Spirit's laid-back surfer is a gnarly dude when a ball rolls his way Neely leads team with defensive play

December 26, 1992|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

Doug Neely followed his customary pattern when the indoor soccer season ended last spring. The southern Californian put on a T-shirt and jeans, grabbed his surfboard, passport and backpack and went looking for good waves.

He also did something he hadn't done in five years: He got a haircut.

"About time," said Steve Boardman, Neely's Spirit teammate and roommate during this National Professional Soccer League season and a teammate for two years at San Diego State.

"He'd be driving along in his car and guys would come by and honk their horn, like he was a girl."

By Neely standards, the haircut he got was major league. For years, he was known as the player with the longest hair on the indoor circuit -- halfway down his back. Then, one day last summer, he submitted to the scissors wielded by an old high school friend who had become a hairdresser.

His parents, to put it mildly, were shocked. Pleasantly so.

"Who's this kid in our house?" Pat and Wendy Neely said in unison.

The kid, 27, said that the torrid southern California summer had gotten to him and, anyway, it was time for a change. Thus, the page boy cut.

When he arrived for his second season in Baltimore and sixth as a pro, friends also were shocked by his haircut, if not his play. He is one of the Spirit's top defenders, the team leader in blocked shots with 18 in eight games going into tonight's game in St. Louis against the Ambush.

"He's fearless," coach Kenny Cooper said. "He'll put his face in front of shots."

Last year, his only season with the Blast, Neely was named the team's unsung hero.

"A first-year player has to earn respect, and Doug did, with his performance on the field," Cooper said. "He became a fan favorite."

To Spirit vice president Drew Forrester, Neely is the stereotypical southern Californian -- long, blond hair, surfer, laid-back personality.

When Forrester tried to sign him for the Blast in the summer of 1991, Neely's parents said he was surfing in Indonesia. Forrester sent a contract by fax.

"Ten days went by, and I didn't hear from him," Forrester said. "I finally got him on the phone, and he was so casual about it. He said: 'I have the contract here. We got a deal, no problem.' "

That was Neely's second surfing trip to Indonesia, where, he says, the waves are among the best in the world, with due apologies to Australia and Mexico.

The price was right, too: $10 a day for lodging in a two-story cottage, $1.50 for a good meal.

No sooner had Neely arrived here for training camp, his car was towed. Seems his California license tags had expired.

"Most guys would have had a fit," Forrester said. "But it didn't seem to bother him that it was costing him $10 a day plus the towing while they had his car."

By the time his new California tags arrived, Neely had to pay $230 to get his car back.

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