PATRIOT GAMES NEW ENGLAND FUMBLED WHEN IT DRAFTED CHRISTIAN PETER AND TRIED TO RECOVER BY CUTTING HIM LOOSE

May 05, 1996

Last Friday, sitting in a regal stuffed chair between the grand
piano and the fireplace in the living room of his parents' home
in Locust, N.J., spurned defensive tackle Christian Peter spoke
calmly and thoughtfully--and called the New England Patriots a
pack of liars. This was five days after the Patriots had made
him a fifth-round pick in the NFL draft and two days after they
had dumped him because, New England owner Bob Kraft says, the
club belatedly determined that Peter's criminal behavior at
Nebraska was more extensive than the Pats had thought when they
selected him.

But Peter says New England had more than enough information--he
says he discussed every charge on his arrest sheet with five or
six of the team's coaches and scouts at the NFL combine in
February--to make a draft-day decision. "To say I wasn't
investigated thoroughly by the Patriots is a total lie," said
Peter, who was convicted of four charges, ranging from public
urination to third-degree sexual assault, in separate incidents
while at Nebraska. "I know the truth. The Patriots know the
truth. It's obvious they're covering it up. I've been more
scrutinized than the President of the United States. Whoever did
this is a coward."

Indeed, the ensuing cause celebre has raised questions about the
competence of the 10-member New England scouting and
player-personnel staff, the willingness of teams to draft a
player with a sordid background and the content of confidential
files by NFL Security on prospective draftees.

The 6'3", 304-pound Peter was a starter for two-time defending
national champion Nebraska, during which time he had 121 tackles
and nine sacks. Despite Peter's off-field troubles, one NFL
team's personnel director said last Friday, after the Patriots
waived Peter, "We had him as a draftable player. He was our
sixth-rated defensive tackle. Whether we take him now, I don't
know."

SI has learned that before Peter was released, the Kansas City
Chiefs offered New England a 1997 seventh-round draft pick for
his rights. Kraft declined the offer, saying he didn't want his
team to profit from its mistake. Now NFL teams have until this
Monday to put in a claim for Peter, who will go to the team with
the highest position in the 1996 draft order that claims him.

Here's the rap sheet that would accompany a waiver claim:
Between September 1991 and last March, Peter was arrested eight
times. The charges on the first four occasions--trespassing,
disturbing the peace, failing to appear in court and failing to
comply with the order of a police officer--were dismissed. But
in December '92 he was arrested for public urination, and the
following May he was charged with possession of alcohol by a
minor; he was found guilty both times and fined $100 for each
offense. Also in May 1993, Peter was charged with third-degree
sexual assault for twice groping a former Miss Nebraska, Natalie
Kuijvenhoven, in a bar; he pleaded no contest and was sentenced
to 18 months' probation but now says he took the fall for a
teammate he will not name. In March of this year he was arrested
on an assault charge for allegedly grabbing Janelle Mues by the
throat in a bar; Peter pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of
disturbing the peace and will be sentenced on May 21. He says he
only verbally abused Mues after she refused to sit in the same
booth and called him "Christian Peter, the rapist." Mues was
apparently referring to accusations made in a pending civil suit
in which former Nebraska student Kathy Redmond claims Peter
raped her on two occasions in 1991. (Redmond never pressed
charges and waited four years to file the suit.) Peter says the
sex was consensual.

How could the Patriots have not known about Peter's public, and
in some cases well-publicized, record? Or did they initially
downplay it because of his potential on-field value? "Either
they [Patriots scouting personnel] lied to me when we picked him
or we didn't do a very good job in the investigation process,"
said Kraft, who had not heard of Peter before the draft.

On the second day of the draft, April 21, Kraft looked at the
Patriots' board and noticed that Peter, despite a relatively
high rating from New England scouts, was still available. It was
no secret the Patriots were looking for help along the defensive
front seven, and a few defensive tackles whom New England had
rated far below Peter had already been selected when its
fifth-round pick, No. 149, came up. The club color-codes its
board, identifying, for example, problematic players, but Kraft
says Peter's name carried no such designation. That's the most
damaging part of the story for the Patriots' director of player
personnel, Bobby Grier, and the team's director of college
scouting, Charles Armey, neither of whom was available to the
media last week.

Kraft says he asked scouts in the draft room why Peter had not
been picked and was told, 'He's had some problems, but we met
with him and we feel good about him.'" There was a discussion
among Kraft, Grier, Armey and coach Bill Parcells before Grier
selected Peter. "It was an organizational pick," said Parcells,
who before the draft talked with Nebraska coach Tom Osborne
about Peter.

Imagine Peter's delight when he picked up the phone on April 21
and heard Parcells on the other end of the line. Peter was a
budding football prospect in northern New Jersey when the New
York Giants won their two Super Bowls. Parcells had coached
those two teams, and Peter was a big fan.

A few hours after that call, Don Lowery, the Patriots' director
of community and public relations, saw a reporter's fax of an SI
clipping (SCORECARD, March 18) that detailed Peter's crude,
drunken and violent behavior on the night of the Mues incident.
Lowery forwarded a copy to Kraft. "I got upset that we didn't
know this," Kraft says. "I initiated a thorough investigation."

Before the draft the Patriots had sent a representative to NFL
offices in New York City to pore over the NFL Security files of
several prospects, a source close to the team says, but Peter's
file did not mention some incidents that had been widely
publicized. Why? A source close to NFL Security says the
controversial investigation of University of Miami defensive
tackle Warren Sapp last year, in which Sapp's file contained
inaccurate reports of positive drug-test results, led to a
reduction of information made available to teams this year. The
Patriots likely received accurate but incomplete information
because NFL Security dossiers no longer list arrest citations
that don't result in convictions. But even if Peter's file
lacked information that had been widely published by news media
and would have turned up in the most cursory background check,
it still should have at least included details of the four
convictions.

"Part of the fault lies with our investigation," says Kraft.
"But part lies with NFL Security, and NFL Security people have
called to tell me they were sorry." The NFL had no comment on
Kraft's report of an apology. As a result of the debacle over
Peter, however, the Patriots will likely ask the league for a
compensatory fifth-round pick in '97.

"We stand for certain principles, and we're trying to do things
certain ways," said Kraft, who has owned the Patriots since
February 1994. "Once we knew we had made a mistake, we decided
we would not cover it up."

Fellow NFL team personnel men weren't eager to point fingers at
Grier and Armey--any number of them might have chosen Peter
later in the draft--but most agreed the two clearly failed their
boss. After all, it was Kraft who had repeatedly said that under
no circumstances would he allow Grier to use the Pats' seventh
overall pick on Peter's vaunted Nebraska teammate, running back
Lawrence Phillips, whose resume was tainted by a highly
publicized assault against a former girlfriend last fall. "I'd
have to answer to my wife," Kraft said on the first day of the
draft.

Thorough background checks on prospective draftees are routine,
and for Grier and Armey to have put Peter on their board without
flagging him as a potential problem is incomprehensible.
Nevertheless, Kraft said the two men still have his confidence.
But, he added, "it's the last time our organization will ever
flirt with someone like [Peter]--if our people want to keep
their jobs."

Peter, meanwhile, was left hoping that some NFL team would give
him a job. "I'm not this Attila the Hun, this barbarian that
people think I am," he said. "All I want is a shot to play."

Wherever he ends up, Christian Peter will arrive with a lot of
baggage.

COLOR PHOTO: GABE PALACIO Peter says he was up-front with scouts at the combine. [Christian Peter] COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Kraft says he didn't have all the facts on draft weekend. [Bob Kraft]

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