As Coach Ray Jauch answered questions with tears of frustration in his eyes, as offensive coordinator Dick Bielski popped a Maalox, kicker Ken Olson sat on a bench, still, quiet and devastated.
With 11 seconds remaining in the game, Olson missed a 33-yard field goal attempt that sailed to the right of the goal posts, and the New Jersey Generals, led by Herschel Walker's 142 yards rushing and two touchdowns, won their second game of the season, 23-22, before a crowd of 35,381. The Federals dropped to 1-6, worst in the U.S. Football League.
"I just want to pack and get out of here," said Olson, who signed with the Federals two weeks ago. "I feel terrible for these players."
It was the second week in a row that the Federals lost by a single point. In both games, crucial coaching decisions played a role in the outcome. The Federals trailed, 23-8, in the fourth quarter until Joe Gilliam, who replaced starter Mike Hohensee in the second period, threw scoring passes of nine and 52 yards to Joey Walters and Craig James, respectively.
On both occasions, Jauch chose to attempt two-point conversions. On the first, Gilliam hit Walters in the end zone, but on the second, with 8:04 to play, Gilliam was rushed and threw a weak pass that fell incomplete.
"We didn't want to lose the chance to win the game," Jauch said of his decision to try the second two-point conversion rather than tie the game with a kick. "You have to play to win."
In addition to the final field goal attempt, Olson also missed a 37-yard attempt and his only extra-point try of the afternoon following Gilliam's 18-yard touchdown pass to Mike Holmes in the second quarter.
Bielski said, "You can always second-guess anything. We talked about the possibility on the sidelines, and we thought we could put it in."
"I'm behind (the decision)," said James, who returned to action after missing four games with a spine injury and gained 28 yards running and 77 yards receiving. "Coach Jauch did the right thing. We completed one (two-point conversion) and we had to be confident that we could complete another one."
Gilliam, who threw 22 times for 10 completions, 199 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, said, "I'm not second-guessing anybody on this team . . . I just don't know what we have to do to win."
Last week, in the Federals' 22-21 loss to the Arizona Wranglers, Jauch made another difficult call. With a five-point lead, Washington had the ball, first and goal, on the Arizona one.
Fullback James Mayberry failed three times to score on running plays, and Jauch elected to try for the touchdown on fourth down instead of kicking the field goal. Gilliam's pass attempt was incomplete, and two plays later the Wranglers completed a 98-yard pass to score the winning points.
"Last week, we had them backed in their own end," Jauch said.
"Even if we do miss the touchdown, we should have been able to stop them and get a second chance to score."
"One foot was all we needed last week," Bielski said. "You should have confidence in your ability to get one foot."
Today, the Federals also had trouble keeping up with their timeouts in the final period. Amid the confusion surrounding a delay-of-game penalty, Gilliam wasted a timeout. And later a television shot showed Jauch telling his quarterback the team still had two timeouts remaining. Gilliam correctly told Jauch that the Federals had only one left.
The game had a beginning suitable for a matchup between the two teams with the weakest records in the USFL.
With only 2:29 elapsed in the game, New Jersey center Frank Naylor snapped poorly to punter Dave Jacobs. Jacobs scooped up the ball on his own goal line and Vince Kinney of the Federals chased him out the back of the end zone for a safety.
Walker's performance, however, more than compensated for New Jersey's comical start. His 142 yards for the day gave him 714 for seven games, tieing Philadelphia's Kelvin Bryant for the league rushing lead. Walker consistently waited for his blocks to develop and when even the smallest opening appeared, he accelerated for good gains. His longest was a 38-yard run in the fourth period.
After Bobby Scott's 40-yard scoring pass to tight end Victor Hicks with 14:52 left to play in the second quarter, Walker scored his sixth and seventh touchdowns of the year--a two-yard run to end an 11-play drive with 7:55 left in the first half and an eight-yard run to give the Generals a 23-8 margin with 14:54 left to play.
Dave Jacobs kicked a 32-yard field goal for the Generals with 1:20 left in the half for New Jersey.
"I enjoy playing, and I enjoyed it even more today," Walker said. "I'm blocking more and catching more passes than I was at Georgia."
"I don't think Herschel Walker disappointed anybody today," Jauch said. "We played him pretty well most of the way, but he was like a time bomb out there."
Running back Billy Taylor and linebacker Dan Lloyd of the Federals returned to Giants Stadium today after careers with that NFL team. Lloyd played only intermittently, but Taylor started in the backfield with James and gained 85 yards on 17 carries, all in the second half.
Despite the surrounding gloom, Taylor could not keep from smiling and greeting old friends in the locker room. "I had season tickets to the Generals," said Taylor. "It's fun to be back here. And playing."