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Washington's good-guy image takes a hit

When he isn't making it hard for opponents to run the ball up the middle, Ted Washington enjoys making life easier for those less fortunate. The free agent defensive tackle, a key member of the Patriots' Super Bowl team, is the founder of the Ted Washington Foundation and a former United Way spokesman.

When he isn't making life easier for the less fortunate, Washington enjoys making his friends feel at ease. His sense of humor was on display in New England's locker room just about every day last season, whether he was playfully interrupting teammates' interviews or greeting them with "Mornin'!" The Patriots seemed to enjoy Washington's pranks.

But a different and not-so-funny picture of Washington was presented by former San Francisco 49ers head trainer Lindsy McLean in the Feb. 16 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

McLean is gay. He came out in the magazine, in a story titled, "The Healer," though many who worked or played for the 49ers during McLean's 24 years with the organization already knew. McLean shared several stories of humiliation and ridicule with ESPN, including the following:

"In the early '90s, when a 350-pound lineman would chase him around, grab him from behind, push him against a locker, and simulate rape . . . The lineman, a starter in this year's Super Bowl, reprised his act whenever he could; even after he was traded to another team, he'd sneak up on McLean in the locker room and alongside the team bus."

Washington, who is listed at 365 pounds, was the 49ers' first-round pick in 1991 and spent the first three years of his career in San Francisco. Washington was the oldest among the starting offensive and defensive linemen in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Carolina's Brentson Buckner also played for the 49ers, but that was from 1998 to 2000. And Buckner only goes 310. Clearly Washington was the player in question.

A past nominee for the NFL's Man of the Year award, Washington, 35, was in his early 20s in the early '90s. The bus incident to which McLean referred occurred Oct. 28, 2001, following a 49ers loss at Chicago. Washington was a Bear for two seasons before coming to New England via trade.

"There were coaches there, wives, sponsors, players," 49ers director of public relations Kirk Reynolds told the magazine. "At first I thought the guy was joking. But it became clear it was something else. It was disturbing and bizarre."

Washington rarely speaks to the media, and he declined a Globe request to address this issue. But his agent, Angelo Wright, confirmed last week that the unidentified player was in fact Washington, while expressing his displeasure over the fact that his client was the only unnamed player in the article who was so easily identifiable. Wright is in contract negotiations with the Patriots, who hold their players to high behavioral standards. It's unlikely, though, that they would hold Washington accountable for actions committed more than a decade ago.

"Lindsy's just trying to sell some books," Wright said. "He's pointing Ted out so he can sell more books. It's an NFL locker room. It is what it is. It's the last bastion of male dominance. He probably was the target of harassment. He's trying to single out Ted Washington. Call everybody out. Charles Haley, Larry Roberts, Kevin Fagan. Don't single one guy out.

"There were a lot worse stories to tell about that team in the '80s than he cares to talk about. I'm not saying it was right or wrong, but in a locker room scene, what do you expect? Whatever. Everybody harassed him."

Efforts to reach McLean for comment were unsuccessful, but Reynolds said McLean had no plans to write a book. Reynolds also said that it was not McLean's intent to single out Washington.

"Lindsy was adamant about that," Reynolds said. "He didn't want [ESPN] to allude to who it was. He also thought there would be more balance. He told me that 90-95 percent of the players he dealt with were tremendous, and 90-95 percent of his time here was wonderful.

"There's no book to be sold," Reynolds added. "He was reluctant to do this in the first place. He definitely didn't go into it with the intention of getting anything out of it. His hope was that somebody who lived in the gay community would benefit from it. I can't tell you how many times he's apologized to me since it came out. `I hope I didn't cause more work for you.' He's a selfless guy. The idea that he was trying to sell books is crazy."

Why come out now?

"He didn't want to do it while he was working here because he didn't want to become a disruption to the players," Reynolds said. "Most of them knew, but if it comes out, then it's a public story and people are asking questions about it all the time. He didn't want to put that on the team."

Bledsoe backer

Sam Wyche didn't just feel the itch. He's just now getting around to scratching it.

"I missed coaching from the day I got out of it," said Wyche, the ex-Bengals and Buccaneers head coach, moments after being introduced as the Bills' new quarterbacks coach Tuesday. "I missed the teaching part of it. I stayed in touch with [new Buffalo head coach] Mike [Mularkey, a Wyche assistant in Tampa Bay], and I let him know that when his time comes, and I knew it was coming, that I could help."

Coming off the worst season of his career, help is precisely what Drew Bledsoe needs. He passed for only 2,860 yards and 11 touchdowns as Buffalo struggled to a 6-10 mark. Wyche, who last coached in the NFL for Tampa Bay in 1995, got to know the former Patriots quarterback as a broadcaster for CBS and NBC in the late '90s. The former tutor to Joe Montana and Boomer Esiason got acquainted with his new pupil last week; Wyche spoke to Bledsoe by phone, then reviewed every one of Buffalo's pass plays from last year.

"He hasn't lost the fundamentals," Wyche said. "He's still got a strong arm, a quick release, the follow-through, the balance. All those things are still there."

Bledsoe has been sacked 103 times the past two seasons. Some of that has to do with Buffalo's offensive line, but Wyche plans to teach Bledsoe how to help them help him. For one thing, Bledsoe can tuck the ball and run more. Bledsoe, run?

"Sometimes you're groomed one way and you don't test yourself in certain areas," Wyche said. "We're going to test him."

Wyche said he also hopes to get Bledsoe comfortable throwing to his "save-a-sack guy," or outlet receiver, rather than holding the ball and taking a loss. "We want him knowing the play so well to where he knows where the ball is supposed to go and who should be open, and to where he's ready in the back of his mind to go to the right guy," Wyche said. "Then I want him to experience throwing the ball away, getting whatever you can get."

"Sam knows the position of quarterback better than anyone I've ever been around," Esiason said. "When you have an older player on the downside of his career, a reintroduction to the fundamentals can be the best thing that can happen."

It's good to see something good happen to Wyche, 59. In February 2000, he underwent surgery to remove 14 enlarged lymph nodes, and doctors accidentally severed a nerve connected to one of Wyche's vocal cords, forcing him out of the broadcast booth. Wyche can no longer yell the way he used to, and he suffers from cardiomyopathy, for which he takes daily medication.

Wyche spent the past two years volunteering as a quarterbacks coach for the Pickens (S.C.) High Blue Flame.

"Standing on the field for 2 1/2 hours tested me physically," he said. His wife grew up in Pickens. "Every third guy I meet used to date her," he said. "Makes you glad she didn't grow up in a big town."

Audition time

Bledsoe is Buffalo's quarterback now. Who's next is something altogether different. That's why the Bills, represented by Mularkey, Wyche, and offensive coordinator Tom Clements, were among 20 teams in Houston Thursday for Drew Henson's private workout. The Michigan product is returning to football after three years in the New York Yankees organization. The Texans, who have David Carr at quarterback, own the rights to Henson, having taken him in the sixth round last year, and are trying to work out a trade before the draft April 24. If not, Henson goes back into the draft, where he likely would be a high-round selection. Henson was impressive in a workout that consisted of 75 passes. To borrow a baseball analogy, his fastball had as much life in the ninth as it did in the first. "He kept his ball speed up," said a quarterbacks coach who attended the audition. "From the first 10 throws to the last 10 throws, he didn't lose any pop." Said Mularkey, "He's well-conditioned. He was asked to do a lot of things at a fast tempo. He's got a strong arm. For being the only guy out there throwing, he was asked to do some things at a rapid-fire pace, and he handled it well." Henson, who turned 24 Friday, was said to be just as impressive in the post-workout Q&A with some of the coaches. Too bad none of that matters when you're down by 4 and at your own 4 in the fourth quarter . . . Is there any question that this league is all about "what have you done for me lately?" Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey didn't seem to do too badly in his second year, hanging in there despite having a lot of painful things done to him by opposing defenses who made Ramsey pay for Steve Spurrier's refusal to protect his 2002 first-round pick. But the problem for Ramsey is that he hasn't done anything for new head coach Joe Gibbs. Jaguars backup Mark Brunell, on the other hand, has done plenty during his career; he's the ninth-rated passer in league history and led Jacksonville to two AFC Championship games. According to the Washington Post, Ramsey thought Gibbs did him a disservice by not initially identifying Brunell, 33, as the veteran quarterback he planned to acquire. The Redskins would be doing their fans a disservice by missing the playoffs for a fifth straight season. Washington finds itself in a bidding war for Brunell, one that may net the Jaguars as much as a second-round pick. Dallas, Miami, and San Diego all may be in the mix. Brunell reportedly wants to remain in Florida. Too bad for the Dolphins their second-round pick belongs to New England. The Patriots swapped a third-round pick last year (No. 78 overall, Memphis tackle Wade Smith) for Miami's No. 2 this year. Even in the offseason, New England has Miami's number.

Magnanimous offer

Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis and Patriots defensive backs coach Eric Mangini have something in common: a commitment to excellence. And Davis was so set on hiring Mangini to direct the league's 30th-ranked defense that he was willing to make the 33-year-old Mangini the highest-paid first-year defensive coordinator ever. According to league sources familiar with the negotiations (which took place by phone last weekend), Davis offered Mangini a three-year commitment worth slightly more than $2 million. There's more: The Raiders, according to the sources, also discussed an interest-free home loan and care for Mangini's wife, who is due to give birth soon. Apparently Mangini felt more comfortable committing for another year to an organization that has won two Super Bowls in three seasons rather than one in transition. He'd better hope the Patriots don't go 8-8 next year . . . Davis, who is notoriously hard on his defensive coordinators, didn't get a bad consolation prize in ex-Patriots outside linebackers coach Rob Ryan, son of defensive guru Buddy Ryan. And according to league sources, Davis got Ryan for less than he offered Mangini . . . One guy on his way out of Oakland is running back Charlie Garner. His agent, Brian Levy, has said that if he and the Raiders don't come to agreement on a restructured contract, he'll hand them a $400,000 buyout check at the Scouting Combine next week. Garner is due to make $4.227 million in base salary next year and, according to Levy, will be a June 1 cap casualty. "This way he has more options [in free agency]," Levy said. "For $400,000, he buys his freedom. You think he was going to make that next year? It's quitting before you get fired." Garner gained 553 yards on the ground last season; 700 would have automatically voided the final year of the four-year deal. An ideal place for Garner, 32, to sign would be New England. The Patriots could use a veteran back like Garner, who is dangerous as both a runner and a receiver, while they develop the runner they're sure to draft in April . . . Since you asked, my vote for that draftee goes to Florida State's Greg Jones. He's 6 feet 1 1/2 inches, close to 250 pounds, and a perfect fit for Antowain Smith's old role. He had major knee surgery in 2002, and his yards-per-carry average dropped from 5.8 to 4.3. But did you see those runs in the Senior Bowl? "He will be fast again," said one general manager. "He's still dealing with some residuals. But he's good." . . . The past two weeks have been good for Ryan. Pro Bowler Willie McGinest footed the bill for Ryan and his wife, Kristin, to join him in Honolulu for the Pro Bowl. Ty Law offered to do the same for the Manginis, but they were unable to attend . . . The line between dynasty and disappointment is a fine one. In 2001, the Patriots won their three playoff games by a combined 13 points. New England's combined margin of victory in three postseason games this past season: 16 points.

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