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Colts, Saints must avoid temptations
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MIAMIParty in the city where the heat is on/
All night on the beach till the break of dawn.
— Will Smith, "Miami"
The song is 12 years old, but the lyrics still ring true.
Welcome to Miami — host of Super Bowl XLIV and international tourist destination filled with as many around-the-clock temptations as Las Vegas. Only what happens here Super Bowl week won’t be staying here because of all the media attention on the game.
As Miami Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell put it: “It’s unfortunate, but that’s what South Florida holds. If you’re out there and looking for no good, you’re going to get into trouble.”
Two of the most notable off-field incidents in Super Bowl history — Cincinnati running back Stanley Wilson’s 1989 cocaine binge and Atlanta safety Eugene Robinson’s 1999 solicitation arrest — occurred in Miami on the eve of title games. This is proof that even teams following a well-structured Super Bowl schedule such as Indianapolis and New Orleans can have players stray off course.
According to database information from the San Diego Union-Tribune, 15 NFL players were arrested in South Florida during the past decade for alcohol-related offenses or disturbances outside clubs. The most notable came last year, when Cleveland wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth struck and killed a pedestrian while driving home intoxicated.
Stallworth was returning at dawn from a downtown Miami club (Club Space) that is open 24 hours a day on weekends. Venues in Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach stay open until 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., respectively, although after-hours spots run much later. Unlike in other NFL cities, cold weather rarely deters South Floridians from hitting the town at all hours. Liquor can be purchased at any time. Illegal drugs are easy to find. And the kicker: Travel + Leisure magazine ranks Miami as the city with the nation’s most attractive people.
The nightlife will be hopping during Super Bowl week with private parties and an influx of celebrities rolling into town. That means greater enticements as well.
“Everybody has seen 'Miami Vice'. You’ve got girls walking around in bikinis on the beach, and the clubs are open all night,” said Minnesota left guard Steve Hutchinson, who was raised in South Florida. “It’s just the atmosphere that gets everyone in the mood to party. There’s no mistake about what people come down here for.”
A partying player doesn’t even need to run afoul of the law to get into hot water. Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie was kicked off the NFC’s Pro Bowl squad after missing two days of practice. McKinnie claimed an ankle injury, but his fingers were working just fine. McKinnie tweeted about hitting a South Beach hot spot and making a stop at “KOD’s.” Unless he actually meant KFC, McKinnie was likely referring to King of Diamonds, a well-known strip club located in North Miami.
McKinnie’s past clearly didn’t temper his Pro Bowl-week socializing. A University of Miami graduate, McKinnie was arrested in February 2008 following a brawl outside Club Space. McKinnie allegedly entered a strip joint after being ejected, then returned to Club Space to continue arguing with a patron. McKinnie was suspended by the NFL for four games but ultimately had the four criminal charges dismissed by completing a pretrial program.
During a December interview, McKinnie said he appreciated the support of Vikings coach Brad Childress during his legal ordeal. McKinnie, though, said there was a point where he began feeling “a little overwhelmed” because Childress was “calling me too much and keeping track” of his offseason whereabouts.
“I would leave on weekends, and he would say, ‘You shouldn’t go back to Florida,’” McKinnie said.
After last week, maybe Childress has a point.
McKinnie isn’t the only Vikings player to have issues here. Defensive tackle Fred Evans was cut by the Dolphins in 2007 after being arrested on charges that included battery on a police officer. An intoxicated Evans had refused to leave a taxi cab following a night on South Beach. He was tasered before being handcuffed.
A small-school college player, Evans has acknowledged being overwhelmed by the South Florida scene. That is a common theme among most of the seven Dolphins players arrested this past decade on DUI charges while returning from clubs and bars.
“There are so many temptations down here,” said Bell, who was drafted by Miami in 2003. “You’re coming out of college with a pocketful of money. You live in a city where you can do just about anything you want, and there are women all over. You’ve just got to watch yourself and hope you have someone who can help guide you in the right direction.”
Bell said he and Dolphins veterans are trying to offer advice to younger teammates, such as arranging for transportation to keep from driving drunk. The squeaky-clean Bell said the fact he joined Miami as a 26-year-old rookie helped him avoid the problems that befell some of his less mature peers.
From a team standpoint, Dolphins security director Stu Weinstein annually gives the squad a detailed list of what establishments should be avoided. A former police officer, Weinstein frequently receives tips when players may be straying into shaky situations and can work to prevent potential problems. Security works for other NFL clubs in the same way.
Yet there’s only so much any franchise — including the Saints and Colts — can do to influence a player’s judgment.
“You can’t hold their hands and babysit 24 hours a day,” one NFL executive said. “Basically, you try to educate them. But you’re talking about adults. You have to hope they have knowledge of right from wrong.”
Super Bowl week in Miami will provide a good litmus test.
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