Key says that just before Zac Etheridge's NFL testing day in 2011, he gave chips to Etheridge in Florida. (Etheridge, now an assistant coach at Penn State, confirms that he has used the chip-embedded bracelets.) The Auburn safety wore one on his Pro Day, when he ran the 40 in 4.63; his previous best was 4.4. He also benched 225 pounds 14 times; he had done 15 reps before. Etheridge's results didn't make it into the S.W.A.T.S. marketing pitch.
At the '09 combine Ross says he showed the agent for Shawne Merriman text messages from NFL players to prove that they were using his products. According to a phone conversation that Ross recorded and posted online, Merriman used the deer-antler spray and deer-antler pills in 2011 while he was rehabbing from a torn right Achilles tendon. When Ross asked the Bills linebacker if he would tell Goodell that S.W.A.T.S. aided his rehab, Merriman responded, "I can't sit up here and say I'll give him a straight up answer.... They're saying please take your stuff out of locker rooms, I'm not going to stand up against the whole NFL.... I'm not in that position right now." Merriman had previously drawn unwanted attention for a positive steroid test in '06—he blamed it on a tainted supplement—and noted in the call that he did not want to attract the league's scrutiny. "I can't have them all in my Twitter," he said. (Merriman acknowledged to SI knowing Ross, then ended the interview, promising to call back. He did not.)
It was yet another frustrating setback for Key and Ross, who need an athlete willing to admit the use of a product with a banned substance by a league whose commissioner is known for avidly enforcing the rules. The athlete, like the S.W.A.T.S. duo, must be a true believer, and prominent enough to command national attention.
Hours after he tore his triceps during an Oct. 14 home game against the Cowboys, Ravens All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis and Ross connected on the phone. Again, Ross videotaped the call.
"It's bottom, near the elbow," Lewis said of the tear. After asking a few pseudo-diagnostic questions, Ross concluded, "All right, well this is going to be simple.... How many pain chips you got around the house?"
"I got plenty of them," Lewis replied.
Ross prescribed a deluxe program, including holographic stickers on the right elbow; copious quantities of the powder additive; sleeping in front of a beam-ray light programmed with frequencies for tissue regeneration and pain relief; drinking negatively charged water; a 10-per-day regimen of the deer-antler pills that will "rebuild your brain via your small intestines" (and which Lewis said he hadn't been taking, then swallowed four during the conversation); and spritzes of deer-antler velvet extract (the Ultimate Spray) every two hours.
"Spray on my elbow every two hours?" Lewis asked.
"No," Ross said, "under your tongue."
Toward the end of the talk, Lewis asked Ross to "just pile me up and just send me everything you got, because I got to get back on this this week."