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pakowitz 03-18-2003 11:11 PM

A pair of knuckleheads can learn from Tillman

Tuesday March 18, 2003

Dave Lagarde

Mind if we take a break this morning from wall-to-wall NCAA basketball? From the water cooler conversation about brackets and possible Cinderellas, about seeds and pods, about who's in and who's out?

Just to talk a little off-the-field football?

Hope not, because this tale of three players may interest you. Two have bitten the hands that fed and nurtured them. The third, a strong and silent type, shattered the mold of today's selfish and self-centered professional athlete.

Talk is cheap where the first two, Kyle Turley of the Saints and Laveranues Coles of the Jets, are concerned. Simply ask these great orators, if you've got an hour or so to spare. Each is doing their level best to rant and rave their way out of what, in their fertile minds, is the deplorable condition of their current state in professional life.

Turley will wail and whine long and loudly to any sympathetic ear about what he feels is shabby treatment by the Saints and the local media. His sad soliloquy continually creates the desire to give him a rattle to play with and put him in his crib for some much-needed nap time.

Kyle doesn't care much for Saints general manager Mickey Loomis. He went on the radio and proclaimed Randy Mueller's replacement a bean counter, a front-office guy who doesn't know a draw play from a drawbridge.

Kyle questioned the moves of Coach Jim Haslett. He wondered if the Saints want to win.

Kyle also isn't timid about informing everyone just how valuable a commodity he is -- in the Saints' locker room, where he claims he is loved unconditionally by each and every one of his teammates, and on the playing field, where Kyle believes his performance is highly deserving of All-Pro accolades each and every season.

Legend-in-his-own-mind Kyle created this fiction because he wants out of New Orleans. He's aiming for a bigger media market, where he can get billing as the star attraction rather than the baying national media hound that he is.

The Saints would love to accommodate the left tackle. But under no circumstances will they simply give a former No. 1 draft choice away, despite his penchant for torching bridges.

The thing is, every time Kyle bellows "wolf" he becomes less and less attractive to potential traders who aren't interested in head-case headaches. Wouldn't it be ironic if Kyle were left with no way out, if he was forced to play for the Saints this season, competing against free-agent acquisition Wayne Gandy for a spot, not in the Pro Bowl, but in the New Orleans starting lineup?

Like Kyle, Laveranues is terribly unhappy. Unlike Kyle, Laveranues hasn't picked on any Jets individually. He simply despises the entire organization.

That came to light last week when Laveranues, a restricted free agent, signed an offer sheet with the Washington Redskins calling for a ransom-like $13 million signing bonus and an average salary of $7 million per season. Laveranues boldly suggested the Jets not bother matching the offer; he didn't want to come back after the Jets low-balled him with a preliminary offer that was in the plush neighborhood of $6 million to sign and $4 million per year.

"I don't want no bitter feelings out there, (but) they didn't step up to the plate," he said of the Jets.

Seconds later, the third-year wide receiver reversed his field.

"Of course I'm a little bit bitter about the way they tried to handle me," said Coles, who apparently has no understanding of how contract negotiations work.

Laveranues has a very selective memory. The former Florida State bad boy who was booted off the Seminoles team forgot the Jets made him a third-round draft choice when few teams were willing to take a chance on him. He doesn't recall the Jets showed patience, bringing him along slowly until he blossomed in 2002, his breakout season with 89 catches for 1,264 yards and five touchdowns.

Something else also slipped Laveranues' mind. The Jets have until Wednesday to match the Redskins' offer. Perhaps he'll have some 'splaining to do should he remain a Jet.

The third player is Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals strong safety.

Tillman had a higher calling before the start of the 2002 season. He traded training camp for boot camp. He walked away from a new contract that would have paid him millions and straight into an $18,000-per-year Army gig, where he'll risk his life to make the world a safer place. He enlisted, signing on for duty in 75th Ranger Regiment, a unit that usually finds its way to the hottest of hot spots.

Tillman is mentioned because his father recently told the Los Angeles Times that his son had been deployed. Tillman's father didn't say where, but the turbulent Middle East is a good guess.

Chances are Tillman will be at war before the week's end. And if you ask me, the war Tillman is about to wage trivializes the pain of Kyle's and Laveranues' personal conflicts.

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