IS IT WORKING?
This is an article from the Aug. 1, 1996 issue
The NFL and its players' association like to trumpet the
effectiveness of the league's drug-testing program. But if this
is the most comprehensive and stringent substance-abuse program
in major league sports--and it may well be--then the sports
world is in pitiful shape when it comes to ensuring that its
players are drug-free. Why? Because in the NFL it's simple to
beat the system. Each year the 1,590 players are randomly
tested, most of them once and only once, for drugs ranging from
over-the-counter products to marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine
and steroids by the league's independent testing agency. That
urinalysis occurs between May 1 and Aug. 20. Unless a player
tests positive then, he is subject to retesting only if 1) he
has tested positive in the previous two years; 2) he has
admitted to a substance-abuse problem (as in the case of Green
Bay quarterback Brett Favre); or 3) he behaves in an aberrant
way in the view of a doctor chosen jointly by the league and the
Those who don't fall within these criteria enjoy a window of
seven to 10 months in which drugs can be used undetected. It
takes up to four weeks for all traces of marijuana to leave the
system; cocaine takes three days and anabolic steroids two. Thus
a player who stops using these drugs by early April--and stays
clean until his test--has nothing to worry about. In fact, one
current veteran who formerly smoked marijuana and now claims to
abstain from drugs and alcohol tells SI, "The partyers on our
team used to have one last blowout about two months before we
knew we'd be eligible to be tested. Then you just had to be
careful during the season."
As street-smart as today's NFL players are, you can be sure that
many know just how long it takes for various drugs to go
undetected by urinalysis. Doug Allen, who oversees the drug
policy for the NFLPA, insists that the league does have random
screening. "Between May 1 and mid-August we do," he says. But
that's only 16 weeks each year. Players can indulge in whatever
drugs they want, as long as they don't draw the league's
attention, for up to 48 straight weeks.
"I'm not saying the policy is perfect," Allen says. "You could
go out right now and drive drunk and not get caught. But it's
worked very effectively for people who have had problems. It's
had an impact and saved people's lives. There are a vast number
of players in the league who do not use any substances, and they
shouldn't be subjected to people knocking on their door some day
in the off-season and telling them to piss in a bottle."
Fine. But for any drug-screening program to be truly
comprehensive, there has to be an element of surprise. The
limited testing schedule means that only the addicted and the
brazen are likely to get caught. If the NFL and the players'
union don't expand the time for the random testing from 3 1/2
months to 12, they're only paying lip service to their boast of
a drug-free league.
The Giants had a very, very hot hand in the draft from 1979 to
'84. With seven first-round choices they selected five Pro Bowl
players--linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks, defensive
backs Mark Haynes and Terry Kinard and quarterback Phil
Simms--who became mainstays of the powerful Giants teams of the
'80s. But now the Giants are heading for their second straight
awful season, and their collapse is largely due to the
widespread failure of their No. 1 picks over the last decade.
What is peculiar about New York's very, very cold drafting hand
between 1986 and '95 is the Midwestern flavor of its flops. In
eight of those 10 drafts, the Giants' top choice came from
either a Big Ten school or Notre Dame. Does management think
more of football in that region and hold its players in higher
regard? "Absolutely not!" retorts G.M. George Young, who has
been the gatekeeper of New York's draft choices since 1979. "I
don't pay any attention to where they're from. I didn't look at
Jarrod Bunch or Tyrone Wheatley and see Michigan under their
Four of the eight Midwest picks were abject disappointments:
Eric Dorsey (Notre Dame, 1986), an inflexible defensive end;
Eric Moore (Indiana, 1988), a psychologically fragile tackle;
Bunch (Michigan, 1991), an underachieving fullback; and Derek
Brown (Notre Dame, 1992), a soft tight end. Two others--wideout
Thomas Lewis (Indiana, 1994) and running back Wheatley
(Michigan, 1995)--have yet to make any impact.
Mark Ingram (Michigan State, 1987) was a serviceable wideout,
but he only once exceeded 50 catches with the Giants; he's now
in Philadelphia. And center Brian Williams (Minnesota, 1989) has
developed into a solid starter, but he didn't win the full-time
job until his sixth season. Meanwhile, the two non-Midwestern
selections--quarterback Dave Brown (Duke, 1993) and running back
Rodney Hampton (Georgia, 1990)--have lived up to their
Of all the ill-advised picks, the one that most deeply haunts
the Giants is Derek Brown. Ray Handley, the coach who succeeded
Bill Parcells in 1991 and floundered for two seasons, was in the
draft room that day. He favored Clemson defensive tackle Chester
McGlockton, who has since reached Pro Bowl status with the
Raiders. But management gave the nod to Brown.
Packers defensive end Sean Jones sat in front of his locker
shaking his head last Jan. 14. Dallas had just ousted Green Bay
from the playoffs for the third straight year thanks to
quarterback Troy Aikman, who completed 21 of 33 passes for 255
yards and two touchdowns. "We've gotta get guys who know how to
play in these games," Jones said.
Consider Jones's prayers answered. Of all the off-season deals
done by the 30 NFL teams, none may have more impact than the
Packers' trade with Seattle on June 27, in which they obtained
free safety Eugene Robinson, 33, for defensive lineman Matt
LaBounty, 27. With the health of fourth-year safety George
Teague in question--he hasn't been the same since a thyroid
problem sapped his strength before the '94 season--Green Bay
needed to bolster its last line of defense, and it did.
At six feet and 195 pounds, Robinson is a ferocious hitter as
well as a natural leader and a competent cover guy (42 career
interceptions). Despite a painful Achilles tendon injury last
year, he started every game and made 105 tackles. The
acquisition of Robinson may have appeared only in the small
print of most newspapers, but it will be worth headlines come
January when it fortifies Green Bay for a Super Bowl run.
Packers backup tight end Jeff Thomason spent his off-season in
California thinking about when he'll no longer have an off-
season. For several days apiece he observed a lawyer in Santa
Clara, a stockbroker in the Bay Area, a produce farmer in
Salinas Valley and winemakers in Santa Cruz, San Mateo and Napa
Valley. "I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my
life after football," says Thomason, who has a psychology degree
from Oregon but now has little interest in that field.
Thomason's search began with a little push from Invest in
Yourself. It's a career-planning business in San Jose headed by
sports agent Bob LaMonte, a former teacher and football coach
who has watched retired players struggle to find second careers.
"If you don't give players a plan for their lives while they're
playing, they're going to hit the wall when they leave the
game," LaMonte says. "It's just a question of when."
The Packers hired LaMonte and his staff last year. In the
preseason all players who wanted to use the service were tested
to determine their interests, values and long-term goals; each
then received a profile that suggested future lines of work for
them to explore. Thomason's future? After returning from
California, he spent weekday nights in Milwaukee studying for
the LSAT and thinking about a legal career. "If that doesn't
work out, I'll look into vineyards more seriously," he says. "At
least now I have a plan."
A TV TIP
With the NFL's television contract expiring after the 1997
season, look for CBS to persuade broadcast-committee big shot
Jerry Jones to install a Thursday-night game that will give the
Eye a 17-game schedule starting in '98. The players will love
it, because the salary cap, which is tied to league revenues,
STOKING THE FIRE
Before the 1995 draft, here's how one NFL team graded the
personal traits of UCLA wide receiver J.J. Stokes according to
its five-point scale (1 being poor, 5 excellent): desire, 1;
stability, 3; work habits, 1; intelligence, 2.
"Confident, smug," the club's scouting report read. "Used to
getting by on minimal effort. Tries to cut corners. Makes
excuses when things don't go his way."
The Niners, who traded four high picks to get Stokes at No. 10,
quickly began to form a similar opinion. Stokes had a lax work
ethic ("The coaches did pull me aside and tell me I had to step
it up some," he says), which didn't square with the hardworking
49ers vets. After breaking his right hand in the preseason,
Stokes settled for a 38-catch rookie season.
But now Stokes has seen the light. After the Niners cut wideout
John Taylor loose in the off-season, Stokes joined workaholic
Jerry Rice in his spring regimen of hill running in Portola
Valley, Calif. "He's the best," says Stokes, "and I wanted to
see what he put himself through to be the best." They ran short
bursts, sprints and long endurance tests. Now Stokes says, "The
team will get the opportunity to see the real J.J. Stokes this
year." If so, he'll make that other team eat its scouting
The NFL has some big names these days, and we're not talking
about Deion Sanders or Dan Marino. There are a number of players
in the league whose familiarity to the general public has
nothing to do with their accomplishments on the football field
and everything to do with the fact that they share a name with a
celebrated individual from another walk of life. While pondering
this, we got to wondering what might happen--good and bad--if
the more well-known member of these nominally equivalent pairs
were to take to the gridiron instead.
Michael Jackson, king-of-pop wideout, Baltimore Ravens
Upside: Moonwalking skills readily adaptable to elaborate TD
celebrations; years of experience adjusting crotch.
Downside: Insistence on wearing only one glove makes catching
balls in cold weather difficult.
Pat Riley, well-groomed defensive end, Chicago Bears
Upside: Gel-hardened coif makes stylishly effective helmet.
Downside: Can't figure out how to get thigh pads under Armani
Anthony Edwards, thespian wideout, Arizona Cardinals
Upside: Performance as grace-under-pressure physician on ER
instills confidence in teammates.
Downside: Performance as dork in Revenge of the Nerds instills
confidence in opponents.
James Brown, godfather of offensive tackles, Miami Dolphins
Upside: Energy level makes him hardest-working man in pro biz.
Downside: Sequined lame jumpsuit and matching cape violate NFL
Tony Bennett, crooning linebacker, Indianapolis Colts
Upside: Teammates love listening to him sing in shower.
Downside: Teammates hate looking at him sing in shower.
Henry Ford, automaking defensive end, Houston Oilers
Upside: Visionary whose intuition and cleverness make him a
Downside: Born in 19th century. Is dead.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, skyhooking tailback, Miami Dolphins
Upside: Unparalleled downfield vision.
Downside: Finding uniform that fits.
Troy Aikman won't even turn 30 until Nov. 21, but in just seven
NFL seasons he has probably earned himself a bust in Canton.
Hall of Fame voters favor clutch players and winners, and Aikman
has been both so far in his career. His most amazing statistic:
He has been very good in the regular season--the NFL's
seventh-rated quarterback of all time--but better in NFC playoff
games and even better in his three Super Bowls, all Dallas wins.
His career postseason passer rating of 104.3 is second only to
Hall of Famer Bart Starr's 104.8. Aikman looks puzzled when all
this is brought up. "The only thing I can think of," he says,
"is that our whole team is on top of their game a little bit
more in the Super Bowl. But I really can't think of anything
else." We can: Aikman is the best clutch passer of his day,
Breakdown of Troy Aikman's Career Passing Statistics
Games Att. Comp. Pct. Yds. TDs Int. Rating W-L*
Season 98 2,713 1,704 62.8 19,607 98 85 83.5 60-38
Games 9 270 183 67.8 2,340 16 8 102.1 8-1
Bowls 3 80 56 70.0 689 5 1 111.9 3-0
* Cowboys' record in games in which Aikman played
For better or for worse, this is the stuff people will be
talking about this season.
1. A Team Poe-ssessed
Baltimore chose Ravens as its new nickname to honor a deranged,
twisted man who brought our worst nightmares to life. Apparently
calling the team the Modells would have been too obvious.
2. Neil's Deal
The Jets paid $25 million for the guy who lost the Super Bowl.
Would that make Jim Kelly worth $100 million?
They're trying to steal the Oilers and bring football to a town
where they still think a naked bootleg is something that could
land you in the pokey.
4. (Two) Pointless
The two-point conversion has been used once in two years to
decide the outcome of a game. That figures. The last innovation
NFL coaches embraced was Sansabelt slacks.
5. Decision '96
With a quarterback duel between disappointing Heath Shuler and
inconsistent Gus Frerotte, fans in the nation's capital are
hoping for a third-party candidate.
6. Scales of Justice
Deion Sanders was arrested in June for fishing on private
property. He thought incarceration was part of the Cowboys'
off-season conditioning program.
7. Jolly Jaguar
Tom Coughlin, the no-nonsense coach of Jacksonville, has
reportedly lightened up considerably. He's lowered the fine for
heatstroke to $500.
8. Home for the Holidays
You think the Saints will be playing in the Super Bowl in New
Orleans this January? Yeah, and look for a topless Bob Dole to
lead a Mardi Gras parade in February.
9. Rhodes Scholar
Philly's Ray Rhodes, last season's coach of the year, takes
football advice from his Sega-playing daughter. Now we know Mel
Kiper Jr.'s secret.
10. Rated PG (Particularly Greedy)
There's a film in the works that's based on the life of a sports
agent. It's a takeoff on Alien: The characters are hideous
creatures who feed off other life-forms.
These marks are within reach in 1996:
--If the Bears can put together a 10-win season, they will become
the first team in league history to win 600 regular-season games.
--With 1,000 yards rushing this season, Detroit's Barry Sanders
and Buffalo's Thurman Thomas would become the first players to
reach the 1,000-yard mark in eight consecutive years. They
currently share the record of seven with Eric Dickerson.
--Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith can break Walter Payton's
NFL career record of 110 rushing TDs with 15 more this season
(Smith had 21 in 1994, 25 last year).
--With 18 more catches, Marcus Allen of the Chiefs will become
the league's career reception leader among running backs. His
total is currently second, behind Roger Craig's 566.
--Redskins kicker Eddie Murray can break the NFL record for
consecutive PATs by hitting his first seven attempts. The record
is held by Tommy Davis, who made 228 straight for the 49ers from
1959 to '65. Murray's last miss came on Dec. 11, 1988, when he
was with the Lions.