Are Chandler’s playing days numbered?

  • SCOTT M. JOHNSON / Herald Writer
  • Saturday, December 2, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By SCOTT M. JOHNSON

Herald Writer

ATLANTA – The middle of the week is a tough time in the world of professional football players.

Your first full practice takes place on Wednesdays, with film sessions and meetings in between. It’s back-to-work time after a taking Tuesdays off to let the body heal.

For Chris Chandler, the most recent Wednesday was even more taxing. His day was supposed to begin with a briefing for the starting quarterback and end with a phone call. Neither one happened.

Chandler never called back the reporter from his hometown newspaper, which was understandable. Earlier that day, the former Everett High School and University of Washington star found out that he was no longer the Atlanta Falcons’ starting quarterback.

In the days leading up to the Falcons’ game with the Seattle Seahawks – which begins today at 10:05 a.m. – Chandler tried to stay out of the line of fire while everyone else wondered aloud about his future. One Atlanta columnist quipped: ” … there is as much a chance of Chris Chandler playing in goal tonight for the (NHL’s) Thrashers as there is him ever taking another snap for the Falcons.”

All of the sudden, two years removed from appearances in the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl, the former Everett High School and University of Washington quarterback finds himself staring at the finish line.

Is this the end? Will Chandler finally hang up his cleats for good?

No one knows but him. And, at least to this paper, he isn’t saying. So whether or not the 35-year-old quarterback continues to play beyond 2000 is still a mystery.

“A lot of quarterbacks play until they’re 38 or whatever,” said Seahawks offensive lineman Robbie Tobeck, Chandler’s teammate for the past three years in Atlanta. “I think he’s still got a couple decent years in him. He’s been beat up a lot this year, and that’s really been his downfall through his career. But when he’s playing healthy, he’s as good as anybody.”

Injuries have been the most frustrating constant of Chandler’s career, so this week has served as an appropriate microcosm. He’s not listed on the team’s injury report, but a number of bumps and bruises factored into Falcons coach Dan Reeves’ decision to drop Chandler to No. 3 quarterback behind rookie starter Doug Johnson and Danny Kanell.

Reeves said the depth chart would probably stay that way for the remainder of the season, which raised a few eyebrows in Atlanta. After all, Chandler isn’t getting any younger, and the Falcons have an option out of his contract after this season.

So is that it for Chandler?

“He’s at a career point right now where he’s been banged up and beat up, and taken an awful lot of punishment over the last two years because we haven’t done a good job protecting him,” Reeves said. When asked specifically about Chandler’s future, the Falcons coach added: “Physically, I think Chris has plenty of time to play if he doesn’t keep getting hit. I think he’s got some years left that he certainly can play in the league.”

Whether or not that will happen in Atlanta is subject to debate. Chances are, Chandler will be looking for his seventh NFL team in 13 years sometime this offseason. That would be quite a fall-off from where he was just two years ago.

Chandler’s back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances in 1997-98 and his trip to the Super Bowl seemed to validate his career. No matter the number of teams and injuries, Chandler proved he could thrive in the right situation.

But since then, his career has taken a slow spiral downward. Chandler had an injury-plagued 1999 season, during which the Falcons went 5-11. The struggles continued into this season, as a concussion and bruised ribs hobbled him in the past few weeks. Chandler was benched for good at halftime of last Sunday’s game, with Reeves pointing toward the physical punishment he has endured behind a young, makeshift offensive line.

But Chandler’s demotion goes deeper than that. He has a 42.8 quarterback rating in his past four games, throwing six interceptions and no touchdowns in that span. Furthermore, he criticized some of the play-calling after the most recent game – a 41-14 loss to Oakland – and eventually had a clear-the-air meeting with Reeves that reportedly got pretty heated.

When Chandler found out about the demotion, he handled it well publicly. He claimed he was healthy, but refrained from taking a shot at Reeves.

“I just do what’s asked of me,” Chandler told Atlanta-based reporters last Wednesday. “I don’t read anything personal into it. I believe personal relationships should stay out of it.”

What Chandler said behind closed doors will remain a mystery. What is certain is that every columnist, television personality and sports-talk radio caller within a two-state radius of Georgia believes Chandler will be playing somewhere else – if at all – next season.

Chandler probably doesn’t want to talk about his future. He never returned the call to his hometown newspaper. Wednesday passed, then Thursday. The Falcons’ PR people promised he would call. He never did.

Can’t blame Chandler. His time is scarce, even as the third-string quarterback. He has meetings to attend, game film to watch. And in his spare time, he’s trying to raise three daughters between the ages of 1 and 5.

Time is hard to find for the 35-year-old quarterback. You could probably say it isn’t on his side.

“When he’s ready to be done, he’ll be done,” Tobeck said. “I don’t see him being one of those guys who’s going to bounce around to four different teams in his last four years as a backup. I think he’s done pretty well with his money, so he doesn’t have to worry about that.

“When he’s done playing, he’s done playing. That’s it, he’ll go play golf.”

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