The New England Patriots are not very good at winning football games these days, but they are very good at stonewalling.
That was the conclusion of special counsel Philip Heymann in his report to commissioner Paul Tagliabue on the locker room incident involving Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson. It resulted in fines of Patriots management and three players -- Zeke Mowatt, Mike Timpson and Robert Perryman, who's now with the Dallas Cowboys.
In his report, Heymann said that coach Rod Rust was very cooperative, but the coach doubted that "the players would be frank."
Heymann said: "Coach Rust was right. A sizeable number of players were unwilling to reveal more than a carefully selected part of what the investigators believe they must have known. The risks of revelations of personal involvement or of being labeled a 'snitch' may have been far greater than any benefits these players could foresee from full cooperation, even with the encouragment of Coach Rust."
All this goes a long way to explain why the Patriots are 1-10.
It's a little tough for the players to concentrate on football when the players are stonewalling a controversial issue and are obviously concerned about whether their teammates are going to stick together.
Now that the investigation is over and the ruling is in, the question is what do the Patriots do next? Are they finally going to let the issue drop so they can start concentrating on football?
Robert Fraley, Mowatt's attorney, said it's not over yet last week. He threatened legal action.
"We are going to look at every reasonable basis to proceed legally in this case," Fraley said. He contends Mowatt passed a lie detector test.
Fraley also has good connections in the league. He represents such coaches as Bill Parcells of the New York Giants and Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins.
If Fraley goes to court, he'll have to overcome Heymann's testimoney that Mowatt's account "is not credible" -- a lawyer's way of saying Mowatt lied.
Since Mowatt was fined only $12,500 (Timpson and Perryman were fined $5,000), it would seem to be easier to pay the fine than fight a court battle against long odds.
Which brings up the question of why the fines were so small since the counsel said he "believes" Olson's account and said Mowatt wasn't credible. Remember, Sam Wyche, the coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, was fined almost $28,000 simply for barring a woman from a locker room.
As quarterback Boomer Esiason said: "It was kind of like Sam is being charged with murder when all he's committed is a misdemeanor. And they're being charged with a misdemeanor when they've committed a felony," he said.
The league points out Wyche is a repeat offender because he's violated locker room policies in the past.
The more logical explanation is that Tagliabue is still wearing his lawyer's hat. A good lawyer tries to keep his client out of court. Tagliabue knew Wyche wasn't going to take him to court. He knew Fraley was a threat to do that.
His fines -- combined with the release of the report that vindicated Olson although it said there were some "inconsistencies" in her story -- were large enough to satisfy the reporter and her paper. Tagliabue's hoping they're small enough to keep Fraley from going to court.
The next move is Fraley's.
Victor Kiam, the owner of the Patriots, whose club was fined $50,000 for mishandling the incident, has yet to comment.
It remains to be seen whether Kiam plans any major shakeup or whether he's going to keep the team or sell it.
General manager Patrick Sullivan, who's been under fire for his role in the incident, said Kiam has given him no indication he's planning major moves and said, "He wants to get on with the season, move forward."
If there was any positive development out of all this, it was that Tagliabue announced that $25,000 of the $50,000 the Patriots were fined will be used to prepare materials for all NFL personnel on "responsible dealings with the media."
The NFL has paid little attention in recent years to educating players about the role of the media. Forget the harassment problem. It's difficult to simply get many players to even do interviews.
For example, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana was a no-show in the locker room in the middle of last week during the interview periods.
Maybe the NFL should enlist the services of the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He was at Redskin Park Friday and talked to the players about their responsibility as role models and the importance of community service and dealing with the media.
In this era of one-newspaper towns, newspaper wars are mostly a thing of the past. But they are still alive and well in Boston, where one aspect of the Olson story that didn't get much national attention was how much of a war it started between the Herald and the Boston Globe.
The attacks were quite personal, too. In September, Joe Fitzgerald of the Herald wrote of Mike Madden of the Globe, "The poor bum's memory has to be receding faster than his hairline."
Just last week, after the Herald criticized Will McDonough of the Globe for his reports on NBC, McDonough wrote that Bob Sales, the sports editor of the Herald, is a "spineless wimp."
This is journalism's version of Buddy Ryan and Jerry Glanville. William Randolph Hearst would have loved it.
There were a lot of long faces in the offices of the NFL and ABC-TV last week after the Giants and 49ers lost. That left both teams at 10-1 instead of 11-0 for tomorrow night's game. ABC-TV promos had to call it the "almost perfect" matchup.
For the real football fans, though, the 49ers' loss made the game even bigger. If the 49ers are still the 49ers of the 1980s, they can't lose two games in a row.
If they lose this one, it's likely to mean they've started to decline. It could be the most significant Monday night game since Oct. 20, 1980, when the Pittsburgh Steelers, seeking their third straight Super Bowl victory, were 4-2 going into a game against the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders beat the Steelers, 45-34, and went on to win the Super Bowl. The Steelers dropped to 4-3 and wound up missing the playoffs at 9-7.
The 49ers will make the playoffs regardless of whether they win or lose, but if they're destined to three-peat, they should win this one.
George Seifert started out 27-2 as a head coach before the 49ers lost to the Los Angeles Rams last week. That was the best first 29-game record of any coach in league history.
In the game's early days, George Halas started out 24-2-3 and LeRoy Anderson of the Giants started out 24-4-1.
In more recent times, Don McCafferty of the Baltimore Colts started out 23-5-1 and Allie Sherman of the Giants and John Rauch of the Oakland Raiders were 22-6-1.
Chuck Knox of the Rams and Red Miller of the Denver Broncos started out 22-7. John Madden of the Raiders was 21-5-3 and Blanton Collier of the Cleveland Browns was 21-7-1. Don Shula began with a 20-9 mark with the Colts and Ted Marchibroda started out 21-8 with the Colts.
Paul Brown started out 25-3-1 with the Browns in 1946, but the NFL doesn't count that because the team was in the old All-America Conference. When they joined the NFL in 1950, he started out 24-5.
After the loss to the Rams, Seifert was left with a .500 record -- 2-2 -- against them. He's 25-1 against the rest of the teams. The Green Bay Packers are the only other team to beat him.
How quarterbacks live better than linebackers or lifestyles of the rich and famous football players:
John Elway of the Broncos bought a home for $397,000 in 1984 and sold it recently to teammate Simon Fletcher for $450,000 even though the Denver housing market is slumping.
Elway then paid $1.6 million for a 9,150-square-foot home with a 2,700-square-foot basement, an outdoor pool and a tennis court on two acres. Of course, it comes with a burglar alarm. No word on whether it comes with a butler.
Don't look for former Cleveland coach Bud Carson to take any more pot shots at the Browns' front office.
He's still owed five more weeks on his $350,000 salary for this season and $400,000 for next season after being fired three weeks ago and his contract includes a clause forbidding him to criticise the club in public.
After he said his hands were tied by the team office last week, the Browns kept paying him but his latest check included a reminder that further comments could result in a cutoff.
Statistics to note: The Broncos have lost four straight games for the first time since 1972. If they lose today, it'll be the first time they've lost five straight since 1967. . . . The Kansas City Chiefs are in first place at this point for the first time since 1981.