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Baby on board, but not for free

Frank Feeney was eager to get to his seats last Oct. 10 at Gillette Stadium to watch his beloved Patriots pound the hated Miami Dolphins. But where were his wife and baby?

As Feeney waited with growing irritation, he couldn't believe it was taking them so long to go through the required security search and get through the turnstile. After about 20 minutes, he couldn't believe the reason for the delay: His 13-month-old, 22-pound daughter Sidney had been denied entry because she didn't have a ticket. For a baby?

Much to the couple's surprise, while their daughter can fly across the country on one of her parents' laps, or nap to her heart's content at a Celtics, Bruins, or Revolution game for no charge until age 2 or at a Red Sox game until age 3, it cost Sidney's parents another $49 to tote her inside Gillette Stadium.

For a team whose owner so often says his first thought is always for ''the fans of New England," it seemed a bit much to the Feeneys.

''When my wife finally showed up, she was flustered," Feeney, a North Attleborough attorney, recalled last week. ''They took my wife out of line and sent her to the ticket office and charged her 50 bucks [actually $49 for a standing-room ticket].

''I was really ticked off. The people around us couldn't believe it. I was going to write a letter, but then I just figured, they charge so much for everything anyway, what's the point?"

Don't the Krafts own the Revolution? And don't they play in the same stadium as the Patriots?

Same stadium, same owner, different policy?

''We don't want to encourage fans to bring infants," explained Patriots spokesman Stacey James. ''For a sold-out venue, we have to account for everyone. It's more difficult to assure their safety when there's 68,000-plus people packed in the stadium. It's a much different environment at a Revolution game or at any event that's not at capacity."

So, he was asked, would infants be admitted to a Patriots game for the same price they're charged for flying American Airlines to San Francisco if the game isn't sold out?

''I would guess this has been in effect since we've been at capacity," James said.

Why is an infant at greater risk at sold-out Gillette Stadium than he or she might be at, say, equally sold-out and even more cramped Fenway Park or the FleetCenter, where the child is admitted for free as long as the baby is on a parent's lap? More to the point, how does paying $49 decrease that risk?

''I'm not saying that it does," James answered. ''I'm just saying we don't want to encourage fans to bring infants to our games because it's hard for us to ensure their safety. We don't allow strollers into Patriot games but we do allow them at Revolution games. It's a different atmosphere.

''Maybe nothing has happened to harm a child at a sold-out venue. I don't know. But anytime you set policy on a ticket issue, you try and do what's in the best interest of a majority of fans. Looking back at the history [of fan behavior in Foxborough], we're not going to encourage that. We want to discourage it."

The Patriots are not alone in this view, although they are in a minority. A survey of the 32 NFL teams found that 20 allow infants and small children in for free as long as they sit on a parent's lap. Eleven did not and one, the Carolina Panthers, was not able to be reached for comment.

Even the Oakland Raiders allow free admission for children 2 and under, although some people might be of the opinion that their parents should be stopped at the turnstiles and fined $50 for considering bringing an infant in there.

''I'm surprised everyone doesn't do it," said one NFL ticket director. ''Charging for a baby? That's out of line."

NFL spokesman Steve Alic said there is no leaguewide policy on this, except for the Super Bowl, where every patron must have a ticket to enter. So if you intend to take your infant on a stadium trip, check the list of team policies.

As for the Feeneys, they're still Patriots fans and still planning to be back at Gillette Stadium this fall . . . but not with a ticketless Sidney.

Grossman is learning the hard way

Starting quarterback Rex Grossman returned to the Bears' recent minicamp only to be greeted with his third new playbook in as many pro seasons. Even under the best of circumstances, life is hard enough for a young quarterback trying to learn defenses, but the former University of Florida player has had to master five playbooks in five years, two in college and three in the pros. It's a wonder he ever makes the right call in the huddle, let alone at the line.

''Obviously, I wish I was in one system and could grow, but since I've played in only six games [in Chicago, in part because of a knee injury], it's not that big a deal," Grossman said.

That's debatable, since Grossman will bring his playbook on his honeymoon after he marries Alison Miska in early July.

What is not debatable is that Grossman is starting over again under new offensive coordinator Ron Turner. But new plays are not the only changes. So are new players, and they, at least, the QB probably welcomes.

The Bears will have only two offensive starters from their 2003 team: Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz and tight end Desmond Clark. Among the additions this fall to an offense that averaged barely a touchdown a game after Grossman's injury and allowed a club-record 66 sacks is No. 1 draft choice Cedric Benson, considered one of the three top backs in the draft and a power runner who will allow Chicago to get back to a more basic offense designed to minimize the demands on a young quarterback.

The addition of Benson and All-Pro wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who was signed away from the Carolina Panthers in free agency, gives Chicago more weapons than it has had offensively in some time. But Grossman may be happiest about the signing of tackle Fred Miller, who was released by the Tennessee Titans in a salary cap move.

The improved roster has Grossman looking forward to getting back under center this fall. All he has to do is learn another book full of plays.

In Philadelphia, it's owner vs. Owens

Philadelphia's Jeffrey Lurie is one of the best owners in football and a guy who responds to the kind of effort Terrell Owens gave in February's Super Bowl, when he came back from ankle surgery when it was thought he was lost for the season.

What Lurie doesn't respond to is threats like the ones Owens and agent Drew Rosenhaus have been making about withholding the mercurial wide receiver's services if he doesn't get a new contract.

Didn't this guy handpick the team to which he was traded last year and settle on the Eagles?

And didn't he cry the blues to get there when it seemed he was headed for the Baltimore Ravens in a trade with the 49ers?

And didn't he have one of the best seasons of his career on a team that won the NFC title?

And didn't he agree to the $49 million deal a year ago that he now wants rewritten? Certainly he doesn't like the fact that these contracts are all one way -- meaning the team can dump him whenever it wants but he's stuck with the terms -- but that's what his union has done for him, so he should take it up there.

What will Lurie do? Don't count on him blinking. Owens plays or he sits. Period. Lurie, meanwhile, continues building one of the league's best organizations.

Etc.

A lot on his hands
Muhsin Muhammad is far more than a Pro Bowl wide receiver. He also is the CEO of his own record company, a real estate developer with projects in four states, and a partner in a day-care and learning center, Ruckus House in Charlotte, N.C., that he hopes to franchise around the country. He also runs a football camp that raises funds for muscular dystrophy, founded a big-brother type organization called M2Foundation, and is the spokesman for Men For Change, which raises money and awareness for a battered women's shelter. Other than that, he's not very busy.

Tee time with Flutie
Doug Flutie will host his sixth annual golf tournament to raise funds for Flutie's Autism Foundation July 12 at Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth. There will be a dinner party July 11 at 6 p.m., an appearance by the Flutie Brothers Band (with Doug on drums), and a silent auction as well as the day on the links with Flutie and a host of other celebrities. A limited number of foursomes is available. For information, call 508-270-8855.

Red is in the black
Some folks around Minnesota spent a lot of time questioning the intelligence of former Vikings owner Red McCombs during his tenure in the NFL. McCombs, who sold the team for $600 million last week to New Jersey shopping mall developer Zygmunt Wilf, only made about a $350 million profit on his original investment seven years ago. Wilf said at the owners meetings last week in Washington that he would like to build an open-air stadium in Minneapolis rather than play in a dome. ''I think that's a good advantage to have some of the other teams come up to our nice, warm Minnesota winters so they can enjoy playing football up where it hurts, a la Green Bay," said Wilf. Man for hireWandering free agent tackle L.J. Shelton, recently released by the Cardinals when efforts to trade him to Buffalo failed, passed a physical last week in Chicago but has at least four other suitors.

Insurance man
The Dolphins' signing of ex-Patriot nose tackle Keith Traylor may be explained in part by reports that defensive tackle Tim Bowens has a back injury that could end his career and defensive tackle Larry Chester is making a slow recovery from knee surgery.

Don't go there
For the second time in three years, Colts running back Edgerrin James has not shown for mandatory minicamp. He's not happy with the one-year tender offer he was forced to accept as the team's franchise player for $8.1 million. With his injury history, it's understandable that he wants a long-term deal, but he also has long said he'd rather work out in his native Miami than in Indianapolis in springtime, and who can blame him? Colts owner Jimmy Irsay made it clear last week that he expects James to be in camp July 27 and in the lineup when the Colts begin their exhibition season.

Play it again
Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan plans to steal a page from the playbook of his father, Buddy Ryan, and use the ''46" defense. The senior Ryan put together what some feel is the greatest defense ever, the 1985 Bears, who crushed the Patriots with the 46 in the Super Bowl. His son believes it can work for his team as well. Ryan and offensive coordinator Jim Fassel spent two hours explaining their systems to the Baltimore media last week, with diagrams.

The moneychangers
According to sources inside the owners' meeting rooms, there was no progress on plans to expand revenue sharing and redefine the designated gross revenues that establish the salary cap. The Players Association is insisting those revenues be expanded to include more local revenue, but newer owners with more debt service are balking. Reportedly, Falcons owner Arthur Blank has gone so far as to tell some of his associates he'd be happy to compete without a salary cap, apparently believing he could become the NFL version of George Steinbrenner and spend his way into the Super Bowl. That is exactly what the NFL would be facing in two years if the collective bargaining agreement isn't extended. And that would be a disaster to budget-conscious operations like the Patriots.

Three cheers for Brown
Several e-mailers have asked for a comment on Troy Brown's decision to accept less money to return to New England without the promise of a job rather than go to New Orleans to become the Saints' No. 3 receiver. To that I say, if he's happy, I'm happy, because Brown is one of the best football players I have ever seen and a better guy. Not the best receiver or the best return man or the best defensive back. One of the best pure football players. If this were the 1940s, he'd be playing offense, defense, and special teams, and making plays in all three areas. Now that I think about it, didn't he do that in 2004?

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


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