The National Football League yesterday slapped Phoenix Cardinals safety Chuck Cecil with a $30,000 fine for hits against two Washington Redskins -- tight end Ron Middleton and running back Ricky Ervins -- in the Sept. 12 game at RFK Stadium.

An NFL spokesman said the fine is one of the largest leveled against a player -- "short of suspending him for a game, which costs him a paycheck."

Cecil used the crown of his helmet to spear Middleton and Ervins, according to the league, which is in violation of NFL rules. Middleton suffered a sprained neck, cut tongue and bruised jaw.

No penalty flags were thrown on the plays, but Bill Polian, the NFL's vice president for football development, called the hits "two acts of flagrant unnecessary roughness" and said the size of the fine reflected Cecil's "prior conduct outside the playing rules." "Some guy back East is sitting there watching it in super 'slo-mo,' and he decides it's illegal, and they've got a whole crew of officials on the field and nobody throws a flag," Cecil told the Associated Press in Tempe, Ariz.

Cecil, a starting Pro Bowl player with the Green Bay Packers last season, has been in trouble before. Last year, he was fined a total of $7,000 for hits on Minnesota wide receivers Joe Johnson and Jake Reed. The NFL also fined him $7,500 for using the crown of his helmet on Chicago's Anthony Morgan in an exhibition game Aug. 14. Cecil has appeals still pending on both those fines, and last night his attorney, Ted Updike, said the $30,000 fine will be appealed too.

"As a lawyer, I am offended by the prejudging of Chuck's actions and an NFL public announcement of fines for 'flagrant, unnecessary roughness' prior to a hearing ... ," a statement from Updike said. "Timely appeals have been filed in each instance without any response by the league. Note that the referees have not seen fit to throw a flag for 'spearing' or 'flagrant hits' for four of the five plays in question. ... The videotape analysis proves Chuck Cecil is one tough football player playing within the rules."

Cecil left the game for a few plays after smashing Ervins, then returned and got the 270-pound Middleton as he was coming across the middle. Cecil told reporters in Arizona last week that he considered both plays within the rules and last night the Redskins seemed to agree.

Coach Richie Petitbon said the fine seemed excessive. "I thought the fine was a little steep. That's football, man. This game is not played in short pants."

Middleton agreed, saying that the part of the play that angered him was Cecil's standing over him and taunting him once the play ended. He didn't know about the taunting until watching television coverage after the game and had congratulated Cecil on a good hit. Cecil leveled Middleton as he was extended to catch a pass. Middleton's helmet flew off, and as he lay on the ground, Cecil kicked the helmet and appeared to count him out."That's the way football is played," Middleton said. "From the time you're a kid, that's how they tell you to hit and block. ... He was wrong to go for my head, but it's an aggressive sport." Middleton was unable to move his head after the game and was limited in his contact work last week. He said the tip of his tongue is still numb and his neck and shoulder are still sore.