can help the Eagles in the Super Bowl, and all of the macho that goes with that.

ESPN Radio trotted out former Ram Jack Youngblood, who played Super Bowl XIV (and the NFC Championship Game before that) on a broken leg. Naturally, Youngblood said, in essence, that there really is no choice -- if you can walk, you play. Or, at least that's the inference that I drew.

Because it was a radio interview, I couldn't see whether Youngblood was spitting tobacco juice on a medical technician or biting .45 caliber cartridges while he was making that statement.

And that's all well and good. We all know that week after week NFL players play games with injuries that could keep the average American out of work for several days or put them on disability.

But this injury is different, and the situation is different. (I know, that's a prescient observation -- you don't have to be a rocket scientist or offensive coordinator to figure that one out).

Sure, it's easy to look at the good example, the example of Youngblood. But then there's the story of Blaine Bishop.

Bishop, several years back, was an all-pro SS for the Tennessee Titans. The Eagles always had a weak spot there after they moved Brian Dawkins to FS and before Michael Lewis took over. So, for that short time period, they signed a thirty-one year-old Bishop to play SS. He had been an all-pro, and while short, he was still effective.

But then the NFC Championship Game happened upon him, the game where the Eagles hosted Tampa Bay two years ago and were favored to win and go to the Super Bowl. You will remember that game, because it's the game that the Bucs broke open when Brad Johnson found Joe Jurvecius on a sideline route that the Penn State alum turned into a 69-yard score. No doubt, you remember the oft-shown pictures of Eagle defenders chasing Jurevicius down the sidelines.

One of those defenders was Blaine Bishop. And, if you didn't now any better, you would have sworn that he was through. And he well might have been, but it wasn't what you might have thought.

What happened?

Earlier in the game, Bishop tore or severely aggravated a hamstring. Instead of coming out of the game, he decided, upon his own, apparently, to tough it out for the team. The result was a disaster, because I do think that Michael Lewis would have made a tackle after a short gain and the play would have been over. The Bucs wouldn't have gained the momentum they did, and the Eagles might have won that game.

Instead, the Bucs got a relatively easy score in a defensive battle, and there was no turning back.

The point?

Bishop was too hurt to play. He actually hurt his team by staying in the game, and it cost him. He was a free agent after that season, and no one picked him up. Needless to say, other terms must have thought he was through.

It's a hard call for a professional athlete, someone who is very competitive, to admit that he can't do it. Even if he's hurt. It was hard for Bishop, and the ramifications were awful, but it's the type of call that if made wrong can kill a team's chances for a Super Bowl victory.

Now, there's no danger of that happening with Terrell Owens, but the whole Blaine Bishop conundrum does arise. Does Owens play because it's the macho thing to do and he just cannot sit it out (and have Jack Youngblood and Sean Salisbury call him a wimp on national sports TV), or does he play because it's the right thing to do and he can really help the Eagles? And, do the Eagles get hurt if T.O. insists upon playing, can't, and then the Eagles are without an extra receiver or, worse, without having a healthy-legged WR in the game at all times. Especially since clutch TE Chad Lewis is out.

For every Jack Youngblood, there can be a Blaine Bishop.

And that thought should concern the Philadelphia Eagles and their fans very much.


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