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McDowell is through dodging bullets

Anthony McDowell didn't initially consider it his lucky day.

But the trick of firing a 9mm bullet through one's own thigh without sustaining serious damage requires something akin to good fortune. Even McDowell will give you that.

"I definitely think it's a one-in-a-million chance to have had things work out this well," said the Buccaneers' fourth-year fullback, breaking his silence about his accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound, suffered on the morning of May 6.

"If I put the gun back up against the same hole where the bullet went through, I think I'd shatter my leg. I know people who shot themselves in the leg, and the leg had to be amputated. Someone was looking over me."

McDowell, a Buccaneer starter in 22 of his 30 NFL games, was driving his Toyota Landcruiser near his Tampa home when the 10 a.m. incident occurred. According to a police report, McDowell attempted to unload a live round from a recently purchased 9mm Beretta handgun while stopped at a stop sign.

Forgetting he had a bullet in the chamber from the night before, McDowell carelessly tripped the trigger, shooting himself in the left thigh and producing pencil-sized entrance and exit wounds. Bleeding, but in pain he found manageable, McDowell at first hesitated to go to the hospital. An unsigned restricted free agent, he feared the potential damage to his career and the reaction to the incident.

But as the pain and loss of blood mounted, he drove himself the 2 or 3 miles to St. Joseph's Hospital and walked unaided into the emergency room.

"I just parked the car in the registration area and walked in," said McDowell, a participant in the Bucs' June minicamp workouts. "The guy saw blood on my shorts and said, "What's wrong?' I told him, but a minute later he started working on somebody else, then looked over and said, "Now where did you stab yourself?' I said, "I didn't stab myself anywhere. I put a bullet through my leg.' Then they helped me."

The bullet, which remains lodged in the left side door of McDowell's car _ "I don't want to see it. I already had to rip out all the carpet and reupholster because of the blood" _ struck no bones, arteries nor destroyed any muscle. Tissue damage was all he sustained.

"The doctors all said I was very lucky, that it was rare for it to go all the way through," said McDowell, 26. "I was running on it within two or three weeks. I think it helped me that I was an athlete and was so healthy."

McDowell said he carries the gun in his car to protect himself against carjackers. He has a permit for the weapon, but has discontinued his illegal practice of occasionally storing it loaded in the car.

His career having quite literally dodged a bullet, McDowell was at first the target of suspicion and concern regarding the incident. Lately, with his successful rehabilitation near completion, teammates have not missed any opportunity to remind him of his day in the headlines.

"They call me the Lone Ranger, Quicksilver, all types of gunfighter names," McDowell said. "It comes with the territory. I'd be the first one saying it to them if they did what I did. At first, folks were worried about suicide, and the police were wary. Guys would come up and say, "C'mon, tell me the real truth.' But that's it. I shot myself in the leg.

"I got a little lecture from my agent (Scott Casterline), my dad, everybody. I know now to be careful with guns, not to be pointing it at my leg, and not to be leaving a bullet in the chamber. But nothing can hurt me now. If I took a gun wound to the leg, maybe I'm disaster-proof."

McDowell said his leg feels about 90 percent healthy, and he expects it to be 100 percent by the opening of training camp late next month. Bucs coach Sam Wyche is even more optimistic.

"I think he was a little tentative with his leg (earlier), but there's no favoritism toward that leg now," Wyche said. "He doesn't drag the leg. He's worked hard. I think he's 100 percent, or 100 percent of whatever he's going to be."

Elsewhere

Jets: Johnny Johnson, the team's leading rusher for the past two years _ he gained 931 yards in 240 carries last year _ and its MVP in 1993, was released. The Jets couldn't find a team willing to accept his $1.7-million salary for 1995.

Falcons: Atlanta reached a two-year agreement with free-agent Browning Nagle. Nagle, a four-year NFL veteran from Pinellas Park, was expected to sign today and join the competition for the third quarterback spot.

_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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