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Wednesday, December 17, 1997

Switzer rejects blame for Cowboys' failure

AP Sports Writer
IRVING, Texas, Dec. 17 -- Barry Switzer isn't blaming
himself, so the Dallas Cowboys' 1997 collapse must be
players' fault.

``I did as good a job as when we won the Super Bowl,
probably a little bit better considering some of the younger
players,'' Switzer said Tuesday in assessing his

Dallas has won three Super Bowls in the 1990s, including
one in Switzer's second year.

This season, a combination of injuries, age and
undisciplined play has led to a 6-9 record and jeopardized
Switzer's job. Owner Jerry Jones has steadfastly refused to
say Switzer and his assistants will be back.

Only six teams in the NFL have a worse record than the
Cowboys do entering Sunday's game with the NFC East champion
New York Giants.

Facing perhaps his last week as coach of the Cowboys,
Switzer was in an almost jolly mood at Valley Ranch. He was
wishing everyone ``Merry Christmas'' and said a big priority
next week was shopping.

``You know, I live by myself, so I have to do my own
shopping,'' Switzer said. ``I've only got a couple of

Switzer said all the speculation about his ouster hadn't
hurt him.

``It hasn't bothered me at all, not one bit,'' Switzer
said. ``It's probably affected my family members more than
anyone else.''

Switzer talked some about the meaningless game with the
Giants on Sunday. New York will host a wild-card team in a
first-round game, and that won't change regardless of a

A loss for Dallas could help propel the Cowboys to the top
10 on draft day and give them a fourth-place finish and a
much easier schedule next year.

Switzer said the Cowboys, although they will play some
young players, will go all out.

``We're going to try to win a football game,'' Switzer
said. ``It's not like this is an exhibition game.''

Switzer said the careers of several veterans, such as
tackle Mark Tuinei and special teams star Bill Bates, could
be winding down.

``This is a business,'' Switzer said. ``Some of the guys
had great careers but it comes a time when every (player)
has to move on.''

Niners defend Rice's ill-fated early return

AP Sports Writer
SANTA CLARA, Calif., Dec. 17 -- Steve Mariucci has no
interest in second-guessing Jerry Rice's ill-fated return
from major knee surgery. Rice himself has no regrets.

``We all wished it wouldn't have happened,'' said Mariucci,
the San Francisco 49ers coach.

Rice suffered a season-ending fracture to his left kneecap
when he was tackled after catching a touchdown pass in
Monday night's 34-17 win over Denver, which clinched home
field for San Francisco throughout the NFC playoffs.

It was his first game back since tearing two ligaments and
sustaining cartilage damage in the same knee during the Aug.
31 season opener at Tampa Bay.

Team physician Michael Dillingham, who reconstructed Rice's
knee the day after the first injury, operated again Tuesday
and inserted screws into Rice's broken kneecap to help it
heal properly.

``The thing went well,'' Rice told KGO-TV as he left the
hospital Tuesday night. ``It was unfortunate what happened,
but I wouldn't go back and change nothing.''

Mariucci said he has no regrets about allowing Rice to
return from his first injury, which was initially believed
to be season ending. Rice spent 3½ months rehabilitating the
first injury, and he received medical clearance from
Dillingham and a confirming clearance from San Diego
Chargers team physician Gary Losse.

``If we had to do it again, we would do the same thing,''
Mariucci said. ``He was cleared to go. He felt good. He
wanted to go and that's when you put a player back in. The
injury was very unfortunate. That's what happens sometimes
in football and as hard as it is, you've got to live with

Mariucci variously described the latest injury as a fluke, a
surprise, freakish and a shock.

Teammate Dana Stubblefield said Rice might have placed
himself at risk by pushing too hard to come back.

``I just think he did too much,'' Stubblefield said. ``I
mean, he was a guy that the coach had to beat him in the
brain just to take a day off.''

Rice, the NFL's career leader in touchdowns, receptions and
receiving yardage, said he didn't believe he rushed his
comeback. And in any case, ``It was worth it,'' he said.

``I felt like I was ready and I sparked the team at the
right time,'' Rice said. ``It was one of those unfortunate
things. It comes along with the game of football. I'll be
back. I'm not worried about that.''

Rice faces 8-10 weeks of rehabilitation and should be able
to participate in the team's minicamp next May in
preparation for the 1998 season.

Rice was hurt making a leaping grab of a 14-yard pass from
Steve Young, who threaded the ball between defenders Darrien
Gordon and Steve Atwater. But an instant after making the
catch at the end of a slant pattern, Rice was jolted by
Atwater and crashed to the ground, landing directly on his
surgically repaired knee.

``The plan was to play him sparingly, in and out, in our
three wide receiver set,'' Mariucci said. ``Most of the
routes called for Jerry were outside type of throws. The
play in the red zone was that he fake the corner route and
take it back to the post. We hit it for the touchdown. If he
doesn't get hurt, it's a great play.''

Team doctors suspected the kneecap might be broken after
X-rays late Monday night and the fracture across the middle
of the kneecap was confirmed by an MRI early Tuesday.

Mariucci said doctors told him the newest injury was
unrelated to the latest one and his reconstructed knee
escaped any ligament or cartilage damage.

He also said that the titanium brace Rice wore offered
mostly protection from a hit on the side rather than a
frontal blow to the kneecap. Rice was not wearing any knee
pads, which could have cushioned the blow. Many wide
receivers and defensive backs don't wear knee pads, normally
standard issue, because they say they're too constricting.

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