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NFL wakes up to concussions

In a sport that long has glorified pain, punishment and the sights and sounds of the big hit, concussions once were so accepted that they rarely received much notice.

But concussions and their chilling aftereffects have been a recurring topic in the first half of the 1994 NFL season.

Last Sunday, three NFL quarterbacks suffered concussions that drove them from games: Dallas' Troy Aikman, Cleveland's Vinny Testaverde and the Rams' Chris Miller. Two weeks ago, 49ers offensive tackle Steve Wallace contemplated retirement after suffering a concussion in a game at Atlanta, and Chicago running back Merril Hoge did retire when doctors advised him that he could permanently damage himself by returning from his latest concussion.

Once a badge of honor among NFL players, concussions no longer are being thought of as merely one of the prices paid for playing the most physical of games.

"If I could give players any advice _ and this is spoken from someone who would do it differently if I could do it all over again _ don't ignore the signs," said Hoge, a nine-year veteran who had numerous concussions. "It's easy with an ankle or a knee, because you have the pain that goes along with it. But with a concussion, it can clear up and you can function normally. But that doesn't mean you're right. You may not know you're not right until it's too late."

Aikman's concussion in Arizona was his second of the season and fourth in six years as a Cowboy. He suffered a severe concussion in last year's NFC title game against the 49ers, showing the effects by saying he thought the Super Bowl was being played the following week in his hometown of Henryetta, Okla. Aikman will play with a mouthpiece and an extra bar on his face mask today in Cincinnati, to protect his chin.

"I don't know how many of those you can take," Aikman said. "I know that is what forced Roger Staubach into retirement a little bit sooner than what he probably would have liked. I'm certainly not at the point right now where I have to decide whether to continue to play. Now, if they start to stack up, I think you have to make a decision."

Staubach retired after more than 20 concussions, five in his final season, 1979. Jets receiver Al Toon retired in 1992 after his concussion total reached nine. Even Joe Montana said recently that he considered quitting this off-season after suffering a concussion in last season's AFC title game at Buffalo. Montana opted to continue after undergoing a battery of tests.

"A lot of times, players don't want to tell you everything, because they're afraid you won't let them go back in and play," Bears physician Michael Schafer said.

A salute to the past: After scoring his first NFL touchdown last week in a win over the Bears, Lions linebacker Chris Spielman added to his eccentric image when he dropped to his knees and spiked the ball two-handed in the end zone. Spielman, who stripped the ball from Bears tight end Chris Gedney and ran 25 yards for the score, executed the spike to highlight a little-known slice of football history.

"I did my 1905 spike, like they used to," he said. "Touch down. I said if I ever score a touchdown in the NFL, I do that as a tribute to all the guys who played before me. I mean that sincerely. All I'm doing is reviving the true meaning of touch down."

Crying Wolf: Three of Green Bay's four losses have come on the final play, and Packers general manager Ron Wolf is getting a little cranky about it. The morning after Green Bay's 13-10 overtime loss at Minnesota, Wolf had this to say about his 3-4 ballclub: "The good teams win close games like that, and the also-rans and the crybabies don't. We have to begin winning these games."

Too close a call: Dallas Pro Bowl right offensive tackle Erik Williams likely is lost for the season after his car wreck early Monday, but authorities believe his life was saved by the air bag in his Mercedes-Benz. Williams was not wearing a seat belt and reportedly had a blood-alcohol level of 0.17 (the legal limit in Texas is 0.10) at the time of the one-car accident. He suffered facial cuts, a broken rib and torn ligaments in his left thumb and right knee.

"They've got to understand what's happening here," Cowboys coach Barry Switzer said. "Pay attention. Get somebody to drive you. Life's too short."

All that glitters is not gold: What happens in Washington if seventh-round pick Gus Frerotte continues to play well once first-round pick Heath Shuler has recovered from his ankle injury? "We're going to have a quarterback controversy," Redskins coach Norv Turner said bluntly. "I hope we have a lot of these problems down the road."

Frerotte has a three-year, $460,000 contract. Shuler's package calls for $19-million over eight years.

Chill pill for Carl: Uptight Man Award thus far goes to Kansas City general manager Carl Peterson, who kicked longtime Chief Nick Lowery off the sideline at Arrowhead last week. Lowery went to watch because his new team, the Jets, had a bye. Without a pass, he talked his way onto the sideline during the pregame period, but Peterson quickly spotted him.

"It was inappropriate for him to be there, because he is a New York Jet," Peterson said. "I took great exception to him being on the sideline."

Lowery left the Chiefs after 14 years this off-season _ a move hastened by the salary cap. "Carl's mad because he thought I wasn't going to leave Kansas City," Lowery said.

He's a big fan: As if it weren't tough enough to lose for the first time this season, Chargers coach Bobby Ross had to share his stadium with the Rolling Stones. Mick and the boys played Jack Murphy Stadium five days before San Diego was upset by Denver last Sunday.

The night of the concert, Ross took a peek at the show while leaving around 11 p.m. "That place was really jumping," he said. "That Mike Jagger was really going. That's his name, isn't it?" That would be Mick, coach. "Mick, Nick, Mike, I'm not sure. He's a hard-rock guy. I'm a country-and-Western fan."

Spare time: You will be hearing more about Bernie Parmalee, the free-agent running back who rushed for 150 yards in Miami's most recent game. Here are some highlights of one of the best stories in the NFL this season: When he signed with the Dolphins four years ago, he was holding two jobs, one as an $8-an-hour UPS worker and the other earning $4.25 an hour at a midnight bowling alley.

He took a few days off at UPS to try out for the Dolphins, but when he signed with Miami he returned to the bowling alley to serve out his two weeks' notice. In 1986, as a senior at Lincoln High in Jersey City, N.J., Parmalee filled out a yearbook questionnaire. The question was: Where will you be in 10 years? Parmalee's answer? Playing for the Dolphins.

Quote of the week: From Bengals offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet, on David Klingler's comment that he planned to lobby Cincinnati coaches for a chance to start today against the Cowboys, sprained right knee and all: "That walking around is fine. But let Charles Haley chase your butt around and see how quickly your knee heals."

Pro football

Super Bowl champs who did not make the playoffs the following season:

Year missed playoffs

Giants 1991, 1987

Redskins 1988

49ers 1982

Raiders 1981

Steelers 1980

Chiefs 1971

Packers 1968

SOURCE: NFL Record and Fact Book

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.