Thomas’ injury opens middle for Crawford |

Thomas’ injury opens middle for Crawford

Tribune staff and AP wire report

The Miami Dophins have a new starting middle linebacker, and he’s from Whittell High School.

Mike Crawford moved into the No. 1 slot on Monday night as second-year pro Zach Thomas broke his left fibula.

Crawford, a 1996 first-team All-Big West defensive player, saw action in three quarters of the Dolphins’ 38-19 preseason win over Denver on Monday night in Mexico City.

The rookie linebacker had six solo tackles, including a forced fumble, and five assists.

The Dolphins, already hit hard by injuries, lost Thomas when he broke his left fibula on a kickoff return in the first quarter. Thomas said he hopes to be back by the season opener Aug. 31 against Indianapolis.

A crowd of 104,209, the third-largest in league history, turned out at this city’s massive soccer stadium to cheer on the Miami Dolphins, second favorite in Mexico only to the Dallas Cowboys, and even one of their countrymen.

Players slipped on the field all night and John Elway and Thomas were knocked out of the exhibition game early with injuries.

The fans chanted ”Delfines” when their beloved Dolphins did well, and flashbulbs popped even for PATs. The Broncos had their share of supporters, but were booed all night, even when lining up for field goals. The crowd unleashed its loudest hoots and whistles when a Bronco took a knee in the end zone on the kickoff following the final touchdown.

The place went nuts when Dolphins rookie Brian Manning caught a pass from Craig Erickson at midfield and ran for a 66-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Manning pleased the crowd in the second quarter when he extended at the goal line and pulled in an 18-yard pass from Dan Marino. Brandon Bennett’s 31-yard run with 3:13 left gave the Dolphins (1-1) a 31-19 lead and linebacker Anthony Harris returned an interception 53 yards for a touchdown with 1:33 left.

Elway helped sway the crowd a little toward the Broncos’ side with some nice passes to Ed McCaffrey, but he left with a partially torn bicep in his throwing arm. He said he’ll have an MRI on Tuesday, ”and it could be really good or it could be really bad.”

The Dolphins, already hit hard by injuries, lost Thomas when he broke his left fibula on a kickoff return in the first quarter. Thomas said he hopes to be back by the season opener Aug. 31 against Indianapolis.

The one favorite on the Broncos (1-1) was Mexico City native Marco Martos, who was in the ninth day of a 10-day contract with the Broncos. A star in the World League, Martos drew a huge ovation when he lined up to receive he second-half kickoff. Flash bulbs blazed when he returned it 26 yards and the crowd went wild when he caught a pass in the final minute.

Martos is the first born, bred and schooled Mexican national non-kicker to play in the NFL. He drew bigger media exposure here this week than Elway and Marino combined, but is probably destined for another year in the World League.

It wasn’t all bad for Denver. Fans cheered a 9-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Jeff Lewis to fullback Dewayne Dotson and a 2-yard bootleg run for a score by Bubby Brister. Denver took a 6-0 lead on two field goals by Jason Elam before Marino led the Dolphins to Manning’s TD on his third and final series.

Estadio Guillermo Candeo (formerly Azteca Stadium), was the site of the largest crowd to watch an NFL game, 112,376 in 1994, as Houston beat the beloved Cowboys 6-0 on a field turned to muck by torrential rain.

Miami was a clear winner Monday night in the apparel department, as thousands of fans wore Dolphins caps, jackets and Marino No. 13 jerseys.

”The first team in the Mexican tradition is Dallas, and second is Miami,” said Alfredo Rodriguez, 32, who attended with his three brothers, all wearing Dolphins jackets. The reason, he said, is ”charisma and exposure.”

Even the younger generation knows the score.

”First there is Dallas, and then there is Miami,” said 13-year-old Renato Velazco Soriano, who attended with his mother and younger brother. Each of the boys wore Dolphins clothing and carried Dolphins pennants.

Although the field was covered for 10 days, the turf didn’t hold up well. Wide receivers and running backs repeatedly slipped. Marino dropped back to pass in the first quarter and fell, ending up almost side-by-side with Broncos defensive end Neil Smith, who also lost his footing closing in for a sack.

During timeouts, workers ran out to pick up divots and helped players scrape mud off their shoes.

The chain link fence that surrounds the field during soccer matches was left up, and groups of riot police stood in the corners.

Earlier in the day, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced that the Cowboys will play an exhibition game here next year, with the opponent to be determined.

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