Sun Sentinel Columnist
1:38 PM AKST, February 2, 2013
At the end, when his body began failing, Manny Fernandez took any drug the Miami Dolphins' team doctor gave him. When Butazolidin, illegal in race horses, took his white count to dangerous levels, the doctor prescribed Indocin, which ate his stomach lining.
Aristocort was next in the cycle. It is linked with prostate cancer today. And, finally, Motrin, another stomach crusher in the doses Fernandez took. This was 1974. No one knew what they were doing.
"Anything to play,'' Fernandez says, nearly four decades into retirement, from rural Georgia.
The mindset hasn't changed today. Just the drugs.
"I'd only take stuff I knew was legal today,'' Fernandez says.
Would he? And does it matter? That's the question of a Super Bowl laced with deer-antler spray. And that's not the big question on the table, as names from football's Ray Lewis to baseball's Alex Rodriguez became this week's Performance Enhancers of the Week.
That question is this: Has taking PEDs reached such a critical mass of athletes they're viewed as necessary to compete at high levels?
"Seventy percent,'' a current NFL player said when asked how many players took some drug that would be considered against the rules.
"That's come down a little, too,'' he said. "And if they test for HGH, as they're saying they might, it'll come down a little more, too."
This is the funny part about the NFL. Not ha-ha funny. Funny, as in strange. Funny, as in screwed up. Commissioner Roger Goodell spends a lot of time talking of player safety, from changing kickoffs to "taking the head out of play" to "having neurosurgeons on the sideline."
But the drug of choice for most players, the one that makes them bigger, faster and more violent, isn't even tested for. Is it cheating if the NFL isn't testing? Today's NFL is 1998 in baseball all over again.
Ray Lewis's deer-antler spray no doubt helped him recover from a torn triceps muscle to play in this Super Bowl. But who else? Most players testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug are told to say publicly it's Adderall. The attention deficit disorder drug.
"People don't beat up a player if they hear that,'' one agent said.
But does anyone even care in football? Philadelphia coach Andy Reid's late son, Garrett, was found with 19 vials of steroids and needles. He worked with the Eagles strength and conditioning coach. No one in the NFL raised a public question.
Minnesota's Adrian Peterson returned from reconstructive knee surgery in eight months to record-breaking form. And all anyone talked about is how hard he worked. How dedicated he was.
The media is complicit in this, too. It breaks along lines of sports. Baseball media, once with eyes wide shut, weighs Hall of Fame ballots with a drug scale and is all over the A-Rod scandal involving a Coral Gables doctor.
Basketball? Never mind Kobe Bryant went to Europe for a mysterious knee treatment. Never mind players like the Heat's Dwyane Wade return quickly from knee injuries. You're allowed to be skeptical. Or not to bother. You're a fan.
What's telling, though, is NBA Commissioner David Stern was asked recently about PEDs and wondered what the benefit they'd be to anyone in his sport. Right out of Bud Selig, circa 1994.
Baseball likes to refer to the "Steroid Era" as something that came and went. But it never went anywhere for any sport. It's part of the culture. When President Obama discussed the dangers of football, could he have included that idea? Or is it taboo to talk about it just yet.
Cortisone was considered a miracle drug in the 1960s. Aches disappeared. Bodies healed. Football players became cortisone junkies. One of them, Oakland's Jim Otto, lost his legs. Another, the Dolphins' Bill Stanfill, lost his hips.
Stanfill's good friend, Fernandez, had his 14th surgery from football injuries this winter.
"I loved the game — still do,'' he says.
We all do. Even knowing it cripples bodies and overflows with drugs. Someday that will matter as it should. Today? San Francisco 24, Baltimore 21 sounds about right.