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The fact is, Rocket doesn't get football people quite as hot and bothered as he gets the marketing people. "He's got some flies on him," says one NFC East director of player personnel. The largest of those bugs is that as a return specialist and receiver, Ismail may have only limited impact, even as a kickoff returner. Most NFL kickers can crank the ball out of the end zone—or away from breakaway threats. And though he made dramatic improvement as a pass catcher during his junior year, Ismail is not ready to be a starting receiver in the NFL. "He could use another year to work on those skills," says the personnel director.
"He's got to get on a weight program, bulk up a little bit, come back and prove he can last a whole season," New York Giants director of player personnel Tom Boisture said before Ismail declared for the draft. Last season a thigh bruise kept the 175-pound Ismail out of one game and half of another—those were the Irish's only two regular-season losses—and limited his effectiveness in others. Said Boisture, "If he can't hold up for a whole season on the college level, there's no way he'll hold up on this level."
NFL scouts call Ismail "a luxury"—a talent who would appeal more to a team with a solid squad in place, a team just a fast body or two away from a playoff spot. That is hardly the description of the bad-beyond-belief New England Patriots, whose 1-15 record last season entitles them to the first pick in the draft.
These considerations will not prevent Team Rocket from reaching for the sky. Why? Because Ismail is simply the most thrilling football player in recent memory. His nullified 91-yard punt return in the Orange Bowl put an exclamation mark on the entire 1990 college season. The National reported last week that Ismail will ask for $15 million for five years, which would make him the NFL's second-highest wage-earner before he even plays a down. No one with Team Rocket would confirm or deny that figure, but one source close to the team says, "It's a good starting point."
Patriots CEO Sam Jankovich, less than two months on the job, won't say what he intends to do with the top pick. But New England needs cinder blocks, not gold-plated fixtures. Cleveland, Detroit, Dallas and Atlanta have reportedly expressed interest in Ismail.
But Patriots owner Victor Kiam may covet Ismail for purely economic reasons: Rocket is sure to be a draw at Foxboro Stadium, where attendance sank to an average of 38,953 last season. Ismail's only public reservation about going to the worst team in pro football was Foxboro's artificial turf, among the worst surfaces in the league. Said Jankovich, "We'll tear it up!" On Feb. 6, the Patriots announced plans to do precisely that, and to install natural turf.
Whoever selects Ismail will have to negotiate with Abram and Duvernay, the least-proved members of Team Rocket, with less than five years' experience as agents. Wiley, who has known Abram for 11 years, says Heygood Images steered Ismail to Morcom because "they were young and hungry, did their homework and had some very creative ideas." And they came cheap. Rather than take a percentage of all fees the client earns, as would a "full-service" agency, Morcom will reap just 4% of the football take.
Says Abram, "Given the black eye a lot of agents had given the business, we saw a need for a service for the young athlete coming out of school. We saw that if we were honest, and put athletes' needs up front, we could all make money and be successful and live happily ever after."
But happiness has been in short supply so far at Morcom. The only athletes it has represented are Alvoid Mays, a free-agent defensive back most recently with the Washington Redskins; Tracy Sanders, a free-agent defensive back from Florida State; and Major Harris, the former West Virginia quarterback. Harris, who also left school early, was a 12th-round pick of the Eos Angeles Raiders in 1990. After holding out for far more than the Raiders were willing to pay a 12th-rounder, Harris signed with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. Riding the bench behind Doug Flutie, Harris has seen scant playing time, and he is now holding out and clamoring for a trade.
Should Morcom get bogged down in negotiations with the team that selects Ismail, the rest of Team Rocket will, presumably, come to the rescue. "I hope Ed won't hesitate to call us up and bounce some ideas off us about the contract," says ProServ's Falk. "Or we might give Jon a call at Brobeck, to see if he had any ideas. The challenge will be for everyone to sublimate his own ego, and get along."