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This hobby can be hobbling

NFL players and motorcycles. What's the fascination?

There seems to be a steady stream of players taking up motorcycling as a hobby. On any given day in the Patriots' locker room, you can see photos of elaborate vehicle and custom appointments.

Most of the motorcycles are the touring kind ridden by Seattle coach Mike Holmgren and Dallas quarterback Drew Bledsoe, among others.

But in Kellen Winslow Jr.'s case, the thrill of riding a fast sport bike sent him flying over the handlebars while he was attempting wheelies on May 1. He hit a curb and wound up in intensive care at the Cleveland Clinic with internal injuries and a right knee problem.

Winslow, 21, broke his right leg in the second game of last season and was out for the year; now he could miss some of his second season in the NFL, too.

''I'd rather see them bungee jumping," said the recently retired Chad Eaton, who was once an avid biker.

''I saw more and more guys get into bikes over the years. In Seattle, we had five or six starters riding them, and Coach Holmgren. It's not so much that guys can't control them, it's more that other people on the road don't see you. Two weeks ago, one of my best friends was on a chopper and was killed by a truck that didn't see him. A couple of days ago, I sold my chopper. It just isn't worth it."

Apparently, riding motorcycles gives some players the same kind of rush they get on the football field.

''I have a few clients with bikes and hopefully they're just collecting them and looking at them rather than riding them," said super-agent Tom Condon, who wouldn't name names. ''I'm telling them to keep off them. It's not worth risking your health, your life, and your career over it."

Some players have been hurt playing basketball. Some skiing. Former Patriots running back Robert Edwards essentially ended his career when he was injured playing flag football on a beach in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl.

If there's a surprise in all this, it's that more players haven't been injured.

In Paragraph 3 of every NFL contract, it says, ''The player agrees to refrain from ANY activity -- other than football -- which may involve a significant risk of personal injury." Motorcycling is listed as one of the dangerous activities in Winslow's contract.

''I think it's a different mentality for a younger guy vs. an older guy," said avid biker and former NFL linebacker/long snapper Steve DeOssie. ''For a younger guy, there's that feeling of invincibility. It's exciting, there's a rush you get from those fast bikes. I think the older guys just enjoy the ride and the freedom of it."

Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson said he was almost lured into riding by Bledsoe years ago. He still toys with the idea, but as a father of four, he's glad he resisted the temptation.

''I think football players are adrenaline junkies," said Johnson. ''It makes sense that some of the same things you like about football, you'd like about riding a bike. There is some danger involved and I think that's part of it. It's also a status thing. We're part of all these shows on cable like 'Orange County Choppers.' There's something edgy and cool about it. What I'm amazed with is how extravagant some of these bikes are and the types of things you can add to them."

Agent Brad Blank remembers that client Jeff Lageman, a defensive lineman for the Jets and Jaguars, was an avid biker, but he quickly gave it up when ''around his third year with the Jets, he told me he took a minor spill on a rain-drenched, slippery surface. That was it for him and motorcycles. He sold his Harleys, swore off them. Too much to lose, he told me."

Carl Poston, who represents Winslow, has received an education in how popular motorcycles are with NFL players. And he was amazed at how much attention the Winslow story has received.

''I flew into Cleveland to see him at 11 p.m. at night and there were cameras at the airport waiting for me," said Poston. ''I heard that parts of his motorcycle were already selling on eBay and a radio station in Cleveland was offering $1,000 for the picture of Kellen in the hospital. It got to the point where they had to have a police officer stationed outside his room because there were hospital employees trying to get in taking pictures of him with their phones."

Poston has already had a fatherly talk with his young client.

''Basically it was, 'What the hell were you doing riding a motorcycle and doing wheelies?' " said Poston. ''He promised we've seen the last of it."

Poston remains optimistic that Winslow will be able to resume his career.

''I've talked to the doctors," he said. ''Kellen has already recovered from the internal injuries. He's got swelling in his knee, and when that goes down, we'll be able to assess what the damage is on that."

While Browns general manager Phil Savage and head coach Romeo Crennel said in a press conference that they will not cut Winslow, there is the possibility that some of his signing bonus can be taken away.

''I have no idea if they'll attempt that," Poston said. ''We haven't talked about that. Right now, my concern -- and I know their concern -- has been Kellen's health."

A lizard king in Foxborough

Check out www.proexotics.com and you can get an idea of what new Patriots linebacker Chad Brown does in his spare time. Brown has built up a lucrative reptile business based in Littleton, Colo., which, among other things, sells and breeds exotic snakes.

We get the feeling there'll be some interesting visitors to the Patriots' locker room this year, and some of the offensive linemen who enjoy playing pranks on Tom Brady might have some new ammunition.

Among the featured items Brown sells are snow and albino boas, pythons, and lizards of all kinds.

''I remember he was really into that when he was at Colorado," said Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson. ''I know he used to go on safaris in Africa and stuff. I didn't realize he had turned it into such a business."

Brown, who was a big fan of ''Wild Kingdom" growing up, got his first boa while he was at Colorado but didn't start the business until 1993, when he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

On his site, Brown writes, ''We encourage responsible reptile ownership, and our selection of animals, and the support service that accompanies that, reflects our passion not just for animals, but for the industry itself."

Brown, who says he keeps a cage of reptiles near his workroom in his house, has two offshoots of the website, one called tempgun.com, which sells infrared thermometers, and breakyou.com, which is fight gear.

Brown is also a snowboarder and a BMX biker.

He broke the bank, but not the Colts

Agent Tom Condon, who has represented 34 first-round draft picks in the last nine years, negotiated the biggest deal in NFL history -- Peyton Manning's 10-year, $98 million deal with a $34.5 million signing bonus -- and he considers the rap that his client left the Colts fiscally strapped ''intentionally misinformed."

Said Condon, ''First of all, if we hadn't renegotiated the deal, Peyton's cap charge would have been $18 million [the franchise number]. We reduced that by $10 million [though it rises to $17.6 million, compared with Tom Brady's $14.4 million next season]. It didn't inhibit the Colts in signing Marvin Harrison [another Condon client] to the biggest deal for a wide receiver, or from signing their right tackle, Ryan Diem."

Condon said the agent's job, first and foremost, is to get the best deal for his client, and secondly, ''You want to be able to surround your players with good players."

Etc.

A Vital piece will be missing
Patriots vice president Scott Pioli received a pretty neat honor when he was inducted into the Central Connecticut State University Hall of Fame Friday (he is Class of 1988 and was a star defensive tackle), but his personnel staff continues to take hits. The latest to flee is assistant director of college scouting Lionel Vital, a main cog in talent evaluation during the Super Bowl runs. Vital has joined the Baltimore Ravens as their national scout, more of a lateral move than a promotion. Two years ago, the Patriots lost top assistant Jason Licht to the Philadelphia Eagles, and last year, pro personnel assistant director Keith Kidd resigned.

It's waive or goodbye
If Tedy Bruschi decides to play again, the Patriots will ask him to sign an injury waiver to protect themselves from liability. There's probably no way around it, unless the Patriots want to open themselves up to a major lawsuit, but the scope of the waiver could be narrowed to something very specific. Even if Bruschi signed a waiver, was injured, and had his career end, he would have a few alternatives for collecting income, including a one-time $275,000 disability payment from the league, workers' compensation, severance pay, and disability insurance.

BC connection
Boston College guys take care of each other. When Doug Flutie decided to forgo a reunion with Tom Coughlin (his offensive coordinator in college) and sign with the Patriots, it opened the door for Tim Hasselbeck to join the Giants after he was waived by Washington. ''Tell Doug, thank you," said Hasselbeck, who will compete with Jesse Palmer (''The Bachelor") for the backup job behind Eli Manning. Hasselbeck and Manning already have a lot in common. They each have brothers who are NFL quarterbacks, and while Hasselbeck was at his workouts, a film guy showed the two highlights of their fathers -- Don Hasselbeck and Archie Manning -- playing together with the Minnesota Vikings in 1984. The Seahawks considered reuniting Hasselbeck with his brother, Matt, but in the end, ''They found it a little weird," according to Tim.

Chads hang together
According to former Patriot and Seahawk Chad Eaton, he received a call from Bill Belichick two weeks ago seeking an opinion on Chad Brown, who was an Eaton teammate in Seattle. ''Bill asked me what kind of a guy he was in the locker room," said Eaton, ''and I gave him the thumbs-up."

A matter of definition
Linebacker Ted Johnson, heading into the last year of his contract with the Patriots, said of his situation, ''I have a defined role. Will it expand? I have no idea. I'd welcome that, but I haven't been told." Johnson said he's a ''rock-solid" 250 pounds and feels as good as he ever has.

Givin' him more?
It's not out of the realm of possibility that Patriots receiver David Givens signs a multiyear deal before the season. Givens was signed to a one-year, $1.43 million tender, but there might be more to come.

Interested parties
Ty Law visited the Lions and Dolphins this past week. According to Carl Poston, the other teams that have called expressing interest are the Colts, Jets, Buccaneers, Chiefs, Jaguars, and Steelers. The Chiefs are interested in a one-year deal, but that, according to Poston, won't get it done.

Speaking the same language
Tom Condon, who represents top draft pick Alex Smith, said as of Thursday that he and the 49ers were in ''the language phase" of the contract negotiations, meaning that the numbers had just about been agreed upon.

Bucs hope he's a fast learner
Tampa Bay speed coach Mike Morris said former Auburn running back Cadillac Williams, who was drafted fifth overall by the Bucs, is as advertised: fast and explosive. Now the trick is to get him into not only NFL shape but into NFL Florida shape. ''When you come from a college program, I think the kids are used to doing heavy weights and doing a lot right off the bat," said Morris. ''Because of the long season and the heat down here, we have to make sure that they're prepared for a 20-plus-game season and playoffs. We don't want them hitting a wall. We can do more quality speed work here because of the weather. Work on more explosive type of drills. But I'll tell you, he looks like the real deal to me."

Imitation quarterback
With the Patriots scheduled to face Michael Vick, J.P. Losman, Jake Plummer, and Aaron Brooks this season, Flutie should give them a good approximation in practice on the scout team.

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.


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