- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2006

NFL training camps can’t open soon enough, not after this latest episode on I-635 in Dallas. In pro football, it seems, the only thing more dangerous than the season is the offseason.

Almost every year there’s a story like Keith Davis’, a story of gunplay and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Last year it was Redskins who were living the “Pulp Fiction” life. First we had Sean Taylor’s excellent adventure trying to repossess his own purportedly stolen vehicles, then we had LaVar Arrington co-hosting a party that resulted in the shooting of a security guard.

As for Davis, a starting free safety and special teams ace with the Cowboys, he’s lucky to be still breathing. While he was driving home at 5 a.m. Sunday, according to police, someone in another vehicle opened fire on his Chevy Impala, leaving five holes in the rear passenger door and two in Davis, neither career threatening. Fortunately for him, his passenger was unharmed and could take him to the nearest hospital. Had Davis been alone …

“I had just passed a truck when I heard a pop and the back window shattered,” he told the Dallas Morning News. “I just put my head down and mashed the gas, and told my friend to get down. Then I heard boom, boom, boom, boom, boom! It was so loud.”

The only booms football coaches want to hear in late July are the sounds of pads colliding, helmets crashing. But the weeks leading up to camp often elicit other booms, discomfiting booms. It’s a dangerous time for players, their last taste of Total Freedom before they return to the ball and chain of curfews and two-a-days. And because they want to make that time last as long as possible, it isn’t unusual for them to be out and about in the wee hours, where trouble lurks.

Last July around this time, you may recall, Eagles defensive end Jerome McDougle was tripping the night fantastic when three armed robbers descended on him. Between surrendering his watch and handing over his wallet, McDougle was shot in the stomach by his masked assailants. Two other shots fired at him miraculously missed (considering his 6-foot-2, 264-pound girth), but his injuries kept him on the sideline for the entire season.

And this happened, I’ll just point out, three days before Eagles veterans were due to report to Lehigh University.

But back to Davis. Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time he’s found himself on the wrong end of a gun. Shortly after 2 a.m. on June 29, 2003 — one of those crazy, hazy, lazy days before training camp — he was the recipient of two bullet wounds outside a Dallas strip club. Coach Bill Parcells subsequently released him but gave him a second chance the following year.

During the 2004 camp, the Dallas Morning News reports, Parcells summoned Davis “to the front of the team meeting room and had him show his teammates his scars as a warning not to get in trouble on their first night off.”

Heck, after Davis’ latest brush with death, Tuna might want to keep him around as a good-luck charm. “Here’s a man who’s been the victim of two shootings — and has lived to play another day. I want everybody to rub his head before every game.”

Then there’s Chargers strong safety Terrence Kiel. He, too, has survived a just-before-training-camp shooting. In fact, it took place only a few days after Davis’ 2003 incident. Happily, the perpetrator, who sought to carjack Kiel’s ‘83 Buick Park Avenue, had a completion percentage of just .300 — three hits (to the abdomen, calf and knee), seven misses. Kiel even managed to start seven games that season as a rookie.

We’re not talking about barroom brawls here — or, to keep it contemporary, mishaps on motorcycles. We’re talking about Live Ammo … penetrating Actual Human Flesh. We’re talking about the month before training camp being as potentially hazardous to players’ health as a month of Sundays locked in pitched battle with the ‘70s Raiders.

Keith Davis, Jerome McDougle, Terrence Kiel, Davis again. Who will it be next year — or will there be another shooting this year, in the final weeks of “shore leave”? When NFL teams finally file into their dormitories later this month, owners will be fighting the urge to do two things:

1. Lock the door.

2. Throw away the key.

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