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What made that game's outcome easy to misread was the context in which it was played. In a provincial horseman's town, all too familiar with the maneuvers of smart money, the high hopes and low yield of a favorite football team are subject to passionate scrutiny. Make no mistake—there were rumors. And Collins was at their vortex: 1) because he naturally stands out, on and off the field; and 2) because a man he did not know (Luron Taylor) was kidnapped and murdered, and three men he did know were arrested for it.
Collins says he had returned from a dance after the Auburn game with a girl friend when the three knocked on the door of the Kirwan I dormitory room he shares with teammate Terry Haynes, a defensive end from Tennessee. With Stephens and Bishop was 22-year-old Robert Channels. Collins says, "I know him well enough to tell Terry never to leave the room when Channels is here. He just looks roguish." (Channels was arrested for possession of marijuana the following night.)
Though Collins had played with Stephens, "and I love all my offensive linemen," they were "never what you'd call real close. I know I was surprised when the Giants cut him, because he was so good. Big and strong and quick. If he'd wanted to make it he'd have made it. He could half try, just go half speed, and make you think he was blocking everybody. He likes to give people the impression he's kind of slow, but he's all business."
Bishop had fallen from favor with the Kentucky athletic department shortly after Curci's arrival three years ago. Curci says Bishop "had a reputation for sticky fingers." Equipment Manager Choke Es-pin barred Bishop from the equipment room. Collins said Bishop "got shot in. the butt in Louisville last summer and after that he was kind of bitter, like he was mad at everybody and wanted revenge. But we always got along just fine."
Bishop, Collins says, was "wearing one of my jackets when he came in. I said, 'Hey, man, that's a nice jacket.' He said he'd return it when he went to pick up his clothes at the apartment the next day. He was staying there. I didn't mind, I always left a key on the window ledge for my parents. Everybody knew it was there. Not much in the apartment anyway except some beanbag chairs and some old furniture I picked up at auction sales."
The dormitory visit, Collins says, was nothing unusual. "John [Bishop] wasn't even excited like he usually gets. We talked about the game, mostly. They tried to make me feel better. They could see I had a chick there, though, and after about 15 minutes they left."
One investigator was quoted later as saying that the three used Collins' name "as an alibi" when arrested. Stephens also claims it was not unusual for him to drop by the dorm after games. "I couldn't get tickets," he says. "They were always sold out, so I'd go around to see what happened." He says he'd seen Collins "a few times" since his return to Lexington from the Giants' camp (Collins does not remember seeing Stephens).
Stephens agrees that he and Collins were "not that close." He says he was wary of Collins when he first met him. Why? Because he ran with whites?
"Yeah, you know how that goes—the dudes kind of check it out, see what's happening. After a while I got to know him pretty good. He's just doing his thing, that's all."
Collins has indeed floated freely across the lines of Lexington social life, heedless of any real or imaginary barriers. He appears to live high—his stylish clothes run to eye-catching vests and leather jackets and platform shoes, and beneath his Afro wig he wears thick, tinted prescription glasses. When he smiles he is almost Hollywood handsome. He makes friends easily ("I love people," he says), and they gravitate to him. Some are what one ex-Kentucky player calls "our sugar parents."