By ERNEST HOOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2000
Anyone who was at Florida Field in Gainesville on a certain December night eight years ago will tell you Darren Hambrick is a spirited player.
Those who were there to cheer on Dade City Pasco to the Class 3A state championship can probably still remember seeing the hulking Hambrick wave a giant Pirates flag as the team stormed the field.
Now Hambrick is using that same game-time emotion to inspire his pro team, the Dallas Cowboys.
Hambrick resorted to what Dallas reporters called WWF antics on Monday night before the Washington game, instigating a shoving match that involved Redskins rookies LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels. Several teammates came to Hambrick's aid, touching off a minibrawl that galvanized Dallas and, some say, sparked the Cowboys' upset.
The means may have been questionable, but the end result was pleasing. Hambrick's pregame prancing may have been the first time a current Cowboy had filled the emotional void created by Michael Irvin's retirement. In fact, it was Irvin who prompted Hambrick.
"Mike has been trying to get me do something for the longest time," Hambrick, 25, said. "He said it's something we need. He got me to do it."
Why haven't Cowboys fans seen more of 6-2, 227-pound linebacker's on-field demeanor? For the first two seasons the Lacoochie native had to focus more on making the team than inspiring it. Last season, he beat out Quentin Coryatt and this season he held the starting spot despite the addition of Joe Bowden, the starting linebacker from last season's AFC champion Tennessee Titans.
Now Hambrick has the swagger back. He had 11 tackles against the Redskins and is third on the team with 29.
"I took the Redskins game personally because we haven't had much spark emotionally," Hambrick said. "It was like we were going to a funeral. We get paid too much money to not be up and ready to play on Sundays. A lot of players come out and play the game. For me, I have to fight the game."
CENTER OF ATTENTION: Mike Gruttadauria signed a four-year, $8.6-million contract with Arizona after helping the Rams win Super Bowl XXIV and was the Cardinals' prized free agent. So why does the center feel like he still has something to prove?
Well, the Tarpon Springs native has been out with a knee injury and has just worked his way back into the starting lineup.
"You have a feeling of uselessness start to set in when you're out that long," Gruttadauria, 27, said. "I kept my head in the game by trying to act like a coach to Chris (Dishman, his replacement). That wasn't just for him, it helped me, too."
OUCH: The predicted quarterback controversy in Washington is blossoming as Brad Johnson continues to play inconsistently, but maybe Johnson would be playing better if owner Dan Snyder had ot signed Jeff George.
"Sonny Jurgensen gained Snyder's ear and told him how great Jeff George was and then Snyder ran out and signed him," Fox analyst Terry Bradshaw said. "Why? I don't know. Sonny played 18 years and only made four playoff appearances. Both Jurgensen and George have one thing in common -- they've never won anything."
YOUNG CHIEFS: For the first time in 10 years, the Chiefs have three rookies in their starting lineup: strong safety Greg Wesley, cornerback Pat Dennis and wide receiver Sylvester Morris, who had three touchdown catches last week.
Morris is the first-round pick out of Jackson State who has not let his new-found riches change him. On the Chiefs' overnight trip to Tampa for the preseason finale, Morris had a toothbrush in one pocket, a change of underwear in the other pocket and his playbook in his hand.
"We were only gone for one night," Morris said.
Said Chiefs coach Gunther Cunningham: "He's a country kid in the big city. It's really refreshing to get that kind of player."
ET CETERA: The bad marriage between the Bears and running back Curtis Enis took a turn for the worse when Enis was moved to fullback last week. The 250-pound bruiser simply doesn't fit in Chicago's spread offense. . . . Detroit is juggling its offensive line to rejuvenate its running game, moving center Mike Compton back to left guard. . . . The average age of the opening-day starting lineups on the Bucs (26.95) Colts (27) and Bills (27.04) are among the league's 10 youngest. None of the other 10 youngest teams is above .500. . . . If the Eagles can get linebacker Jermiah Trotter signed to an extension, they will have all 11 starters under contract until at least 2002. . . . If the Redskins lose tonight, they would have to go 9-3 with a win over the Giants Dec. 3, and the Giants would have to go 6-6 for Washington to win the NFC East.
- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.