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ANALYSIS : Problems Not All On Field : NFL: Cox's antics haven't made things any easier for the Chargers.

November 28, 1990|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Billy Joe Tolliver is going to get a letter in the next day or two, and he probably gets lots of letters.

But this letter will come from a high school freshman, and anyone who has ever been a high school freshman, knows what that's like.

It's like being a young quarterback in the National Football League: You're all alone and you're in over your head and you're sinking fast with no bottom in reach.

The only thing worse is living with a high school freshman. You tell a high school freshman that everybody goes through the same thing and a high school freshman will tell you: "You just don't know."

But Billy Joe Tolliver will know. He will receive a "from-the-heart" letter from a high school freshman who found strength and inspiration in how a young quarterback handled his own travails.

And if he reads his mail--surprise--he will discover that not everyone is booing him.

You have to believe someone like Gill Byrd also gets mail like that. Here's an athlete who gets ripped for a pair of touchdowns earlier this season, and instead of hiding in the training room, he's sitting before his locker taking all the blame.

And never, no, not once, does he mention that he's had three sleepless nights and his young son is in the hospital with a malady that has doctors perplexed.

You figure Martin Bayless is getting mail, too. Lots and lots of thank you cards from families who received Thanksgiving dinner because of his help. Lots and lots of thank you cards from youngsters who attended his free football camp this past summer.

You wonder, though, what kind of mail someone like Arthur Cox gets.

Here's the spitting image of Jim McMahon. He's rude, crude and otherwise unapproachable.

A few days after the Lisa Olson-New England Patriots' locker room incident, Houston Post sports writer Melanie Hauser was standing in the Charger locker room interviewing defensive tackle Lee Williams.

While Williams answered her questions, across the locker room Cox was holding court for teammates and having a grand old time at Hauser's expense.

After failing, however, to divert her attention with snide remarks and mocking laughter, Cox--clad only in an athletic supporter--walked by Williams and Hauser.

He stopped abruptly, and with his backside turned toward the interview, reached down and slowly picked up a towel that had been dropped for his benefit by teammate Broderick Thompson.

You had to be there--if you were working. You expect that, you live with it, you ignore it.

You try to interview Arthur Cox and you are refused. Across a crowded locker room, however, you hear him almost daily--yelling obscenities your way.

"I don't condone that silence to the press," General Manager Bobby Beathard said. "For the good of the organization and for the good of the player it's better to sit face to face and talk about things. In all sports, the players that have an indifferent attitude toward that really only hurt themselves in the long run."

The problems between media and athlete, however, are not supposed to be your concern. You want touchdowns, and it doesn't matter if they are scored by former altar boys or former convicts, so long as they go on the scoreboard.

But what happens when what's going on off the field leaks onto it?

Arthur Cox was an incident waiting to happen. He's undisciplined and he's overweight despite repeated efforts and fines by the club to convince him differently. On the field, he's a thug.

Two weeks ago Cox kicked a defender for tackling him after he caught a pass. He was penalized 15 yards and was later taken aside by Coach Dan Henning and advised to change his ways.

So last week instead of kicking somebody, he spit in their face. In Sunday's 13-10 overtime loss to Seattle, Cox drew a 15-yard penalty and took a touchdown-scoring opportunity away from his team.

He also fumbled twice to all but hand the Seahawks a victory, and then left the stadium without comment.

Meanwhile, Billy Joe Tolliver sat before his locker telling the world that it was his fault the Chargers lost. It was his "dumb mistake," he said, his interception that allowed the Seahawks to rally.

You hear that, and you recall how many times Billy Joe Tolliver has been booed, how many times he's been criticized. And you have to respect him.

But you know in the long run Tolliver and Cox will be measured by the same standards. It will be the touchdowns they score, the defenders they block, the games they win.

It may not matter to most people that Tolliver is a standup guy, and Cox a dolt. But for one discerning high school freshman, it does matter.

And if you think Arthur Cox is a load, try living with a high school freshman after you criticize a quarterback who couldn't hit the Great Wall of China if it was standing right in front of him.

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