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Now It Can Be Told
Remember how, in the 1980s, Miami football coaches and players vehemently denied suggestions that theirs was an outlaw school? Well, what else would you call that palm-fringed institution now that former Hurricane safety Bennie Blades has spilled the beans? Last week Blades, who currently plays for the Detroit Lions, told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel that he and five other starters on Miami's '87 national championship team—wide receivers and fellow NFLers Michael Irvin, Brett Perriman and brother Brian Blades as well as safeties Darrell Fullington and Selwyn Brown—received illicit cash payments from sports agent Mel Levine. Bennie put his own take at more than $30,000 and said he and Brian used the money to buy Toyota MR2s, one black and one red.
Such payments are prohibited by the NCAA, but because of that organization's four-year statute of limitations, no violations would be punishable unless evidence was found of a continuing pattern of wrongdoing. But the question is, why didn't anyone lower the boom in 1987? A lot of Miami players tooled around in fancy cars, but coach Jimmy Johnson seemed satisfied after the school conducted a perfunctory investigation, much as former Washington coach Don James appeared oblivious last season to the fact that his quarterback, Billy Joe Hobert, owned three cars. Like many other college coaches, Johnson and James were lauded by their admirers for their attention to detail, but obviously their attention sometimes wandered.
As for Levine, he wound up representing the players named by Bennie Blades, but that was before he filed for bankruptcy in 1991 and pleaded guilty in July to 12 counts of federal bank and tax fraud. The sordid story leaps from the Sun-Sentinel's pages: how, according to Bennie, Levine kept $160,000 of Bennie's signing bonus with the Lions; how, according to Levine, he did so as "street justice" because Brian Blades owed him $200,000; how, in response, Bennie said, "Put me in a room with [Levine] for 10 minutes, and I'll give you street justice"; how, according to Levine and Bennie, a Miami player once stormed into Levine's office, put a gun to Levine's head and demanded money the player believed the agent owed him.
Haven't we heard tales like this before? Yes. There is, for one, the saga of those other notorious agents who paid college players in the '80s, Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom. By grim coincidence, they reappeared in the news last "week after Bloom was found shot to death in his Malibu, Calif., home in what looked like an organized-crime hit.
One more nugget from Bennie Blades: Some of Levine's illicit payments to Miami players, he said, were handled by then Miami law student Rich DeLuca. DeLuca wouldn't comment, but his lawyer said that DeLuca, who worked for Levine, was "duped into being a conduit." And what is DeLuca doing now? He's a sports agent, of course.
Why should anyone care that there were two more bench-clearing brawls in baseball last week? A melee between the Oakland Athletics and the Milwaukee Brewers caused a 25-minute game delay and sent Brewer third baseman B.J. Surhoff to the hospital for four stitches in the upper lip, and a donnybrook almost as ugly took place between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Here's one reason to care. The scene: a Manhattan T-ball game. Called out at second base, six-year-old Brian whales away at an opposing infielder and has to be led off by his manager. "Brian, why did you do that?" the manager asks. Replies Brian, "That's what they do in the majors."
True story. And a sad one.