For Beuerlein, a call to arms

Steve Beuerlein was talking about the life of a backup quarterback in the NFL, the lack of practice repetitions, the need to mentally prepare for the time he would be called upon to play. It was noon Wednesday and Beuerlein was about to begin those preparations, starting with a film session on the Dallas Cowboys.

Before leaving, Beuerlein was asked about the possibility that Kerry Collins would be benched and he would play for the Carolina Panthers at some point this season.

“I’ve got no feel on that at all,” Beuerlein said. “My job is exactly the same as it always has been.

“When coaches feel like it’s time for me to go in there for whatever the situation might be, I’ll hopefully be ready to go, But my role hasn’t changed at all in the last four weeks.”

Less than an hour later, Beuerlein was the Panthers’ starting quarterback.

“I honest to God had no idea this was coming,” he said later that day. “I really have no idea where this all came from and what it’s all about. All I know is that I’m the quarterback and I’ll be ready to play this weekend, and I’m excited about playing.”

No one saw it coming. No one knew Collins would walk into Coach Dom Capers’ office that morning and say his heart wasn’t into playing anymore. By the end of the conversation, the decision was made. Collins was out. Beuerlein was in.

Beuerlein found out during the film session, when Collins addressed the other quarterbacks.

“There wasn’t any emotion, really,” Beuerlein said. “He just came out matter-of-factly and pretty much said that his heart wasn’t in it and as a result of that he felt like he was cheating the team, maybe selling the team a little bit short, and he wanted to address that.”

Beuerlein spoke with Capers after the quarterbacks meeting and officially was told he would start against Dallas today at Texas Stadium.

It will be Beuerlein’s first start since Oct. 12, 1997, when he threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

In Beuerlein 12-year career -- which began in 1987 when he was drafted in the 4th round by the Raiders and wound through Dallas, Phoenix and Jacksonville -- he had 53 starts and passed for 11,953 yards.

Beuerlein, 33, has been Capers’ safety net for three seasons. He has started seven times since joining the Panthers at the start of the 1996 season, including four games when Collins was hurt. Beuerlein was 3-1 in ‘96 for Carolina, which finished 12-4 and reached the NFC title game.

With the Panthers, he is 4-3 as a starter and has played in 15 games.

“I think Steve has handled himself in a first-class manner since he’s been here,” Capers said. “I think that he’s true pro.”

And those are qualities the Panthers need now. Beuerlein isn’t the long-term solution at quarterback, but there’s no question he commands his teammates’ respect.

“I’m excited,” wide receiver Mark Carrier said. “I’ve seen Steve play. I know he can play. He and I, as well as the other receivers, work well together.”

Indeed, Capers said the Panthers made few changes to accommodate Beuerlein, who lacks the arm strength of Collins but is perhaps a better decision-maker with the ball.

“Steve hasn’t had the repetitions that Kerry has,” Capers said. “But Steve’s a cerebral guy, and so there won’t be much difference in our game plan.”

That he’ll face the Cowboys in his first start is perhaps fitting. Beuerlein was the backup to Troy Aikman in 1991 and ‘92, winning a Super Bowl his last season with the Cowboys.

Also, Beuerlein makes his offseason home in Dallas, and among his closest friends is Jason Garrett, who was on the Cowboys’ practice squad in 1992 but is starting while Aikman recovers from a fractured clavicle.

Beuerlein phoned Garrett a few weeks ago to wish him luck when Aikman went down.

“Steve Beuerlein is one of the great guys I’ve ever met in my life,” Garrett said. “When I first came here to Dallas he was the backup quarterback and he was just so helpful to me in so many different ways -- as a player, as someone getting acclimated to this situation, to this team. He has been a guy I just think so much of. I can’t speak more highly of the guy.”

Beuerlein was equally complimentary.

“I would consider us very good friends,” Beuerlein said. “They’re great people, and I’m happy he’s getting this opportunity. He’s finally getting a chance over time to slow that he can play.”

At the time Beuerlein said that, he didn’t know he would be facing his friend.

But Beuerlein will try to come out on top, of course. He has been studying film of Cowboys all week in preparation.

It won’t be easy. The Cowboys feature Deion Sanders in the secondary, perhaps the best cornerback in the game.

“If you make one mistake, you have one lapse in judgment [against him], it’s going to change the whole course of the game,” Beuerlein said. “He gets the ball in his hands and he’s going to score most of the time.”

Despite the lack of practice since training camp, Beuerlein is doing his best to be ready for Sanders and the rest of the Dallas defense.

“I’ve got nothing else to do except get myself ready for this game,” he said.

“All I know is I have an obligation to my teammates and this organization to get myself ready to play and give us a chance to win on Sunday. That’s what I’m focusing on, that’s what I’m planning on doing. If people are behind me, I feel good about that. If not, I still have a job to do and I’m going to go out and do the best I can.”

Today, that has to be better than the job Collins has done. Just ask cornerback Eric Davis.

“Anyone is better equipped than Kerry to lead this team if they want to do the job,” Davis said. “Anyone would be better equipped than a man who doesn’t want the job.

“Steve’s my quarterback right now.”
Sun. Oct, 11, 1998