NEW ORLEANS -- New England Patriots offensive tackle Max Lane never thought the road to the Naval Academy would lead him to Bourbon Street and Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans.
Lane has pinched himself every morning this week.
The odds were stacked against him when he first enrolled at Navy, not exactly a college power, and the path was almost blocked by a controversy at the academy that forced him to leave without fulfilling his five-year obligation.
But that was several years ago. Now Lane, 26, is about to play in one of sports' ultimate events against Green Bay defensive end Reggie White, one of the best linemen ever.
"I never did think I would be doing this," said Lane. "I was happy Lane to play college football, much less doing what I'm doing now.
"I played against him [White] in the preseason for the first time and that's when I had that starry look in my eye," said Lane, 6 feet 6, who was selected by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 1994 draft. "This time, I'm not going to let anything bother me. I'm not going to back down from him."
Lane apparently had a rough time during his last year at Navy. According to academy sources, Lane was forced to leave after his senior season because he was one of several midshipmen caught cheating on an examination.
Lane declined to comment on the incident yesterday.
"I don't want to go into it," said Lane. "Everything has kind of worked out for me, and I wouldn't have been able to accomplish this if it wasn't for the Naval Academy."
Lane came to the NFL one year after Green Bay took Navy defensive lineman Rob Kuberski in the seventh round of the 1993 draft. Kuberski is a third-string defensive end for the Packers.
"When I saw the scouts coming out to look at Kuberski, that's when I knew I could get a look," said Lane. "Actually, that's when I first thought about getting out of the academy."
Kuberski fulfilled two years of his five-year military obligation before leaving, but was forced to pay the academy restitution for the final three years.
Lane, a native of the small Midwestern town of Norborne, Mo. (population 850), had no such restrictions. He said he received support from Navy officials and teammates, and there was no harassment from former players or officers.
"There was no hate mail or criticism from anyone, especially my teammates," said Lane. "Bob was treated a little different because he got something from them he can use the rest of his life. They wanted to make it a little tougher on him. He got a degree and that's prestigious from the Naval Academy. I didn't get a degree."
Lane has been almost an instant hit with the Patriots. He played in 14 games as a rookie, mostly on special teams. During his first two training camps, Lane was listed behind Pat Harlow, who had started 65 straight games until a stress fracture knocked him out of the lineup in the 1995 preseason.
Lane has been starting ever since, even forcing the Patriots to trade Harlow to the Oakland Raiders for a second-round draft pick last April.
"There are a lot of young players who have developed on this team like Curtis Martin and Drew Bledsoe, but maybe no player developed faster than Max Lane," said Patriots coach Bill Parcells.
"At Navy, I played right tackle and never did go against speed guys," said Lane. "We played against Notre Dame, but even those guys can't match the speed here. In this league, you have to prepare well all the time. You have to get into a routine and know what to look for. I've come a long way."
Max Lane file
Position: Offensive tackle
How acquired: Draft (6th round, 1994)
Highlights: Started in place of an injured Pat Harlow at offensive tackle in Week 1 of the 1995 season and has not given up the job. Was a three-year starter at Navy and finished his career with 32 consecutive starts.
Pub Date: 1/22/97