Super Saturday's dark side: bad behavior the night before

February 03, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

MIAMI — MIAMI-- --If they said it once this week, they said it a thousand times ...

"This is a business trip," said Bears cornerback Nathan Vasher. Or maybe it was Colts center Jeff Saturday. Or the Bears' Olin Kreutz. Or the Colts' Gary Brackett. Or Peyton Manning. Or Rex Grossman. Or Lovie Smith or Tony Dungy or ...

It is just that for the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears, all business. They might be the most businesslike teams ever to land in the midst of Super Bowl week. This is not Mardi Gras for them. Then again, both teams and their coaches have given the impression that if they were, in fact, at Mardi Gras, they'd spend the evening calling the wife and kids, attending chapel service, reading their playbooks and ignoring the beads clanging against their windows.

Don't be shocked at a breathless report of a player or coach caught in the streets in the pre-dawn hours ... feeding the street people or pounding nails for Habitat for Humanity.

It's not about Dungy, Smith and their players being boring; it's a little disingenuous to put pejorative labels on a group of men who display the kind of character that we all complain is absent among big-time athletes.

It's about their being as well-suited for this week, especially at a site such as Miami, as anyone could ask for.

But that's easy to say before Saturday night of Super weekend.

The night before the game has become infamous for susceptible players going completely off the tracks at the worst possible time. The elements for such a mental and physical derailment this weekend are all there. Saturday. Super Bowl. Miami. The Bears and Colts players and coaches, who have ridden their maturity, composure and chemistry to the ultimate game, get their harshest tests tonight.

While they continue their "business trip," everybody around them is getting down to business, or tripping, or both. Face it: Two extremely scantily clad women performed onstage inside the media center with Prince on Thursday.

Outside the Super Bowl headquarters of the world's leading news organizations, stronger temptation awaits. One of the spots for socializing is a South Beach club called BED, so named because the tables and chairs are replaced by beds, and where, as the Web site describes, one can "feast your eyes on the Erotica Dinner Theatre, where fetish cabaret performances add a little spice to the aphrodisiac cuisine." Sweet!

Not even Bears tackle Tank Johnson, the most notorious on either roster, had any inclination to take the bait (although, to be fair, with his legal issues, he'd be crazy to, anyway). What will you do this week, he was asked during the mob interview Tuesday.

"Just go out once in a while, go to Subway, do normal things," he said. Hard to remember many crazed tales of John Matuszak hitting the late-night sub shops in New Orleans.

"It's not necessarily a trip to enjoy South Beach," he said. "I can visit South Beach any time. This is the Super Bowl. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

By late in the week, Johnson had, by all accounts, kept up a similar routine. By all accounts, so have all the other players. In a city blanketed by video, from network mini-cams to fans aiming cell phones, no one had been caught in the wrong place at any time through yesterday. Not that it wouldn't have taken a major exertion to do that, since neither team's hotel was closer than a half-hour from South Beach. But it was apparently just dinners, drinks, hanging with friends, then off the street and out of the spotlight at a decent time.

When they're not proclaiming their focus, the players have spent time making sure their teammates know the pitfalls, giving them worst-case scenarios and punctuating them with real-life examples.

"I told them the last two stories coming out [of the Super Bowl] that I remember were Eugene Robinson and Barret Robbins," said Colts defensive tackle Anthony McFarland, "and they both lost."

Robinson met his downfall the night before his Falcons faced the Broncos eight years ago in Miami, on a fairly seedy stretch of Biscayne Boulevard, soliciting. And it's worth noting that Robinson until then had been ascribed the same characteristics as many of the players here now. Robbins, meanwhile, went AWOL the day before his Raiders played McFarland's Buccaneers four years ago in San Diego.

As for the Bengals' Stanley Wilson being found in his Miami hotel room the morning of the Super Bowl 18 years ago, in the grip of a cocaine binge, that was a bit before McFarland's time. But that lesson works well, too.

"We're not like that," McFarland said. "I told them, let's make sure we're on the other side. It might not help us, but it definitely won't hurt us."

The players ended their available time with reporters Thursday, and the coaches did the same yesterday, which allowed Dungy to wrap up a mellow, untroubled week. "The mornings, we've given them rest and press conferences, and the evenings, we've let them enjoy Miami and Fort Lauderdale," he said. "And I think they've done a good job of that."

But that's easy to say before Saturday night.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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