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Thursday, December 4, 1997
High-rising cornerback Kevin Mathis at the
By Bart Hubbuch
The Dallas Morning News
DALLAS - Gainesville native Kevin Mathis' storybook rise did
not end when he came out of nowhere in the pre-season to earn
a roster spot with the Cowboys.
No, the highlight will come Monday, when Mathis starts at right
cornerback and returns punts against Carolina on "Monday
Night Football" in place of injured Deion Sanders.
Coach Barry Switzer confirmed Mathis' starting assignment,
saying Sanders will not play next week because of a fractured
'He (Mathis) is inexperienced, and he'll have some problems
because of that," Switzer said. "Those are some tough
shoes to try to fill."
And not a very big player to fill them. Mathis is the shortest
defensive player at 5-9, 172 pounds.
"I'm five feet, nine and one-half," insisted Mathis,
who said Sanders teased him Tuesday night about having Dallas'
hopes entirely on his shoulders.
Mathis, a former Texas A&M-Commerce standout, made the
roster in training camp mostly with his blazing speed. He has
shown flashes as a rookie, making 12 tackles primarily on special
teams while unseating Wendell Davis as the backup cornerback.
Mathis replaced Sanders in the first quarter last Thursday
against Tennesee and was picked on frequently. He expects the
same Monday, although Carolina does not have a wide receiver taller
"Not being drafted because of my size really motivates
me," Mathis said. "I'm trying to show that you don't
have to be 6-1 or 6-2 to play cornerback in this league."
This year's Pro Bowl lineup will be announced next Thursday,
and Cowboys' first-year kicker Richie Cunningham could find himself
on that list.
Cunningham, after all, has been one of the NFL's true surprises
this season, converting 31 of 33 field goals (.939) and all 19
extra points in his first pro season. He leads the NFC with 112
But Detroit's Jason Hanson, whose only missed field goal was
from 54 yards, might have the upper hand with a 23 of 24 conversion
Cunningham also has a shot at the NFL's all-time record for
field goals. He is chasing the mark of 37 set last season by Carolina's
John Kasay, opposite Cunningham next Monday at Texas Stadium.
"I'm looking forward to running into Kasay and meeting
him," Cunningham said. "I'd like to find out how he
approached it when he was setting the record."
Troy Aikman has not practiced this week because of a swollen
right thumb and index finger, but the Cowboys are confident he
will start against Carolina. Aikman has not missed a start because
of injury since 1994.
"He's going to play," wide receiver Michael Irvin
said. "I'm not worried about that. You know he's going to
Emmitt Smith has not practiced this week because of a bruised
left shoulder, but hopes to work out Thursday. Smith is considered
probable for Monday.
Looking to win the NFC or AFC Player of the Week award? Just
play the Cowboys.
Five players have won the award this season after games against
Dallas. Tennessee safety Marcus Robertson is the latest, earning
AFC Defensive Player of the Week for an interception and a fumble
return in the Oilers' 27-14 victory over the Cowboys last Thursday.
Robertson joins Arizona cornerback Aeneas Williams, San Francisco
defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield, Philadelphia defensive tackle
Rhett Hall and Washington punter Matt Turk on the list of players
this season who claimed the weekly conference award for their
efforts against the Cowboys.
Assistant equipment manager Bucky Buchanan stopped by Michael
Irvin's locker Tuesday afternoon and reminded him to bring his
game pants to Valley Ranch.
Irvin was so upset after the Cowboys' loss to Tennessee on
Thursday that he left Texas Stadium still wearing his game pants
"I've got everybody else's uniform," Buchanan said
with a laugh. "I just want to make sure I don't have to get
Rookie cornerback Kenny Wheaton returned to the team Wednesday.
Wheaton had been excused since his younger brother, Derrick, was
killed in a drive-by shooting in Phoenix two weeks ago ... Carolina
will be without two of its top receivers Monday: Raghib Ismail
(shoulder) and Mark Carrier (hand).
(c) 1997, The Dallas Morning News.
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