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Leap Of Faith Stung by a sexual-assault complaint, Bears draftee Curtis Enis turned to the Lord, took a wife, fired his agent--and found himself in the middle of a holy mess

On the Fourth of July, at the end of an evening he would later
call the greatest of his life, Curtis Enis stood in front of 40
friends and family members at the Palm restaurant in Dallas's
West End and gave one of the most unsettling wedding toasts in
history. Over the next 10 minutes, the 22-year-old bridegroom,
whose running skills had compelled the Chicago Bears to select
him with the fifth pick in the NFL's April draft, assailed the
dinner guests with a harangue that rivaled any fireworks display
for explosiveness, leaving his parents and several other guests
in tears.

Enis, a powerful 250-pound back with a penchant for hitting
holes quickly, got right to the point: He and his pregnant bride
of a few hours, Tiffanie, had recently undergone a dramatic
religious awakening that had saved them from a life of eternal
damnation, and anyone in his inner circle who didn't follow
their example would be condemned to such a fate. Enis went
around the room admonishing various wedding guests for living in
sin and imploring them to repent. Then he turned his attention
to his two brothers, 31-year-old Kilven and 24-year-old Victor,
and his 20-year-old sister, Alicia, along with their four
children--all of whom were born out of wedlock. "I love all of
you," Enis told his siblings, "but things are going on in your
lives that are unacceptable in the eyes of the Lord. We have
these four beautiful babies here who were born out of wedlock.
In the word of the Bible, which is the Truth, that's an
abomination to the Lord. Tiffanie and I have decided we're not
going to make that mistake, and we challenge all of you to make
the same stand."

The guests were stunned. Enis, after all, was, by his own
admission, a womanizer and an abuser of alcohol who at the time
was under investigation for allegedly sexually assaulting a
Dallas-area woman. The former Penn State star had not previously
informed his family of his newfound devotion to Christian
fundamentalism, and his relationship with Tiffanie, a former
stripper he had met 15 months earlier, had been rocky. "It was
the most inappropriate moment I've ever experienced," one guest
says of Enis's tongue-lashing. "Here was a guy marrying a
three-months-pregnant stripper telling a roomful of family that
they were going to hell." Says another guest, Thomas Hocker, who
worked with Enis's agents at the time, "Several people were
overwhelmed and had to leave the room, including Curt's father.
His entire family had just been called out spiritually, and he
was shaken. I know his parents, and they may not be perfect, but
they sacrificed a lot to get Curtis to where he is."

Enis, who earlier had privately dressed down his brothers for
drinking at the reception, views the event much differently. He
says his speech changed the lives of his family members and
inspired them to become more devout. (Victor Enis says the
speech was a "wake-up call" and that he and Curtis now
frequently read Bible scriptures to each other over the
telephone.) Says Curtis, "If I tell you what you're doing is
wrong, the first thing you're going to do is rebuke me and say,
'How do you know? You're doing it too.' But my family accepted
it, because they knew what they were doing in their lives was
wrong. People were crying because it was touching them. When
things have been sugarcoated your entire life and the truth
finally hits you, it's piercing to the heart."

As Enis delivered his piercing words, at least two of his
listeners nodded their approval: his best man, Greg Huntington,
and the pastor, Greg Ball. Enis had met Huntington, a Bears
lineman and former Penn State player, at a minicamp just five
weeks earlier. The following week Huntington had taken Enis to a
Bible-study session conducted by Ball, a charismatic Christian
who is not an ordained minister but who performed the wedding in
his capacity as a justice of the peace. A few days after the
ceremony Enis fired his agent, Vann McElroy, and replaced him
with Greg Feste, a born-again Christian who is one of Ball's
best friends and who serves as a financial adviser to a number
of NFL players. On Monday, Enis and the Bears tentatively agreed
to a three-year, $5.6 million contract, ending several weeks of
acrimonious and sometimes bizarre negotiations. However, the
controversy continues as Enis's association with Feste and Ball
has spawned renewed NFL and media scrutiny of the relationship
between football, religion and money.

In Enis's eyes he is a saved soul who has surrounded himself
with caring advisers who share his convictions. He views Ball,
the head of Champions for Christ (CFC), an Austin-based
ministry, as the man who brought him salvation, and Feste as a
shrewd counselor who is looking out for his financial and
spiritual well-being. However, there is skepticism in some NFL
circles surrounding both men, and the league has responded to
requests by at least two teams asking for an inquiry into CFC,
an organization that, by the estimate of one former disciple,
may be receiving donations from up to 10% of the league's
players. Though Feste and Ball deny that there is any formal
relationship between Feste's company, Malachi Financial
Services, and CFC, the belief has taken hold around the league
that Ball is guiding players to Malachi, which, according to
some players and rival agents, strongly urges clients to donate
portions of their income to Ball's organization. One prominent
player says he fired Feste as his financial adviser because
Feste raised objections to the player's involvement with, and
financial support of, a church not affiliated with CFC. Feste
denies the charge.

In a wide-ranging, 3 1/2-hour interview last Thursday at
Malachi's headquarters near Houston, Feste and Curtis and
Tiffanie Enis gave their side of the story. Curtis, who began
the discussion with a prayer, cried while explaining Ball's
impact on him and Tiffanie. "My life had been a great big lie,"
he said, "and he basically saved it."

Enis did lie last December after reports surfaced that the suit
he had worn to a college football awards ceremony in Florida had
been purchased for him by an aspiring agent, Jeff Nalley, in
violation of NCAA rules. Enis, who told SI that in fact he
received clothing and other gifts from Nalley, initially denied
the charge to Penn State coach Joe Paterno--on the advice, he
said, of Nalley, who has since pleaded guilty to a charge of
unlawful activity by an agent and declined to comment. Enis soon
owned up to the transgression and was declared ineligible for
Penn State's Citrus Bowl game against Florida, which the Nittany
Lions lost 21-6. That incident cemented his decision to leave
school following his junior season and enter the draft.

Nalley remained close to Enis and helped steer him to McElroy, a
former Los Angeles Raiders safety whose Dallas-based firm,
Casterline, Vines & McElroy Team Sports, is among the most
respected in the business. McElroy and his associates were
concerned about Enis's sometimes rash behavior. "He was
extremely impulsive," one member of the firm says. "One day
before the draft he walked into a store in New York and dropped
$16,000 on jewelry for his mother and Tiffanie." Enis admits to
running up more than $500,000 of debt between January and July.

On May 29 Enis drove his new Lincoln Town Car to a suburban
Dallas car wash and met a woman who admired the vehicle.
According to Irving police sources, Enis followed the woman to
her nearby apartment. The woman told police that Enis forced his
way in and raped her. Last week Enis denied to an SI reporter
that he had any contact with her beyond their meeting at the car
wash; however, in a sworn affidavit he gave on June 22, Enis
said that the woman had performed oral sex on him, an act he
described as "completely consensual." Asked by the SI reporter
on Monday why he had lied about his involvement with the woman,
Enis replied, "That was the first time I ever met you." On
Monday a Dallas County grand jury declined to indict Enis.

Many of those close to Enis were not surprised to hear of his
alleged involvement with a woman other than his fiancee. Though
he shared an apartment with Tiffanie--the two had broken up the
previous year but reunited shortly before the draft--Enis says
that he engaged in "adultery" with numerous women. He also says
that until his recent religious awakening he "had a serious
drinking problem."

Friends and associates of Enis say that when he was first
informed of the sexual-assault allegation, he was unnerved. He
told one friend that if convicted, he would "blow my head off"
rather than go to jail. Another person who met with Enis after
the incident says the running back was "in a trance."

Enis says when he arrived in Chicago on May 31 for the minicamp,
he sat in his hotel room, drank a couple of beers and wondered,
What is the purpose of my life? The following evening, at
exactly 10:49 p.m., he remembered he had packed an Athlete's
Bible, a collection of scripture and testimony that he had
recently been given, and he began reading it. A week later the
sermon by Ball, who had come to Chicago at the invitation of
another CFC member, Bears tackle Jimmy Herndon, moved Enis to
share the message with Tiffanie. The couple spent the next two
weekends at Ball's home in Austin. Curtis's embrace of
CFC--whose prayer meetings are characterized, according to yet
another Bear who belongs to the organization, defensive end Mark
Thomas, by "praise and worship, standing up, clapping, lifting
hands to God, speaking in tongues"--was startling to those who
knew him. Later that month, during a panel discussion at the
NFL's rookie symposium in Denver, Enis declined to participate
in a safe-sex exercise in which players placed a condom on a
banana, saying he would never again be unfaithful to Tiffanie.

Curtis and Tiffanie had planned to marry in 1999, but at Ball's
urging they moved up the wedding. Before meeting Ball, Curtis
and Tiffanie had discussed a prenuptial agreement, and some Team
Sports employees urged him to finalize it before the wedding.
"That was insulting," Curtis says. "They were telling me our
marriage wasn't going to work. That was disrespectful not only
to me but to my wife and child."

Asked about his decision to change agents, Enis says, "I had been
led by so many distrustful men. I needed believers around me."

Enis's statement was especially hurtful to McElroy, who is an
archdeacon. "These guys are making me look like a heathen," he
says. "I'm not a perfect guy by any means, but I think I've
affected a lot of lives in a positive way."

Several days before firing McElroy, Enis called Feste and set up
a get-acquainted meeting also attended by Tiffanie. Enis says
Feste was recommended not by Ball but by Herndon, who employs
Malachi as a financial adviser. But Herndon is represented in
his contract negotiations by McElroy and says, "I don't know why
Curtis fired those guys. They are doing a great job for me."

Curtis and Tiffanie were so impressed with Feste that they hired
him on the spot. Feste, 37, has quite a story to tell. He worked
as a stockbroker but says that despite earning good money, he
became so despondent over marital and personal problems that on
April 22, 1989, he put a gun in his mouth and contemplated
suicide. He went bankrupt the next year and began attending
church, but he says it wasn't until 1991, when he had lunch with
Ball, a longtime acquaintance, that he turned his life around.

One thing that won over the Enises was Feste's disclosure of his
previous troubles, including his one-day suspension in 1992 for
having made what the National Association of Securities Dealers
(NASD) determined were unsuitable investments for a client
several years earlier; the client suffered major losses in the
1987 stock market crash and filed a complaint. Feste says "every
broker in town" received complaints after the crash and that he
just happened to get caught, calling his one-day suspension "a
joke." According to the NASD, of the more than 550,000
securities dealers that it regulates, only about 200 are
suspended each year.

Feste, who runs an unlikely side business, Malachi Mattress,
concedes that he has paid more than $254,000 in settlements of
five complaints by investors who reported losing more than
$370,000 with him. Says one NASD official, "If you came to me
and asked if you should do business with this guy, I would tell
you no." One of Feste's former bosses at the Houston offices of
the investment firm Oppenheimer & Co., where he worked before
forming Malachi, says of Feste's current clients, "I would hope
they would look more carefully. It is hard for me to understand
that you have guys with millions of dollars, and they'd hand
that money to a young guy who has no firm of any quality behind
him. He has nothing, really, other than his faith."

Feste recruits some of his clients by leading Bible-study
classes for NFL players in various cities. His message, which he
calls "Wealth: By the Book," cites numerous biblical passages as
instruction from God that everyone should tithe. "Feste doesn't
actually say to give money to Champions for Christ, but after a
while you feel obliged," says the prominent player who fired
Feste early in 1997, after having given nearly 5% of his salary
to CFC for nearly a year and a half. "He preaches that if you
don't give your tithe, you're robbing God. Then he says, 'You
should give to where you're being fed,' and he refers to Greg
Ball as his pastor." Says Feste, "I have never told anybody
where to tithe. My affiliation with [Ball] is no more than with
any other ministry."

Numerous players who belong to CFC, including Jacksonville
Jaguars stars Mark Brunell and Tony Boselli (each of whom gives
10% of his salary to CFC) and Bears Huntington and Thomas,
insist they have never been asked by any CFC official to donate
money to the ministry. But CFC, which Ball founded in 1985, has
drawn its share of suspicion among NFL and team officials,
especially given the guilty pleas entered last January by San
Diego-based money manager John Gillette Jr. on grand-theft and
forgery charges. Currently serving a 10-year prison term,
Gillette, who had no connection to CFC, scammed $11 million from
more than two dozen athletes with a pitch that touted his
religious beliefs.

Ball says he has not been contacted by NFL security but has no
objection to the scrutinization. "We're excited that people are
this interested in what we're doing," he says. "We've got
nothing to hide. To call us a cult shows a complete lack of
understanding. The agent business is one of the great cults in
our country."

Feste's only experience in negotiating an NFL contract came
earlier this off-season when, representing Jaguars linebacker
Bryan Schwartz, he rejected a proposed long-term deal and
accepted a tender offer of $397,000 for one season. "Negotiating
a contract is not rocket science," Feste says. "If you know the
[collective bargaining agreement] and can negotiate, guess what?
You can be a good agent."

However, Feste's familiarity with the collective bargaining
agreement (CBA) has been called into question. In representing
Enis, his initial proposal to the Bears was for a seven-year
contract that, with incentives, could have earned the player $45
million. The offer was scoffed at in the agent community
because, with the CBA set to expire following the 2003 season,
signing bonuses can be prorated only for a six-year period.
Last Friday, Feste attempted to sell Bears vice president Ted
Phillips on a three-year, $10 million deal that would include a
promise that the team wouldn't make Enis a tender offer after
his third season--thus allowing him to become an unrestricted
free agent. Feste told Phillips the proposal was
"nonnegotiable"; Phillips viewed it as nonsensical, informing
Feste such a contract was impossible under the CBA, which
stipulates that players cannot become unrestricted free agents
until after their fourth season. (The view of the NFL Players
Association is that such a deal would be allowable, but an NFL
Management Council official says a contract that contained such
a provision would be challenged.)

By Monday, Feste, who during the negotiations claimed that the
Bears were "having a hard time understanding the economics of
the league," had compromised on a deal that, with a $3.6 million
signing bonus, would pay Enis well under market value. However,
the contract contained a provision ensuring that if the Bears
extend Enis a tender offer after his third season, it will be
for at least $2 million, making it likely that the team will
either grant Enis a lucrative extension or allow him to become
an unrestricted free agent at that time.

After all the threats made during the negotiations, including
Enis's insistence that he would sit out the season and reenter
the draft next year, he and the Bears need to mend fences and
begin working toward improving Chicago's 4-12 record of a year
ago. Enis may also have some fence mending to do with Ball: When
the CFC director learned on Monday that Enis had lied to him in
claiming not to have had sexual relations with the woman he met
at the car wash, Ball was shaken. "If you're not
straightforward, you're not anything," he said. "This is an
absolute affront to the Lord."

With Feste and Ball planning to expand their respective
influences in locker rooms around the league, the controversy
surrounding the two men and their involvement in the NFL is
hardly dead--nor is the rhetoric that inevitably accompanies any
dispute involving religion. Washington Redskins cornerback
Darrell Green, a CFC board member who employs Feste as a
financial adviser, bristles at those who are questioning the
organization's involvement in the Enis saga and with the league
in general. "I pray for the men who started this fire," Green
says, "because it is a dangerous thing to fight God."

COLOR PHOTO: WILLIAM SNYDER Marital bliss Enis was insulted when his former agents suggested he sign a prenuptial agreement before he married Tiffanie. [Curtis Enis and Tiffanie Ennis]

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHIL HUBER (2) Coming and going Ball (left) was in, McElroy (below) was out, and Phillips suddenly faced nasty negotiations after Enis met Huntington (far right). [Greg Ball; Vann McElroy]

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: DAVID WALBERG (2) [See caption above--Ted Phillips; Greg Huntington]

COLOR PHOTO: PHIL HUBER Holy alliance Despite a sullied record as a financial adviser, the devout Feste won Enis's trust. [Greg Feste and Curtis Enis]

Enis says that he committed "adultery" with numerous women and
that he "had a serious drinking problem."

"Negotiating a contract is not rocket science," says Feste.