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 far."
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 Smith-field, 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 was gone.
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? Coaches?"