Going sour on Broncos' punter


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Jan 22, 2006
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Going sour on Broncos' punter

By Terry Frei
Denver Post Staff Columnist

Perhaps Todd Sauerbrun hasn't been in a Walgreens recently.

Even in the limited display at the checkout lane, several brands of diet aids promise on the bottle that they're ephedra-free. (I know this because looking over the labels can be an effective time-killer as the customer in front of me hands the checker a bottle of cough medicine and an inhaler, then requests a carton of cigarettes.)

After hearing the Broncos' punter likely will sit out the first four games of the season because ephedra was found in his system during an offseason drug test, my first thought was this couldn't only be the NFL taking a stand against the diet aid that the Food and Drug Administration banned in 2004.

I wondered if ephedra could be a masking agent for other performance-enhancing substances, including steroids. After all, Sauerbrun, though not charged, was implicated in the Carolina Panthers' steroid scandal, which again is in the news because Dr. James Shortt, who has admitted to illegally prescribing steroids for players, faces a sentencing hearing Monday in South Carolina federal court. The prosecution's sentencing motion mentions taped conversations between Shortt and Sauerbrun, and if even more explosive and irrefutable information comes out tying Sauerbrun to steroid abuse, those of us prone to decry the use of steroids in baseball should be firing both barrels at the punter as well.

Yet anti-doping officials assure me that the "masking" issue doesn't come into play on this one. Ephedra is on the banned lists as a stimulant, not as a masking agent, and it can be used not only in an attempt to lose weight, but to maximize the effects of workouts, whether used alone or as part of "cocktails" that could include seemingly innocuous items as caffeine-loaded sports energy drinks.

Ephedra was found in Korey Stringer's system after the death of the Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle during training camp in 2001, and was cited as one of the major factors in the 2003 death of Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler. One of Sauerbrun's teammates, the Panthers' Julius Peppers, was suspended for four games as a rookie in 2002 for ephedra use. Broncos safety Lee Flowers drew the same sentence in 2003.

Although banned, ephedra is easily obtainable on the Internet. The FDA determined it could cause blood pressure, circulatory and heart problems, among other things.

That's pharmacology.

This is more basic: Sauerbrun is a rockhead. Perhaps because neither the league nor the feds to date have come after him in connection with the steroid case, he feels invulnerable.

His punting is an effective weapon. Yet Sauerbrun is playing a position at which the allowances and tolerance for anything other than shutting up, staying out of trouble and doing the job should be minimal.

Carolina coach John Fox probably would have found a way to rationalize peccadilloes from a star middle linebacker or receiver, but he finally had enough of Sauerbrun.

This is another example of why.

While escaping detection isn't something to be encouraged or admired, ephedra leaves the system fairly quickly. So it takes either incredibly bad luck or stupidity to be caught. It's not so much that he apparently took ephedra. It's that he was stupid enough to do so. And there's a difference.

This is such a ridiculously irresponsible thing to do, leaving the Broncos potentially without his services for the first 25 percent of the regular season, his first significant kick of 2006 was one collectively delivered to the posteriors of his teammates.

Or to another area of the anatomy.

Sauerbrun's appeal to the NFL has everyone tight-lipped. The Broncos' organization essentially is on a final mass vacation. But it doesn't take a lot of digging to know that there's a lot of head-shaking going on about his stupidity.

Regardless of who does the punting in the first four games (and it shouldn't be Jason Elam), the Broncos should consider that a trial for a potential Sauerbrun replacement. The more obvious the Broncos are about pondering the possibility of getting rid of him, the better. Make Sauerbrun sweat, both about the job and the potential problems his absence could cause in the tone-setting first month of the season.

If they take him back, he has to know that it's his last chance. No punter this side of Ray Guy is worth this much hassle.

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