Neck injury dampens Monday night spirits

Posted: Tuesday, August 06, 2002

CANTON, Ohio -- As they joined hands and knelt in prayer on their sideline, the Houston Texans' first game in the NFL took on much deeper meaning.

Rookie David Carr threw a touchdown pass and the league's $700 million expansion team looked good in stretches of its debut Monday night, a 34-17 loss to the New York Giants in the Hall of Fame game.

Jesse Palmer passed for 247 yards and two TDs for the Giants, and rookie tight end Jeremy Shockey had a TD catch along with a bruising 48-yard gain where he flattened several Texans.

Houston's historic first exhibition game was supposed to be a celebration, but the party turned serious when backup safety Leomont Evans suffered a bruised spinal cord.

''You hate to see that,'' Giants coach Jim Fassel said. ''I just stood there praying. For a while, I could not think of anything else. You see that and that's when the game and everything else that happens is inconsequential.''

Evans, a second-team strong safety, got hurt while rushing a punt in the second quarter when he lowered his head and tried to power over New York running back Sean Bennett.

Evans became limp after contact with Bennett, and fell face first to the artificial turf as the play unfolded around him. He was motionless on the field while teammate Avion Black returned the punt 71 yards.

The 28-year-old Evans stayed face down as Houston's training staff and emergency personnel ran onto the field to assist him.

While their teammate was being cared for, the Texans, many of whom didn't know each other until the start of training camp, gathered in a circle and knelt in prayer in front of their bench.

''That's one of the toughest things to go through, when one of your brothers goes down,'' Carr said. ''That (praying) wasn't fake. That could have been any of us.''

Across the field, about a dozen of New York's players -- led by All-Pro Michael Strahan -- dropped to a knee.

Evans was strapped on a backboard and his facemask was removed before he was taken from the field on a stretcher.

He was taken to Aultman Hospital for further evaluation and treatment.

A team spokesman said an MRI and CAT scan taken during the game were normal.

The Texans waited 18 months to get started and were eager to see how Carr, the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, would do in his first pro game.

Houston's coaching staff had to be impressed.

Carr, who led the nation with 42 TDs last year at Fresno State, was 9-of-17 for 96 yards. He hooked up with tight end Billy Miller for a 24-yard scoring strike late in the first half to tie it 10-10, and showed good poise on several other plays.

''For the first time out, I thought he did good,'' Houston coach Dom Capers said. ''The TD pass was outstanding. I was pleased with him for a first outing.''

The Giants are equally thrilled with Shockey.

The former Miami All-American got off to a shaky start in New York, arriving a week late because of a contract holdout and getting into a dining-hall fight with linebacker Brandon Short the first night he was there.

But with one play, Shockey made all of that go away.

Late in the second quarter, Shockey caught a short pass from Palmer and stiff-armed Houston's Jacoby Shepherd before heading up the sideline.

He ignored his facemask being grabbed about 5 yards later, and after picking up 30 yards, Shockey knocked Houston safety Kevin Williams to the ground with his forearm. It took two more Texas defenders to drag the 6-foot-5, 252-pounder down.

''It was a like a Michael Jordan dunk,'' Giants linebacker Mike Barrow said. ''He's a rookie and I don't want to be premature, but he's special. The sidelines went crazy. We were all yelling, 'Did you see that.'''

Two plays later, Shockey caught an 8-yard TD pass from Palmer to put the Giants up 17-10 at halftime.

Owen Pochman's 37-yard field goal put New York ahead 20-10, but former Giants QB Kent Graham -- battling to make Houston's roster -- threw a 40-yard TD pass to Sherrod Gideon.

Palmer's second TD pass, a 57-yarder to Jonathan Carter, made it 27-17 with 12:39 left.

Giants safety Clarence LeBlanc returned an interception 99 yards for a TD to seal it with 1:43 to go.

The Texans' exhibition debut was the first NFL game by any Houston team since Dec. 22, 1996, when the Oilers beat Baltimore in their final game before the franchise moved to Tennessee.

On their first offensive play, the Texans were welcomed to the league by Strahan. The Giants defensive end, who set a league record with 22 1/2 sacks last season, shed a blocker and threw James Allen for a 3-yard loss.

Notes: Houston WR Trevor Insley broke his left ankle. ... The Giants played in their fourth Hall of Fame game, and first since they beat the Houston Oilers in 1985. ... LeBlanc's return broke the game mark of 93 yards set by New England's Ronnie Lippett in 1986. ... Houston backup quarterback Mike Quinn was scratched with a groin injury and missed playing in his fourth Hall of Fame game. He also came to Canton with Miami (2001), Dallas (1999) and Pittsburgh (1998). ... Next year is the Hall of Fame's 40th anniversary.

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