By Tom Friend ESPN The Magazine Sunday, August 17 Updated: August 20 5:29 PM ET
What's going on in Room 614? There's a man in there, a he-man, actually, listening to ocean music. There are syringes and needles in boxes and IV bags in the closet. There are registered nurses knocking on the door and chiropractors coming and going, and a personal trainer carrying in a backpack full of pills. A backpack that some people would love to inspect.
This story appears in the latest edition of ESPN The Magazine, on newstands this week. To get more from The Magazine, check out ESPNMag.com. ESPNMag.com <http://espn.go.com/magazine/index.html> Subscribe to The Mag <https://r.espn.go.com/espn/magazine...OfferId=1550155>
What's going on in Room 614? There's an overgrown wide receiver in there. "Dude, you're on steroids!" fans yell at him at training camp. A lot of NFL players and coaches think he's on something, but the term they use is yoked up. "Gotta be," says an NFC defensive back. The receiver keeps testing clean (seven times last season), but his peers are still suspicious. They can't prove it, but they think he's on something they don't have a test for yet, maybe human growth hormone (HGH), and one reason is the size of his head.
"Look, even his face is growing," the player goes on. "He's bloated. His cheekbones have changed." Guys around the league just don't see how his weight could jump from 209 to 257 in three years. Or how he can have 21-inch biceps, a 34-inch waist and 5.5% body fat. Or how he can run the 40 in 4.3 seconds. Or how the sorry Cardinals could let such a physical specimen walk. Or how 30 other teams could let the Chargers scoop him up as a free agent for only 47 mil.
No, there's got to be something going on in that room. Something to keep Arizona from franchising him, something to scare off the rest of the league. "We didn't even have him on our board," says a Redskins exec, whose team needed a receiver this winter and opted to pay Laveranues Coles <http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/playe...le?statsId=5107> a $13 million signing bonus. Laveranues Coles? He's half this guy's size and doesn't run any faster.
But few trust him. They hear all the stories. How he eats only in his personal trainer's room, Room 614 at the Hilton Carson Civic Plaza in Carson, Calif. How Hall of Famer Joe Greene, an assistant coach on his old team, wonders if he'll live to 30. How he's paying his personal trainer $200K a year. How, even though he's rooming with LaDainian Tomlinson <http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/playe...le?statsId=5452>, he's holed up most of the time in Room 614. Holed up and getting heavier every day.
"Have you seen that guy? Our D-line coach calls him Robocop," says Chargers defensive end Marcellus Wiley <http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/playe...le?statsId=3910>. "If any of us defensive linemen go down, he's going two-way. I mean, 260 pounds, 5% body fat, a 4.3 40? That's 30 sacks. Every day in the cafeteria, I walk past the fried foods and say, 'I am David Boston <http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/playe...le?statsId=4656>.' That way, I won't eat them. I want to look just like David Boston."
But that's the problem: David Boston doesn't look like David Boston.
"I give him 'til Halloween." -Arizona Cardinals <http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/clubhouse?team=ari> official
The consensus in Arizona is that he'll break down, that his ankles are too thin to carry that load, that he's too massive for the ligaments on his sprinter legs. The consensus is that the patella tendon in his right knee -- the one that burst last season -- will burst again. And that will be that. He'll be a bodybuilder. Or a model.
"Well," Boston says, "I'd rather be explosive at 250 for 8 to 10 years than be 230 for 13 years."
Somewhere, Boston became body-mass first, everything else second. Maybe it started after he broke his left scapula as a rookie in 1999 and decided he needed more meat on him. Or maybe it was the car accident a year later, when a drunk driver slammed into his Hummer at high speed, killing herself and rearranging Boston's body. Or maybe it was when a chiropractor examined him six months after the accident, noticed lingering nerve damage in his foot and weakness in his lower back and said, "Your body's for s --."
Whatever, he's undergone a makeover that few believe is aboveboard. A makeover on and off the field that ultimately contributed to the Cardinals' decision to run their prize possession out of town. "Man, we've taken a lot of hits for doing it," says Greene. "But once in a while I'd like to hear that maybe we weren't wrong."
Arizona staffers roll their eyes when they hear Boston's name now, but it wasn't always that way. When the Cardinals saw him at training camp in 2001 -- his body fat down from 11% to 6%, his weight up from 209 to 238 -- they were thrilled. He was still fast enough to outrun Oakland's Charles Woodson <http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/playe...le?statsId=4271> on a 50-yard score that season, and no one dared jam him at the line. "DBs got scared of me," Boston says. By year's end, he led the NFL with a team-record 1,598 yards on 98 catches and had everybody at the Pro Bowl staring. "Brian Urlacher <http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/playe...le?statsId=5038> kept going, 'How are your arms bigger than mine?'" Boston says.
But a month later, Boston tested positive for cocaine and marijuana after a DUI arrest. He pleaded no-contest to two misdemeanors, and his world changed. Now the Cardinals began to notice his idiosyncrasies. He'd mumble. He'd show up with his eyebrow pierced, his tongue pierced, his upper earlobe pierced, his nipples pierced. He'd hang with only one teammate, running back Thomas Jones <http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/playe...le?statsId=5036>.
The 2002 season was Boston's contract year, but there was little goodwill between him and the franchise. In practice one day, he asked the DBs not to hit him hard because otherwise his shoulder pads would pinch his nipple piercings. Boston says he doesn't remember that, but Cardinals coaches and players confirm it. "He was like, don't hit me in the chest," says wide receiver Jason McAddley <http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/playe...le?statsId=6035>. "The coach was like, what the hell?"
The low point came the night before a game in Seattle, in the second week of the season. During bed check, Greene says, a coach found a woman in Boston's room. When the woman was asked to leave, Boston's response was, "If she goes, I don't play. I'll come down with an injury." So the girl stayed. And Boston played. "Putting your personal needs in front of the team," says Greene, "that's not an environment I grew up in."
Boston says he doesn't remember that incident, either, but some Cardinals coaches felt he was never focused again. "Who knew what was going on in his world?" says a member of the front office. "Or what he was ingesting." The team just didn't trust the supplements he was on. His weight had climbed into the 240s, he'd get winded after four or five plays and he was muffing passes. Some coaches felt he was so muscle-bound that he couldn't extend his arms, that he was trying to catch everything against his body.
"People who say that stuff are haters," says Jones, now with the Buccaneers. "There were a lot of guys who didn't like me and David."
The team felt Boston was caught up in his new image. Like when he'd put lotion on his arms before games so his biceps would glisten. Or when he'd show off shirtless photos of himself to women. One day, reserve quarterback Preston Parsons <http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/playe...le?statsId=6173> noticed a pleasant aroma in the locker room and said, "What's that smell?" Boston told him, "My hygiene is unbelievable." Dead serious.
Boston would show up with different colored contacts -- blue ones, red ones, purple ones -- and people would walk away confused by his look. "When I wear the red ones, people think I'm stoned," he says. "I'm a different kind of cat, aren't I?" Says Wiley, "I went up to talk to him after a game two years ago, and he had, like, purple eyes. And I said, 'Okay, a little Melrose in you.'"
Boston never finished the 2002 season. His right patella tendon, already slightly torn coming into the year, snapped when a 49ers defensive back nailed him directly on the knee last October. He hobbled through the next game, then had season-ending surgery. It was still assumed the Cardinals would place the franchise tag on him, but owner Bill Bidwill declined. The DUI arrest and his erratic behavior had sealed his fate.
Greene's explanation as to why Arizona let Boston walk: "Fear. Fear of him repeating not his Pro Bowl year, but the year after. To keep him, you'd have to make a serious commitment to him financially, and that was scary. That was scary."
San Diego got Boston's first -- and last -- free agent visit. The Chargers brass had done a background check with the league office, and while the Cardinals assumed Boston would be suspended for the cocaine incident, San Diego was told not to worry. "We did a lot of due diligence," says Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer. Atlanta, Baltimore and the Jets had all invited Boston, but the Chargers never let him get out of town. Schottenheimer assured him that with Tomlinson, defenses wouldn't be able to double-team him, and Boston was sold, settling for just a $4million signing bonus.
"I know one thing," says Greene. "The coach he's with right now ain't gonna tolerate anything. And I don't think I'm slinging mud at David, either. I like David. But I was disappointed in his behavior last year. It was beyond disappointment. It was painful." "It's not like I just fall out of bed and look like this." -David Boston