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PRO FOOTBALL '86 : COACHES, PLAYERS, TEAMS AND TRENDS TO WATCH THIS SEASON : From Touchdowns To Turmoil : Only Thing That Patriots Want, Meanwhile, Is to Be Left Alone

September 05, 1986|BOB OATES | Times Staff Writer

FOXBORO, Mass. — This will be remembered as the year when things went to hell in New England.

You think you've got troubles? Consider the New England Patriots.

The last thing they enjoyed was their pregame meal at the Super Bowl. That was seven months ago.

The Chicago Bears crushed them that day. A day later, it was reported that several Patriots had been identified as drug users.

Soon there was a gambling investigation of one of the best of the Patriot players--with hints that others might be involved. And, shortly, there were more problems.

As the new season begins in the National Football League, the Patriots, after their best season and worst off-season ever, are a team in big trouble.

That, at least, is the national perception. The reality may well be something else. The Patriots say it is, and the evidence they submit is persuasive.

But they also confess that since they were last seen in Super Bowl XX, they have had more problems than most folks. They've had them in many minor areas and four major ones:

--Drugs. The club has confirmed that six Patriots used illegal substances, mainly marijuana, in 1984 or '85. The six, cornerback Raymond Clayborn, defensive end Kenneth Sims, wide receiver Irving Fryar, kick returner Stephen Starring, halfback Tony Collins and safety Roland James, all declined to be interviewed for this story.

--Gambling. The league hasn't yet cleared Fryar on charges of betting on NFL games. The allegations were made several weeks after the Super Bowl. No hard evidence has turned up against him--or any other Patriot--but the cloud is still there.

Fryar wouldn't comment on either drugs or gambling. The club said he once tested positive for a trace of marijuana. It said the gambling charge is even more preposterous.

--Money. The Patriots are for sale. In fact, a buy-and-sell agreement has been completed with a Philadelphia syndicate that intends to make Patriot founder William H. (Billy) Sullivan a minority owner no later than next year.

Although it's unusual for a Super Bowl team to be on the block, the Sullivan family was spurred by financial reverses in non-football ventures.

--Boycott. Most veteran Patriot players are rejecting interviews this year with Ron Borges, Boston Globe sportswriter. They don't even speak to him after games. The boycott began when Borges identified the six Patriots in the drug scandal.

"I'm finding that you don't need quotes in a football story," he said here the other day.

It was Raymond Berry, the Patriots' coach, who confirmed the names in Borges' drug report, the writer said.

Not so, Berry said later, but he won't talk about it now. He said he wants to get everyone facing forward instead of backward.

Most Foxboro visitors have remarked lately that in his year of turmoil, Berry seems somehow stronger now than ever. He reportedly holds the solid support of both the Patriot players and management. He recently got a new five-year contract.

Borges is also still on the beat.

And the beat goes on.

"He (Borges) has a vindictive personality." --Brian Holloway, Patriot player representative.

A broad sidewalk extends from the door of the Patriot locker room to the street outside, and in a recent incident Borges was involved there in a real life drama.

He said he was standing near the curb questioning one or two of the players who still talk to him when a speeding car bore down on him.

The car veered off at the last instant, he said, but not before he'd got a good look at the driver, Raymond Clayborn.

"That's harassment," said Vince Doria, the Globe's sports editor "There's no reason why we have to put up with that."

The Globe has entered a protest with the NFL.

Clayborn, a Pro Bowl cornerback, was "grievously embarrassed and wounded" by last January's drug story in the Globe, a friend said.

He declined comment, but friends said he was still angry about Borges' intimation that Clayborn had been a user in 1985, when, in fact, he'd given up marijuana in 1984, and because he had used only marijuana, as had thousands of Americans in 1984 without getting their names in the paper.

Clayborn's lingering hostility and the respect the other Patriots have for him as a football player have made him one of the most influential leaders of the Borges boycott.

To many, the boycott has seemed the most frivolous of the actions in the Patriots' four main problem areas, but it is probably the most serious, since it is keeping the drug controversy alive, keeping everyone's nerves taut as the Patriots begin defense of their American Conference championship.

The big-trouble theory of what's going on in New England today might quietly die if the players would resume talking to Borges.

They refuse, citing three reasons, the least important of which was being identified in the paper as drug users.

"That's just the tip of the iceberg," said a non-user, wide receiver Cedric Jones.

More serious, he and others said, is that Borges wrote the story in the present tense although it was a past-tense story.

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