<
>

Jenkins 'hate' for Sapp made matters worse

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Sidelined with a shoulder injury most of
last season, Kris Jenkins struggled to find something to fill his
days. He tried video games, watching movies, and playing with his
young son.

Kris Jenkins Jenkins

But without a strict schedule to follow, and unable to work out
while he recovered from surgery, the Carolina Panthers' defensive tackle, an
All-Pro in 2003, fell into a downward spiral.

The low point came after the Panthers' Nov. 7 loss to the
Oakland Raiders, when Jenkins was forced to watch Warren Sapp, a
player he dislikes intensely, celebrate on Carolina's field.

Jenkins turned to drinking to get him through the long, lonely
days.

"When we played Oakland and we lost to Sapp, I stopped going to
the games then," Jenkins said Thursday. "I was going to the games
up to that point. I couldn't go to the games anymore. After that,
that's when ... I've never been an alcoholic, but I upped my
consistency of it.

"It was something where I did a lot more sitting around the
house, and I would come in and get treatment, and that was it. I
wouldn't do anything. If I had my son, I'd take care of him but if
I didn't, I wouldn't do anything."

As hard as it is to believe that one rival player could send
Jenkins into such a funk, he said that all his problems escalated
after that game.

"I hate him. Everybody says I'm supposed to be polite when I
talk to you all, but I hate him," Jenkins said. "He talks too
much, he doesn't make sense, he's fat, he's sloppy, he acts like
he's the best thing since sliced bread. He's ugly, he stinks, his
mouth stinks, his breath stinks, and basically his soul stinks,
too.

"Not too many people have personalities like that and survive
in life. I don't know how he does it."

Messages left with the Raiders were not immediately returned.

"Not to speak for Warren, but I wouldn't even waste his time
bringing this to his attention," said Drew Rosenhaus, Sapp's
agent.

For the first three years of Jenkins' career, his rivalry with
Sapp helped turn him into one of the NFL's most dominating
defensive tackles. He was the anchor of Carolina's defense, one of
the most vaunted in the league.

But when he injured his right shoulder in the second week last
season, Jenkins felt helpless watching the Panthers fall to 1-7
after getting to the Super Bowl the previous season.

His drinking continued into the offseason. Once the buzz wore
off, he realized he needed to address his problems.

"I got tired of the drinking because that wasn't helping," he
said. "After I didn't have anything to help take my focus off it,
I had to deal with myself, and come to understand some things and
face my demons.

"I was like 'I'm going to be all right.' It didn't take a lot,
it took one time and it just clicked. I've been cool ever since."

Panthers coach John Fox said it's not unusual for a player to
struggle emotionally when he's injured and unable to participate in
the day-to-day team operations.

"For these guys, it's human nature. You don't know what you
have until it's gone," Fox said. "When you get injured, it's a
hard time for a player. It doesn't matter who you are. It's
something you've been doing all your life, and all of a sudden when
it's taken away from you, it can make you sit back and reassess
things."

Jenkins is now back on the field, working to get back into
shape. His strength is close to being back, too -- he said he's
about five pounds away from reaching his maximum bench press weight
of 525 pounds.

But he estimates that he weighs about 355 pounds, about 20
pounds heavier than the Panthers want him to be. Neither Jenkins
nor Fox is concerned.

"They all have weights to hit, and we're not there yet. But
he's not the only one," Fox said. "He's made it every year that
we've given him his weight, and we don't anticipate that changing
... 20 pounds to him is like five pounds to you."

Jenkins is confident he'll make weight by the time training camp
opens next month. Physically, he thinks he's close to midseason
form. Emotionally and mentally, he says he's ready to go.

"Getting hurt was the best thing that ever happened to me," he
said. "I understood what it meant not to play football. When it
was taken away from me, I went through so much, some good, some
bad, but I learned how to deal with myself.

"I understood that I love football, it's a big part of my life,
but it's not my life. It's not something that runs me or dictates
what I do."