This off-season has been emotional, upsetting, disturbing and
distracting,'' Brian Holloway, the New England Patriots All-Pro
offensive tackle, was saying last week. ''Now, two things can
happen. All this can cause us to self- destruct, because the issues
are that powerful. Or we can rally with the character that got us so
The issues that have whipsawed the defending AFC champions are
revelations of failed drug tests, allegations of gambling on the part
of a star player and, perhaps most worrisome of all, trust, as in
lack of. Patriot players are trying to fight off a deep suspicion of
teammates, management and the press.
It was bad enough to be humiliated 46-10 in the Super Bowl by the
Bears. Then three days later the names of six Pats were splashed all
over The Boston Globe as men who had failed drug tests. What really
affected the team's morale was the question of how the Globe got the
names of the players, because all matters related to drug testing are
supposed to be confidential, according to the league's collective
bargaining agreement with the players association. Was management the
source of the news that the six had tested positive during the season
and that four of them were still undergoing treatment? Could the
source have been another player?
Relaxing last week at his Wrentham, Mass., home, tight end Lin
Dawson said, ''We have to quit looking at each other and thinking,
'You're responsible for my name getting in the paper.' What we're
trying to do is heal within. This has been a very tense and emotional
time, and the height of embarrassment. There's a feeling almost
like 'What's next?' '' Offensive guard Ron Wooten said of
the turmoil, ''This has been the toughest off-season I could ever
imagine. And if there is a lack of trust, then I think that could
stop us this year.''
It was against this backdrop that the Patriots warily reported
last weekend to their summer training camp in Smithfield, R.I.
Seldom in NFL history has such a good, perhaps very good, football
team begun to crank it up for a new season with such an array of
problems and questions. And suspicions. To wit:
THE DRUG SCANDAL. Those named in the Globe as having failed drug
tests were wide receiver Irving Fryar, a Pro Bowler who had been the
league's No. 1 draft pick in 1984; defensive tackle Kenneth Sims,
the No. 1 overall pick in 1982; cornerback Raymond Clayborn, a
two-time Pro Bowler; running back Tony Collins; defensive back Roland
James; and wide receiver Stephen Starring.
The revelations were made in January. Now reserve center Trevor
Matich was saying heatedly, ''Look, the drug problems are in the
past. Let's forget about them. The guys faced up to it, kicked it,
and are clean. I think that shows more character than anything.''
But the fire still smolders. Tight end Derrick Ramsey was waived
last Friday after a series of problems with coach Raymond Berry that
dated back to training camp last year, when Ramsey missed a bed check
and the subsequent morning practice. Ramsey and Berry never repaired
the damage. At one point during the height of the paranoia after the
Super Bowl, sources -- some say Pats management, some say players --
alleged that Ramsey may have been the one who leaked the names. At
the Pro Bowl the next week, Patriot guard John Hannah warned that if
a player had done so, he could expect the worst from his teammates,
including possible physical harm. Ramsey, at home in Oakland, denied
the accusation: ''It's ludicrous. I haven't gotten where I have in
the NFL by telling on people.'' Nevertheless, where he got last week
In fact, confirmation of the names came from Berry and Patriots
general manager Patrick Sullivan, according to Globe reports. Said
Dawson, ''Does all this mean we can't trust the players? Management?
The Patriot players were so mad over the leak that many rescinded
an earlier vote in favor of voluntary drug testing. Player
development director Dick Steinberg said, ''What we have to live with
is fan skepticism and media pounding.'' The Globe and the Patriots
are still angry with each other; some players have said they would
not talk to Globe reporters. Hannah is now an investment banker in
Boston. He retired on June 30 after off-season surgery on his
shoulders and left knee. But he still talks as if he were an active
player: ''We just have to get our focus off the media and onto
THE IRVING FRYAR SAGA. The little finger on Fryar's right hand
was severely cut prior to the AFC championship game against Miami,
and he was unable to play. It happened in some sort of fracas with
his wife, Jacqueline. He never made details very clear, and some
teammates were furious about the whole incident. In retrospect, those
were the good old days.
In May the Globe reported that the NFL was investigating
information it had received from the Patriots that Fryar had
allegedly bet on league games, possibly including the Super Bowl. He
denied it and voluntarily took a polygraph test to clear himself. He
passed, but as of last weekend, the NFL said it was still looking
into the matter. Fryar may be in for more difficulty. A source close
to Fryar told SI last week that Fryar believes at least $350,000 and
maybe a lot more has been misappropriated from him by a business
contact he had made when he played at Nebraska. Sherwood Blount,
Fryar's Dallas-based agent, says his accountants are checking into
the situation and will have a report soon. Fryar refused to comment
on the subject. His Patriot salary is $350,000 this year, the third
year of a four- year, $3.2 million deal. He wants to renegotiate.
Holloway, who sees blue skies ahead for Fryar, said, ''I look him
in the eye and I see a willingness to work. I don't believe anything
different than what I see with my own eyes.'' But whether Fryar's
accumulation of woes will in fact affect his on-field performance
remains to be seen. He is perilously close to having to consider this
possibility: Does he, at the very least, need a new football
THE SELLING OF THE TEAM IMBROGLIO. The Sullivan family --
patriarch William H. (Billy) Sullivan Jr. and the many Sullivans who
appear on the payroll -- is trying to sell the club and other
holdings. Executive vice- president Chuck Sullivan says a deal will
be completed by Labor Day to sell Sullivan Stadium in Foxboro and
the adjoining Foxboro Raceway for $32 million, a 125-acre parcel of
land across from the stadium for $12.5 million, and 20% of the team
for another $11.5 million. The prospective buyers are a Philadelphia
group headed by Sullivan family friend and former U.S. Transportation
Secretary, Drew Lewis.
According to the Patriots, the group has agreed to purchase, for
$650,000 per year, a three-year option to buy the remaining 80% of
the team, for about $52 million. ''It has been a nice ride,'' says
Billy. ''I have no regrets.''
The Sullivans deny persistent speculation that they are selling
because the family is in financial difficulty linked to Chuck
Sullivan's promotion of the Michael Jackson tour in 1984. But then,
why are they selling now? The Sullivans have put their heart and soul
into an organization that has had many more downs than ups over the
26 years of their ownership.
Why would the Sullivans choose to get out just after making it to
the Super Bowl? Billy Sullivan was saying the other day, ''The real
test is to take a great disappointment, turn it around, and make it a
plus. After all, anybody can enjoy the wedding reception. I never
believed in punting on third down.'' This, however, looks an awful
lot like a punt a down early.
THE QUARTERBACK QUAGMIRE. Several weeks ago, Berry named Tony
Eason as his starter, which surprised some of the older players.
Eason had been pitiful in the Super Bowl (0 for 6) and had to be
removed from the game -- and rescued from the fierce Chicago rush --
for his own protection. At times during the season Eason had been
brilliant. But it was Steve Grogan who came in and took over when
the Pats were 2-3 and led them to six straight wins before he was
hurt. Grogan's public stance has been one of stoicism, but
privately he is ticked. The reason for the early decision,
according to a high management source, was to try to prop up Eason
and give him a shot of confidence after the Super Bowl debacle. One
veteran player, who asked for anonymity, said the decision has caused
a split between the older and younger players. Grogan is in his 12th
season, Eason his 4th.
THE LEADERSHIP GAP. The Patriots are whistling past the cemetery
on this one. It's not easy to shrug off the retirement of Hannah (13
seasons, 183 regular-season games, 9 Pro Bowls) and defensive end
Julius Adams (15 seasons, 196 regular-season games, 1 Pro Bowl). ''I
think they'll do well without us,'' says Hannah. Adams, who raises
Black Angus cattle near Macon, Ga., agrees: ''They have plenty of
leaders.'' But none like those two. Who will emerge? Will Steve
Nelson, Andre Tippett, Fred Marion or Craig James come to the fore
without the club missing a beat? Will Darryl Haley be able to replace
Hannah and will Garin Veris be able to replace Adams?
In his office in Foxboro last week, Berry said, ''When you have
problems, the result, when you have character, is you come out
stronger. If you have no character, you fall on your butt.'' No
wonder G.M. Pat Sullivan says, ''It's going to be an interesting
And despite all the suspicious minds, maybe Holloway has it right
when he says, ''There is no more vicious bite than from a dog that
has repeatedly been kicked around and suddenly decides he's had
enough.'' Perhaps the best news in the avalanche of bad is that the
talent-rich Pats open the regular season at home against
Indianapolis. Things don't get much better than that. END
GEORGE TIEDEMANN As the Patriots opened camp in Smithfield, R.I., the fact that the Sullivans (left to right, Pat, Billy and Chuck) had the team on the block was just one more big distraction.
GEORGE TIEDEMANN Fryar (above) was called ''a very resilient young man'' by his agent. Berry (left) said the Patscould emerge a stronger team.
GEORGE TIEDEMANN For player rep Holloway, the off-season was pretty much one crisis after another.
RONALD C. MODRA Grogan replaced Eason last season and in the Super Bowl, but now he's No. 2 again.
LANE STEWART The retirement of perennial All-Pro Hannah accents the club's need for new leaders.