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Big runners once ran afoul of law

What is this, the NFL or a remake of The Longest Yard? When the Kansas City Chiefs play the Seattle Seahawks today, it's sure to draw a strong television audience in your neighborhood penitentiary. Because that's where two of the star performers used to reside.

In this corner, you have Derrick Fenner of the Seahawks, who spent 44 days in jail on a murder-one charge. That turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, but Fenner was found guilty of a cocaine charge.

In the other corner, you have Barry Word of the Chiefs, who served 4{ months for selling cocaine.

Both have rebounded quite nicely. Fenner has 357 yards rushing and leads the NFL with eight touchdowns, and Word is coming off a 200-yard game.

"It's better to have great stories than to have bad stories," Word said. "There are enough bad stories out there to fill up any newspaper. It's good to see a couple of good ones for a change."

Word did not play at all last season, and the Chiefs found him working for a telephone company. Now, he's played well enough to get a chunk of Christian Okoye's playing time.

"There were many times I thought my career was over, and not because of my ability," Word said. "I just didn't think anyone would give me a chance again."

And as for his past?

"All the situations have helped me for the better," Word said. "I'm thankful for that. In college, I was a child. I'm 26 and a man now."

Earth to Michael: When Denver wide receiver Michael Young was knocked unconscious by Pittsburgh's Greg Lloyd last week, he didn't exactly hold onto all his faculties. When he got up, he turned to Broncos quarterback John Elway and asked "Is this a playoff game?"

After the game (a Broncos loss), Elway went to see if Young was all right. When Young said he was, Elway turned to leave.

"Have a nice off-season," Young said.

Relay race: The Houston Oilers, who probably scored twice while you were reading this (even if it's before noon), could end up as only the fourth team in NFL history to finish the season with three 1,000-yard receivers. So far, Drew Hill, Ernest Givins (of St. Petersburg) and Haywood Jeffires are second, third and fourth in the AFC in receiving.

The other three teams were the 1980 Chargers (with John Jefferson, Charlie Joiner and Kellen Winslow), the '81 Chargers (with Joiner, Wes Chandler and Winslow) and the 1989 Redskins (Gary Clark, Ricky Sanders and Art Monk). "We've been saying the last few years we have of lot of talent at the receiver spot," Givins said. "Now, we have the style of offense that can show the talent."

Using his head: Think the New York Giants aren't physical? Instead of giving high-fives this year, every big play has resulted in a head butt by the players. Now, it's replaced the old Gatorade pour, too.

When the Giants beat Washington last week, linebacker Pepper Johnson _ still wearing his helmet _ walked up to coach Bill Parcells, looked him in the eye and head-butted him three times.

"This time, when somebody scores, somebody makes a big play, we head butt," Johnson said. "The coach knows that."

Parcells has his own prowess, however. Near the end of the game, he gave cornerback Everson Walls a friendly slug on the arm. So friendly it knocked Walls off the bench. "He hit me as hard as Gerald Riggs," Walls said. "It hurt my neck."

Water Torture: Even his own teammates call him Dirty Waters, and it's time the NFL took a look at cleansing itself of Philadelphia safety Andre Waters, last seen taking aim at Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon's knees.

In 1986, Waters knocked David Archer out of a game. In 1987, it was Doug Williams. In 1988, he went after Jim Everett's knees. Now, it's Gannon's.

"They don't call him Dirty Waters for nothing," said teammate Randall Cunningham.

Cunningham _ and Waters _ insist that Waters plays clean, however. "He's had a reputation since I've been here of being a dirty ballplayer," said coach Buddy Ryan. "He's not. He's a good kid, an aggressive kid."

"They outlaw steroids _ they ought to outlaw guys trying to end somebody's career," Redskin defensive tackle Jumpy Geathers said.

NRA MVP: Perhaps you should not have been surprised by the Irving Fryar gun incident. According to New England Patriots defensive lineman Brent Williams, 80 percent of the Patriots own handguns.

Why, you ask, does a 6-foot-4, 275-pound professional athlete need a gun?

"Because I'm 6-4, 275 and I'm a professional athlete," Williams said. "My local police chief told me that anyone who would want to start something with me isn't dealing with a full deck and wouldn't be coming with just his fist. I have to protect myself and my family."

And maybe Hart Lee Dykes, too.

Incredible shrinking Dan: If Dan Marino were in charge of temperatures, you might be freezing soon. Every year, his quarterback rating seems to go down another floor.

In 1986, Marino had a rating of 92.5. That fell to 89.2 in 1987, then to 80.8 in '88, to 76.9 last year and to 72.2 this year.

"I look at the numbers and see where I'm at, but ratings don't win games," Marino said. "I think I'm playing better than my rating. I think I'm a better quarterback than I've ever been. I know more about the game, more about when and where to throw."

Vote of confidence: Parcells must play the next few weeks without star linebacker Carl Banks, but he has confidence in backup Johnnie Cooks.

"I feel good about Johnnie," Parcells said. "He's old, a little fat and he's bald. But he can play football."

Oops award: The San Francisco 49ers simply dared the Atlanta Falcons to blitz last week, and as a result Joe Montana and Jerry Rice played pitch-and-catch all afternoon.

"When we used certain formations or motion, we knew they would blitz," Montana said. "We used a back in motion, or two tight ends, or a one-back set to get them to blitz."

Montana threw for 476 yards and six touchdowns. But he was knocked down nine times and sacked four times.

"It's obviously a gamble," Montana said. "We're gambling with my health. I'm just thankful our line kept me alive where I can get those passes off."

Staying home: One of the reasons Bill Fralic is an Atlanta Falcon today, rather than a Cleveland Brown, is because teammate John Scully is injured. The Browns and Falcons talked of a Fralic-for-Frank Minnifield trade for months, but it fell through because Minnifield has played well and because Scully had to have bone chips removed from his ankle.

"I told John that when they saw those things off him, I want them," Fralic said. "I'm going to have them bronzed and put them up on my mantle."

Optimistic view: Atlanta cornerback Charles Dimry, beaten for four touchdowns last week by Rice: "Sometimes you get them, sometimes they get you." Yeah, Chuck, but when is it your turn?

Match race: Rice (who had 13 catches for 225 yards last week), faces one of the NFL's fastest defensive backs today in Pittsburgh's Rod Woodson. As you might expect, he's hardly intimidated.

"There are different kinds of fastness," he said. "There are a lot of guys who are supposed to be faster than me who can't do what I do when we put on a football uniform. Put on that uniform and put the ball in the air that's when I'm the fastest."

Parting shot: San Diego defensive end Burt Grossman, on his futility against the Los Angeles Raiders: "They could put Al Davis in uniform, and he'd block me. It's like a horror movie looking back."