NEW ORLEANS -- Mitch Ross came here to restore his reputation as a reasonable, wise healer of humans, and in the course of doing that, he told reporters: "You have two brains. You have one in your small intestines and one in your head."
A brain in my small intestines?
"Have you ever had a gut feeling?" he asked.
As a matter of fact: YES! I have a gut feeling right now, and here it is:
Mitch Ross is not a liar. He is a true believer, devout in his faith to both the Lord and his products, and he doesn't understand how anybody can question either.
Ross is the man in the middle of this week's Ray Lewis controversy. He's a deer-antler velvet peddler and hologram-chip pusher, as detailed in this week's Sports Illustrated, and previously in a story on Yahoo! Sports. There are serious doubts about whether Ross' products actually, to use a medical term, "work."
"You do not get this kind of coverage unless something you're doing is working!" Ross bellowed.
Actually, you do. You get this kind of coverage when famous athletes think it works. And Ross has gotten many famous athletes to believe in his products. I believe he is telling the truth about that.
I do not believe he can "reverse the symptoms of ALS," or help brains recover from concussions, as he claims.
I believe when he scrolled through his phone Friday and came upon a contact for RAY LEWIS, it was really Ray Lewis. (I was standing next to him at the time and saw the name.) I believe the text messages he provided to SI, between him and the Ravens' safety James Ihedigbo, are real, including this one:
ROSS: Did u get the chips from ray
This week, Ihedigbo denied even knowing Ross. I believe he did know him. I believe Ross talked to Lewis after Lewis tore his triceps in October, even though Lewis denies it and Ross suddenly won't talk about it.
Do I believe the products work? Well, I believe Ross believes it. I believe Lewis and dozens of others believe it, because they are pro athletes, and if you told a pro athlete that he could increase strength by rubbing squirrel urine on his ears, he would do it. That's a hypothetical, Mitch -- I'm not suggesting anything here.
If you think Ross is a crackpot, understand: He didn't just pull all these big names out of a hat, along with a muscle-building rabbit. Vijay Singh has admitted a long-running relationship with Ross. So have former NFL fullback Heath Evans and former Ravens assistant Hue Jackson.
There are more. Ross said he didn't want to talk about individual clients, but he did happen to mention Brett Favre, Terrell Owens, Carlos Pena, Johnny Damon, Willis McGahee, Le'Ron McLain, Bernhard Langer ("excuse me, I didn't mean to say his name") and Fred Funk, and I think I speak for all of us when I say:
Ross also mentioned Rush Limbaugh and Oprah Winfrey, though I think he meant he might be on their shows. I don't think he gave them deer-antler spray. I'm not sure. It was very confusing. It did not help matters that every time Ross said "Hue Jackson" I thought: "Hugh Jackman? This is bigger than I thought!"
Ross said the chips helped the Ravens in 2009, and helped running back Carnell Williams come back from two torn patellar tendons. He also took a sliver of credit for Auburn's national title in 2010. And Alabama's in 2011. Somebody, somewhere really wants to believe him, and that man's name is Jim Delany.
As for the Sports Illustrated story? Well, Ross clearly hated it (unless "barbaric" was supposed to be a compliment) but he didn't really deny anything of consequence in it. He was appalled that the story referred to him as an "erstwhile male stripper." But when he was asked if he ever was a stripper, he said, "I was young once. I made a lot of mistakes."
Mostly, he just didn't like SI talking to chemistry experts who questioned whether his products work.
"Ray was right about one thing," Ross said. "This story, this whole story, was the tactics of the devil."
He also said he thought reporters David Epstein and George Dohrmann would make him look better, and he felt betrayed.
"They dated me, in a sense," Ross said, "no different than being catfished."
Gosh ... Epstein and Dohrmann were catfishing AND doing the devil's work? Those guys make me feel so lazy.
Ross also said "Everybody says I did this for publicity," which bothers him. But he also said "I thought Sports Illustrated was going to be my holy grail."
By the end, I felt bad for him. He sounded unhinged.
Mitch Ross will fade from the spotlight, once Rush and Oprah finish wrestling each other to secure his next TV appearance. But as a sports fan, understand this: there are other Mitch Rosses out there, selling unproven remedies and unscientific solutions to famous athletes. Some of the remedies and solutions are placebos, and some might even work. But for every mystery cure, there are a half-dozen well-known buyers.
Ross was right about this: The story is not about Ray Lewis. It isn't even really about performance-enhancing drugs. It is about belief.
I walked away with two overriding thoughts. One: It's amazing what people will believe when they want their bodies to feel better. And two: I forgot to ask for some of those holographic chips. My neck hurts.