Dolphins tackle tough trip to see Wheeler

ON THE NFL

August 09, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The Miami Dolphins made their toughest road trip of the year last week -- to a hospital room.

After a practice at the Orange Bowl, 23 of them made the one-mile trip to Jackson Memorial Hospital where former teammate Randy Wheeler is paralyzed as the result of an auto accident on his way to camp.

Wheeler, who can move only his right shoulder, was touched by the visit.

"It just made him a different person," Wheeler's mother, Joyce, said. "He was already happy and this just lifted him higher."

His offensive line coach, Larry Beightol, arrived first and tried a light touch. He blew a whistle and told Wheeler it was time to practice.

"I had a bad night, with a lot of trouble breathing, and didn't really want to wake up early for anybody. But when Coach came in with that whistle, I was happy. It takes effort to talk. I get real tired, but I've enjoyed talking," Wheeler said.

Coach Jimmy Johnson was the first to arrive after practice. He brought his longtime girlfriend.

Wheeler was sleeping when Johnson, who tries to avoid difficult situations and says he's never been to a funeral, arrived.

Wheeler woke up and smiled when Johnson began chatting quietly with his grandfather, Lee.

The players then arrived and crowded in Room 0725 amid the flowers, cards and balloons. They had previously made a video for him.

The players wished him well and Wheeler told him he'd be fine and would walk again.

"I've been watching the news, checking you boys out," Wheeler said.

The players left after about a half-hour visit and one by one stopped by his bed for a personal goodbye.

In an interview with a Miami reporter, a tear formed in Wheeler's eye as he talked about the visit.

"Toward the end, my eyes started getting a little watery," he said. "They made me feel real warm."

Religious dispute

With Chicago Bears running back Curtis Enis still holding out, the controversy over his affiliation with the group Champions For Christ continued to swirl last week. He switched to an agent, Greg Feste, who has never done an NFL contract but supposedly is affiliated with the group.

The league denied a report that it is investigating the group. Some teams reportedly suspect CFC is taking advantage of players financially by persuading them to give the group large sums of money.

Harold Henderson, a league vice president, said, "People have been tithing their money for 2,000 years and people think it's OK. So I just think the league doesn't have any business getting involved in telling players how to spend their money or how to donate their money."

The Jacksonville Jaguars also denied they had asked the league to investigate the group and a league spokesman said its security department provides background checks only when they are requested.

Meanwhile, several members of the group on various teams have come to its defense.

Said Washington Redskins cornerback Darrell Green: "I've been in this organization for years and I've never been asked for a dime. I like them because they preach the gospel."

Green said agents criticizing the group are "living the lifestyle of the rich and famous."

Tony Boselli of the Jaguars complained about allegations the group recruits players.

"In the locker room, you hear people talking about the women they're getting together with at parties. That's OK, but it's not OK to talk about the way I live my life? I have a problem with that," he said.

But another Jaguar, John Jurkovic, said, "I'm for separation of church and state. And I'm for separation of church and football. Whatever guys choose to do should remain private."

But the bottom line still is that Enis isn't in camp even though the Bears are counting on him big time this year.

Negotiating games

It continues to be popular for agents to announce contracts for figures that they'll never see in their W-2 forms by including incentives they may never get.

Linebacker Takeo Spikes of Cincinnati signed a deal that the NFL Players Association counted as worth $6.03 million even though his agent counted it as worth $7.5 million.

Duane Starks of the Ravens signed a four-year, $6.482 million deal that his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, counted as worth $7 million. He counted $150,000 in incentives each year even though Starks may not earn the $50,000 each for leading the team in interceptions, making the Pro Bowl and leading the team in kick returns.

The strange thing about these talks is that Rosenhaus took less money than the Ravens originally offered in a four-year deal. They offered a $3 million signing bonus with a $640,000 first-year base.

With the maximum 25 percent increase each year, that deal would have been worth $6.520 million. Rosenhaus took almost $38,000 less over four years in the $6.482 million deal to get more upfront money.

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