Dolphins' Fryar's feelings for Patriots still run very deep


MIAMI -- Ordained Minister Irving Fryar had turned one of the benches in the Miami Dolphins' locker room into a pulpit of sorts Thursday and he was delivering a message of rebirth.

He is a man shadowed by a troubled past and the torrent of bad publicity such a past nourishes. But this is not about that already well-documented history. This is about the present and the future.

On this day, Fryar was speaking of his new life in a new city, playing football for the Dolphins, his new team.

"It's fair to say I'm reborn," Fryar said. "I'm on a different team, one of the best teams in the NFL. If that's not a change, and a change for the better, I don't know what is."

Today, the Dolphins will play the New England Patriots -- the team Fryar left in April -- and the occasion has brought on a rush of nostalgia for the wide receiver.

"It's a different type of feeling," he said. "I've had to sit down and take deep breaths this week to slow my heart down when I've been sitting in the meetings watching tapes of them play."

Fryar met his wife, Jacqueline, through a friend who worked for the Patriots. He established himself as one of the most lethal deep threats in the NFL by catching 363 passes for 5,726 yards in nine years with the Patriots. He has brought those pleasant memories with him.

But he has left the pain behind.

"I'm still bound to the New England Patriots," he says proudly. "It'll be that way until the last guy I know there leaves. Michael Timpson, my best friend in the league, is on that team. Andre Tippett and I shared a lot of things on and off the field there. Those are impossible ties to break.

"But I'm not bound to the bad things that happened there. I left those behind."

When Fryar came to the Dolphins in April, he spoke of his childhood when he dreamed of being a Navy pilot. But those dreams of soaring in the heavens have been replaced by the reality of living his life planted firmly on solid ground.

"I'm a professional football player but at one point when I was in New England I used to wish I wasn't," Fryar said. "God has turned my life around. From the team that I play with, to the people I'm around, to my home. Everything is on the right track now and I have no complaints."

There can be little to complain about when at the ripe football age of 31, Fryar is still considered in his prime. He leads the team in receptions (38), yards (566), and is tied with Keith Jackson and Terry Kirby with four touchdowns.

"He's brought everything we hoped he'd bring when we made the trade," Dolphins Coach Don Shula said. "He can run and get deep, he has great work habits that have influenced a lot of other people, and he's very physical."

Being physical has never been synonymous with Dolphins receivers; certainly not in the past decade when Mark Duper and Mark Clayton avoided as many blocks as they made.

But Fryar has gained a well-deserved reputation with the Dolphins as a punishing downfield blocker.

"He taught me a lesson or two when he hit me a couple of times the first game we played," Jets safety Ronnie Lott said. "He doesn't back down from anyone."

Fryar hasn't backed away from a leadership role with the Dolphins, a role his former Patriots teammates say he wasn't completely comfortable with until his last days in New England.

When O.J. McDuffie believed himself to be in a punt and kickoff return slump earlier this season, the rookie first-round draft pick turned to Fryar for advice. Fryar performed the same duties in his early days in New England and he imparted that experience to McDuffie. The next game, McDuffie returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown.

"This is my first year and I'm still trying to get to know some of these guys so I try to lead by example on the field," Fryar said. "But if something needs to said, I'll speak up."

Once the source of controversy on the Patriots, Fryar is now a calming influence with the Dolphins. He played for three coaches and caught passes from nine quarterbacks in his nine years as a Patriot and not always without complaint.

Now in the thick of a Dolphins quarterback crisis, Fryar is the voice of optimism.

"I'm one of the guys here who believes in himself and his teammates," Fryar said. "We get into the huddle and hold hands and say we believe because the players here are so close. We don't have cliques and egos don't clash."

Certainly, Fryar's ego hasn't peaked through yet.

"I'm not the No. 1 guy here," he said. "People aren't going to go to me first like they did in New England because we have a lot of talent here. You got guys like Keith Byars, Keith Jackson and Mark Ingram -- and these are big name guys. I'm in the background and I like it that way because people won't pay as much attention to me."

With his new life as a Dolphin, Fryar has already thought about his long-term goals. He has moved his family to South Florida from Massachusetts and is looking for a home to buy.

"I'd like to play another four or five years," Fryar said. "I'd love to finish my career here and when its over I'd like to be remembered as somebody who thought about himself second rather than first, and someone who gave it his all. I want to be remembered as a good father, a good husband and a good friend."

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