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PRO FOOTBALL / BILL PLASCHKE : A Chilling Look Behind the Scenes

September 25, 1993|BILL PLASCHKE

Five years ago, when Tim Green realized he had a story to tell, he didn't even know how to type.

Each night after finishing work as a defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons, he would sit in front of a laptop computer, searching for the right keys.

Sometimes his fingers were swollen and bloodied from the day's work, but he pounded away. Often his entire body ached, but he stayed in his chair until he was out of words.

Soon, he was typing on team airplanes and in team hotels before games. He was even writing in darkened film rooms, on scraps of paper torn impulsively from his play book.

"I figured if I could just write two pages a week, in four years, I would have 400 pages," he said.

The actual page count is 298. But little else falls short in Green's equally fascinating and disturbing novel, "Ruffians," recently printed by Turner Publishing Inc.

The book, which should receive its first national exposure when Green appears with the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, is officially a work of fiction.

But few football books have ever been so real.

Based on his experiences as a seven-year veteran with the Falcons, Green takes the reader into the locker room as no active NFL player has done before.

Curious about steroids? The book allows you to see inside a bathroom stall before a game as a player is injecting the drug into his hip.

Wonder about the lifestyles of young and rich NFL players? The book eavesdrops on young stars as they exploit anyone, particularly women and boosters, who want to touch their popularity.

The book would be another "North Dallas Forty," except it's deadly serious.

"A lot of what goes on in the book are my own experiences, things I've seen, and things I've heard," said Green, currently struggling with a knee injury. "The characters are composites of people I've dealt with. But it's still a novel. . . . I never could have gotten away with writing it as nonfiction."

The story is based on the experiences of defensive end Clay Blackwell, who sounds a lot like Green, a former first-round pick from Syracuse.

Blackwell is a star defensive end at a big college in northern New York who is the first-round draft choice of a young franchise in the south, the Birmingham Ruffians.

Once there, Blackwell is pressured to use steroids by a hard-talking Southern coach. The story of his traumatic rookie season moves quickly and smoothly, if not predictably.

If this were written by someone who had not played, it would be simply another bit of hard-to-believe sports fiction. But knowing that the deep thoughts and inner conflicts are coming from a player make this a chilling work.

Unlike Clay Blackwell, Green said he has never used a performance-enhancing drug. And the name and type of drug used in the book do not exist.

"But everything that's in the drug exists," said Green, a 6-foot-2, 249-pound author. "And yes, the pressures are there."

Green, who studied writing at Syracuse and currently writes a weekly column for a Syracuse newspaper, is enjoying watching the literary world cross paths with the football world. This happened last week during a postgame meeting at midfield with lineman Harris Barton of the San Francisco 49ers.

"Good game," Barton said. "And oh, good book. I'm buying it tomorrow."

SORRY, ELVIS

The final presentations by the five prospective expansion cities in Chicago this week were mere calisthenics.

Barring something drastic, the St. Louis Stallions and Charlotte Panthers will be added to the league late next month and will begin play in 1995.

Memphis never had a chance, even with money from the late Elvis Presley's foundation. Memphis and Jacksonville have only remained in the race, in fact, to help the league justify the $140-million expansion price.

"That's all we hear, Charlotte and St. Louis," said one owner.

The league is betting not on ownership groups or stadium sizes, but markets.

St. Louis is the nation's largest television market without a team, and 9.6 million live within an 150-mile radius of Charlotte.

At least for now, it appears the owners are not concerned by the Charlotte franchise's involvement in discrimination suits charging Denny's restaurants with unfair practices.

Jerome J. Richardson, chairman of Flagstar Cos. Inc., Denny's corporate parent, is the leading investor in the Charlotte bid.

AND EMMITT THOUGHT HE HAD IT TOUGH

Emmitt Smith has signed with the Dallas Cowboys, but there still are other holdouts.

Ask Paul Gruber, a five-year tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who is considered among the best in the league.

After playing in every possible minute of every game since he was drafted five years ago--that's 80 consecutive games, 4,850 snaps--Gruber has not worn a uniform this fall because of a salary dispute.

He has been pestered so much by Coach Sam Wyche and teammates that he recently changed his phone number.

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