The National Football League said yesterday its review of two controversial hits by Philadelphia Eagles safety Andre Waters during Monday night's game against Minnesota is standard operating procedure.
"It's not an investigation, it is a standard review," said Greg Aiello, the NFL's director of communications. "It is being reviewed as would any play that might be considered a flagrant foul."
At issue are two hits Waters leveled on Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon. Each time Waters aimed at Gannon's knees. Waters was not penalized for either hit, but each was replayed several times by ABC-TV, and former all-pro offensive lineman Dan Dierdorf, now an analyst, said Waters was guilty of taking "cheap shots" at Gannon.
Waters, who will be facing the Washington Redskins Sunday at RFK Stadium, has been accused many times of taking shots at players' knees, and has picked up the nickname "Dirty" Waters. David Archer, formerly of the Falcons, and John Everett of the Rams are two other quarterbacks who have been targets of blows to the knees by Waters. Additionally, Waters punched Redskins quarterback Doug Williams in the stomach in a 1988 game.
On Tuesday Waters told reporters the first hit on Gannon "was not intentional" and that on the second hit Gannon was running out of bounds, making him nothing more than a running back. Waters's critics, however, say he should never aim at the knees, regardless of position.
Dierdorf, asked yesterday if he regrets criticizing Waters so harshly, said: "The game is tough enough and violent enough without that. He's got a track record of going for the knees and there is no place for that." Waters could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Former Redskins kicker Jess Atkinson, now a sports reporter for WRC-TV-4, had his career cut short when Waters -- flying in to block an extra point -- rolled over on his ankle in a 1987 game.
"I don't think he meant it," Atkinson said. "He was incredibly apologetic and I believe he was sincere. In fact, I don't think what he did to me was a cheap shot. But I asked him about going for guys' knees, and he kept answering that he's always tackled low. You can knock a guy silly without going for his knees and possibly end his career."
If the league officials, who include Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, find sufficient reason after reviewing films of the incidents, they can conduct an investigation. The standard review will be conducted by Art McNally, director of officiating, and Jan Van Duser, director of game operations, and their staffs. Tagliabue, Aiello said, saw the replays several times during the game.
Often, teams will ask the league office to review flagrant fouls, but the Vikings apparently did not ask the NFL to conduct this review. Aiello said the plays involving Waters and Gannon were so public -- shown nationally by ABC, then replayed dozens of times on newscasts -- that the league initiated the review.