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Best of Boston 2009

Husker don't

Sports blotter: "Next Lawrence Phillips" edition
By MATT TAIBBI  |  October 2, 2008


Thunderous news
Details right now are still sketchy, but Thunder Collins, a former University of Nebraska running back who was once considered a sure-fire NFL star, has been charged with murder.

Since his playing career ended in 2002, Collins has not-so-quietly been building a rep as the next Lawrence Phillips — a perpetually arrested once-great running back. He’s been busted for weed, numerous domestic assaults, and burglary. He was a suspect in a shooting in 2006. And now he has been charged with homicide — technically, murder-one, attempted murder-two, and felony weapons possession — in connection with a drug deal gone bad that left one man (Timothy Thomas) dead and another (Marshall Turner) mortally wounded by gunshots. Along with Collins, two other men (Karnell Burton and Ahmad Johnson, the latter of whom is still being sought by police) have been charged in connection with the incident.

More on this later, but first-degree murder is a straight-up 100 pointer, putting Collins on top of the list.

He wears court shorts
Sometimes franchises deserve their bad luck. It didn’t always seem that way with the Cincinnati Bengals. Sure, the team had an awful owner who let star players walk and waited far too long to start investing in his team. And yes, they made some bonehead decisions in taking a short-cut approach to close the talent gap with Baltimore and Pittsburgh by picking undervalued “character flags” in the draft several years in a row.

But it seemed like Cincy had turned a corner since this past year, when, following the arrests of rules-averse players like Chris Henry, Odell Thurman, A.J. Nicholson, Frostee Rucker, and others, the team became a national joke. The situation got so bad that quarterback Carson Palmer actually had to step in to the PR leadership void left by the team’s idiotic, sleepwalking owners, saying after the January 2007 weed arrest of corner Jonathan Joseph, “If this keeps up, we won’t have any fans left.”

Team administration officials finally caught on to their mistakes — or seemed to catch on, anyway — this past April, when they reluctantly released stud wideout Henry, who had been caught punching some guy in the face and shattering his windshield with a beer bottle. “We acknowledge those fans who had concerns about Chris,” team president Mike Brown said.

But then . . . the NFL draft happened. In the fifth round, the team picked one Jason Shirley, a defensive tackle from Pat Hill’s Fresno State team. Shirley was a classic “Bungles” pick: immensely talented and undervalued in the draft because of character concerns. In this very space about a year ago, he was tabbed a prime candidate for “sports-crime dweeb of the year” for a case in which he drove his car drunk into the side of a building, fled the scene, then appeared in court to answer the charge — wearing shorts. Shirley was suspended twice during his senior year at Fresno, and eventually dismissed by Hill. He was reinstated to the squad five weeks later, only to be kicked off for good soon thereafter, when he was cited for suspicion of driving with a suspended license and an expired registration (he was allowed to keep his scholarship).

On the one hand, Shirley was a good value: a space-clogging Vince Wilfork type at a four-round discount. On the other hand, if the Bengals were intent on ending their reign as the arrest kings of the NFL, Shirley was exactly the guy they had to leave off their board. Not making it through your pre-draft collegiate season due to multiple suspensions and dismissals is a massive red flag. But the Bengals blew off their concerns, picked him, and then infuriated the karma gods by re-signing Chris Henry later in the summer.

Now Shirley is back in the news again for blowing off his court appearance on the DUI charge, forcing the Fresno judge to issue a bench warrant. It seems that Shirley and his lawyer have been trying to run out the clock, delaying the second trial (the first trial, on DUI and hit-and-run charges, resulted in a hung jury over the summer) by arguing that Shirley’s lawyer had not yet received a court transcript of the first trial. “I am unprepared to go to trial,” the lawyer told the judge.

Fifteen points for the failure-to-appear, another five for sartorial court cluelessness.

When he's not googling "Thunder crap" and "Fresno no-no," Matt Taibbi writes for Rolling Stone. He can be reached

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