This was no Hail Flutie from 50 yards. But when Doug Flutie scored on a bootleg to hand Jacksonville its first loss, it was the kind of play with which he always charmed the football world.
It's also what fans admire in Steve Young. He ran 23 yards through the entire Indianapolis defense, including four players near the goal line, and tossed a 2-yard pass to Jerry Rice for the 2-point conversion to help the 49ers avoid a major upset by beating the Colts 34-31.
Doug Flutie isn't Steve Young. But both are winners, as are most NFL quarterbacks who survive into their 30s, a lesson for the impatient fan who thinks an NFL quarterback can be made in the six or seven games that Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf have played.
"He's a big-time player who made big-time plays," Bruce Smith says of Flutie, his new Bills teammate who has always had his height (5-foot-10 but more like 5-8) held against him. "His heart's a lot bigger than his size."
"I didn't think he was going to slide," said Colts cornerback Jeff Burris, one of many Colts who had a shot at the 49ers' quarterback on his TD run. "He's a playmaker. He plays the game the way it should be played."
"That's what makes him Steve Young," added teammate Terrell Owens.
Flutie, who will lose his job again when Rob Johnson is healthy, was run out of the NFL a decade ago because of his lack of height and settled in Canada, where he did nothing but win and gain experience.
Young also bided his time before becoming a full-time starter at age 30. He sat first behind Vinny Testaverde in Tampa (Vinny Testaverde?) and then behind Joe Montana.
After Sunday's games, quarterbacks 35 and over (John Elway, Bubby Brister, Young, Randall Cunningham, Dan Marino, Warren Moon and Flutie) are 23-6 as starters.
Add Chris Chandler, who's 33, in Atlanta, and it's 28-7.
Quarterbacks 25 and under (Kerry Collins, Peyton Manning, Rob Johnson, Ryan Leaf, Danny Kanell, Charlie Batch, Tony Banks, Steve McNair, Danny Wuerffel and Jake Plummer) are 20-36.
The salary cap doesn't allow young quarterbacks to apprentice under veterans. The Colts, for example, had to trade Jim Harbaugh to the Ravens to make cap room for Manning.
"Maybe it would help to sit and watch," Plummer said after he was sacked seven times and turned over the ball three times Sunday in a 34-7 loss to the Giants. "But then I wouldn't be starting, would I? I'm a competitor and I want to start."
Chances are that competitive spirit will help Plummer down the line. He even said he was encouraged Sunday by the work of the quarterback who opposed him -- Kanell, who threw for 259 yards and three TDs after two games in which he totaled 183 yards and five turnovers. "You like to see young quarterbacks succeed."
Kanell said the turning point came after last Sunday night's debacle against Atlanta, when two ex-quarterbacks turned TV personalities pointed out that shaky starts are the rule with QBs.
"I got good advice from good people," Kanell said. "Guys like Joe Theismann and Ron Jaworski told me I had the tools to play in this league. They said there has never been a quarterback who didn't go through tough times."
So hold the obits on Manning and Leaf. Hold them on Plummer and Kanell and Bobby Hoying and Gus Frerotte and the rest of the young QBs. And don't start when Batch, who's started very well for Detroit, hits the wall -- maybe this week against the Vikings.
Listen to Theismann and Jaworski instead.
HOLD THOSE ZEBRAS This was one of those weeks when the officials got noticed, not a good thing from the league standpoint.
The biggest brouhaha was in San Francisco, where there were questions about calls that nullified two end zone interceptions by the Colts and allowed a touchdown by San Francisco.
Indianapolis coach Jim Mora said there was even an argument between referee Walt Coleman and another official on one of the penalties, a holding call against the Colts.
"After the official that worked our side argued (with Coleman) that it wasn't defensive holding, he came back to me and said it was offensive holding, if anything," Indianapolis coach Jim Mora said. "It was a horrible, horrible job by the officials."
Later, on the 49ers' final drive, there was a pass interference call that gave San Francisco 27 yards on its final drive, setting up Wade Richey's chip-shot field goal to win it. Replays showed there was incidental contact on the play, nothing egregious enough to essentially hand San Francisco the game.
There also was confusion in Chicago, when the Cowboys were trying a 2-point conversion that would have given them a 14-7 lead in a game they eventually lost 13-12 to the Bears. The failed conversion -- an incomplete pass attempt by Jason Garrett to Michael Irvin -- came after the whistle blew with 10 seconds left on the play clock.
Garrett appealed to referee Larry Nemmers to reset the clock to 25 seconds, but he quoted Nemmers as saying, "No, you've got to go."
"It put us in a bind, because we had motion," Garrett said. "In hindsight, I should have taken time out, but I didn't think it was handled real well. When you hear a whistle, you'd think at least you'd get the 25 seconds back."
Emmitt Smith said Nemmers told him an official was out of place.
"They were blowing the whistle and that threw us off," Smith said. "I couldn't figure that out."
CHANGING FORTUNES Two months ago, Bill Musgrave was looking for a job as a third-string quarterback, a job he held for nine seasons in the NFL with the 49ers, Broncos and anyone else who would have him.
On Sunday, after being hired as a low-level offensive assistant, he became Philadelphia's de facto offensive coordinator when Ray Rhodes picked him to call plays instead of Dana Bible, the offensive coordinator, who took over last year.
"Bill Musgrave called the plays. That's a decision I made. All right?" said Rhodes, who said he offered a job to Musgrave in the offseason, when Musgrave still hoped to continue playing. "I just wanted to see if we could get it all turned around a little bit."
It didn't help.
The Eagles (1-6) lost 13-10 to San Diego.
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