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Lee Is Cut by Raiders, but He Takes It in Stride

August 23, 1988|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

The Raider phase of John Lee's life came to an end Monday, and perhaps the football phase, too, when the Raiders released the former UCLA kicking star to a life of . . .

What?

"I have to play golf," he said, laughing.

The most accurate kicker in college football history, cut by the then-St. Louis Cardinals in September, 1987, who made him a No. 2 draft pick in 1986, Lee was signed by the Raiders in the off-season. His agent, Leigh Steinberg, hoped that a team near his home and his close-knit family might provide the support Lee needed.

Indeed, Lee was thought to have started camp as the front-runner over incumbent Chris Bahr. But Lee failed on 2 of 3 field goal tries in exhibition games, missing from 37 and 41 yards.

So Monday's news wasn't exactly a surprise. Whatever, he took it cheerfully.

"If I was a coach, I'd pretty much do the same thing," Lee said. "It's not like I dominated Chris Bahr or anything, although I had the better percentage during the whole training camp. I know that for a fact because they kept stats and everything.

"They didn't think I dominated, and you don't come to a team trying to beat out a player who's been there for some time by having a little edge over him.

"They definitely gave me a fair chance. You appreciate an organization like this because they're pretty much for the players. They gave me a shot. I thought I performed well, but it's not good enough."

What's next?

An aspiring kicker may wander the nation, accepting invitations to audition--along with half a dozen others--for a different team each week.

Not Lee. He says he's getting off the merry-go-round.

"A kicker's got to go around," Lee said. "It's the only way he matures. But I'm not going to put myself in that category. I don't need this. It's not my only source of income. I'm making about 10 times as much as I would playing football. My dad and I have a lot of real estate properties we're involved in. I've got business deals left and right.

"I'm not going to make this a do-or-die situation by far. This isn't the most important part of my life. This is something I try to enjoy. I didn't enjoy it at St. Louis, but I enjoyed it here."

What happened? How did a young man who made 85.9% of his field goal attempts as a collegian, go bust in the pros?

For one thing, his accuracy in games didn't match that in practice.

For another, he couldn't kick far enough for the Raiders.

"John just doesn't have the leg strength you like," Raider Coach Mike Shanahan said. "I still think John will be a kicker in the NFL. I think someone will pick him up and he'll play many, many years."

Said Lee: "I hate to have people second-guess my leg strength. I'm not the most powerful kicker, but I'm not the weakest. I've got the longest field goal in St. Louis in four years.

"Most people will second-guess. They'll say, 'John did a great job in college.' But my accuracy is still there. If anything, it's increased. The coaches were impressed. Hopefully, the word gets around, so other teams think I can kick."

So maybe if what he calls another "ideal-type team" calls, he'll give it another shot.

For the moment, he's gone and he can't kick.

Raider Notes

The other Raider kicking incumbent, punter Stan Talley, was cut. The new punter will be Jeff Gossett, just acquired on waivers from the Houston Oilers. Talley, a former United States Football League standout trying to succeed Ray Guy, has a strong leg but kicked too many line drives. The Raiders brought two punters to camp to compete for the job, and when those two didn't pan out, found Gossett.

Other cuts: Brian Hutson, the first candidate to try to replace holdout Stacey Toran at strong safety; rookie free-agent receiver Brock Smith of Fresno State, who was said to have impressed Al Davis; Ethan Horton, a former halfback trying to make it at tight end and failing in his third Raider trial; linebackers John Tautolo and Byron Lee; safety David Greenwood; defensive end Ted Chapman, and offensive lineman Stan Short.

Hard times, revisited: After the 8-8 season in 1986, the Raiders barred reporters from the locker room at their El Segundo facility. Now coming off last season's 5-10 record and this summer's 0-3 record in exhibitions, the Raiders told writers Monday that they will no longer be allowed anywhere in the football building.

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