Druckenmiller Speaks Out
- a HokieCentral exclusive interview, August 4, 1999

These days, you can tell that Jim Druckenmiller is glad to have a football in his hands instead of a court case on his hands.

"I had a heck of a day today - I think I went ten for ten in a passing drill today," the former Virginia Tech quarterback and current San Francisco 49ers backup QB said last week in a phone interview with HokieCentral. "I think I finished on a great note before the veterans got back to camp."

Just two weeks ago, no one wanted to talk football with the man known as "Druck." They wanted to know the where's, what's, and why's of his rape trial, a trial that ended with a rapid not-guilty verdict.

For a Hokie legend who has always liked his fun, the three months between the indictment and the verdict were not fun for Druckenmiller. At times, it was harrowing, and at times it was just embarrassing. Sitting through your own rape trial with your mother and father can be that way.

The presence of Druckenmiller's parents at the trial was not a stunt by Druckenmiller's defense attorneys. It was a show of support from his family, one of many such shows of support that Druckenmiller said he received everywhere he went.

"I told my family about the charge before the indictment was unsealed," Druckenmiller said. "I sat down and called all my family together, all my closest relatives - parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, everybody. Everyone was very understanding. They all know me, and they all know what type of person I am. I'm not a violent person, nor am I a rapist.

"My parents were very supportive. They were upset, obviously, but they were supportive. Mom and Dad told me they were coming down. They asked me what the dates were, and they told me they were going to be there. There was no discussion about it. They were down there of their own free will."


In the Public Eye

If you talk to Druckenmiller about the trial for very long, it's not long before the conversation turns towards the lessons he has learned, both about personal behavior and the fact that high-profile athletes make inviting targets. It was a lesson that perhaps was lost on Druckenmiller before the rape trial, but it's one that he fully understands now.

"Do the girl and I regret what we did? I think we definitely do. But is that to the point where you need to take it to this degree, where you need to ruin someone's life? No. I don't think that's fair, and I don't think that's right.

"Unfortunately, you see how easy it is (to press charges). There were people out there trying to make me out as an evil person. But they couldn't do it, with all the evidence there. It's just amazing to me how easy it is to bring allegations like this up.

"It is very scary," says Bev Davis, one of Druckenmiller's defense attorneys. Davis is part of the Davis, Davis, and Davis law firm of Radford, and along with Roanoke attorney Deborah Caldwell-Bono, he served as part of the defense team for Druckenmiller. "It doesn't take anything more than someone going to a magistrate, raising their right hand, and swearing out a warrant. It's that easy to find yourself right smack dab in the middle of the criminal justice system."

In a July, 1998 poll conducted among the HokieCentral members, Druckenmiller was voted their favorite Tech athlete of all time, by a narrow margin over Bruce Smith, another Tech legend who has had his share of brushes with the law. Part of Druckenmiller's legend, and a large part of what made him such a favorite among Hokie fans, is his accessibility.

Despite his huge frame and cannon arm, despite his larger-than-life status among Tech fans, Druckenmiller has always considered himself to be just a normal person, just "one of the guys." A multi-million dollar contract with the San Francisco 49ers didnít change Druckenmiller's perception of himself, but perhaps his recent rape trial did.

"You hear about it all the time (athletes being involved in high profile cases)," Druckenmiller said. "But to have it affect you personally, it's tough. This has been a real eye-opener. It makes you stop and think about everything you do.

"That's a sad thing. You want to be a people person, you want to go out and meet the people and mingle with them, but you know what? This is the kind of stuff that doesn't let you do that. This forces you further away from people, and that's a shame.

"I want to hang out with the fans, with the people that support me, and enjoy watching me play football. But look at what people can do to you. It just frustrates the heck out of me."

It's not as if no one had ever told Druckenmiller to be careful. Professional athletes are warned all the time to watch out for the risks associated with their position in life. The NFL even holds symposiums where they discuss the risk factors for the athletes.

"In the NFL, we have a rookie symposium," Druckenmiller explained, "where they teach you about the drugs, about alcohol, about how to deal with women that will approach you, about how to manage your money, that sort of thing.

"They even have women come in and tell you, 'Listen, I targeted athletes. I tried to get money from them, tried to get pregnant by them.' They talk about it and try to educate you, but nothing grills it into you like a real-life situation.

"Every year, we have a guy Doc Edwards who comes in, and he tells the new guys about the temptations - the women that will seek you out. One of his quotes is, 'When the rabbit comes chasing you, there's something wrong.'

"Sometimes, we (professional athletes) do live in a fantasy world. If you didn't play a sport, people wouldn't recognize you, or do things for you, or consider doing things for you. People told me, there will be people buying you drinks, giving you things, girls throwing themselves at you. I said, 'Give me a break.' But you know what? That stuff really happens. Until you actually live it, you don't realize it."

None of this means that Druckenmiller isn't willing to take personal responsibility for what happened. In previous articles that have appeared in newspapers and on the Internet, he has been quoted numerous times saying so. For someone whose football success came relatively late in life (he was a nobody until he took Virginia Tech to the Sugar Bowl championship at the age of 23), the realization that he's somebody and needs to perhaps be more careful about what he does, is hitting him hard.


The Tale of the Tape

One of the biggest pieces of evidence in Druckenmiller's trial was an audio tape the police made of a question and answer session they had with him the day after the incident.

On the tape, Druckenmiller vehemently denied the rape allegation. He admitted that he had sex with the woman, but no way was it rape. He came across on the tape as stunned and incredulous.

When the judge allowed the tape to be entered as evidence late in the trial, it amounted to Druckenmiller being able to testify without being cross-examined. It was one of the biggest moments of the trial and may have helped swing the jury to a not-guilty verdict (although one juror I spoke with told me, "I knew two days into it, before the tape was played, that he wasn't guilty").

Druckenmiller had no idea that a rape charge was coming. When the police showed up at the Blacksburg house he was staying at the day after the incident, he had no idea why they were there.

"What did I think?" Druckenmiller said. "I had been out four-wheeling the night before. I figured I had gotten onto some private land, and someone had seen me and written down the license plate number. Never in my wildest dreams did I think an allegation of rape was why they were there."

Did Druckenmiller know he was being recorded when the cops were talking to him? "No, I did not. They were telling me that they were not there to trick me, or to do things behind my back.

Says Davis, "You should have heard the snickers and seen the eyes roll in the court room when the officers on the tape said they weren't trying to trick him.

"You talk about someone sticking to their guns - Druck told them straight up from day one that he and the girl had had consensual sex. They (the police) went there, in my opinion, to see if he would deny having had sex with her. But Druck was honest with them and said, 'Yes, we had sex.' The police sat there and didn't know how to take that. They knew sex had occurred, based on the evidence at the hospital, and then when Druck admitted that, then they had to change gears.

"When Druck was so honest and forthright with them, that tape became some of our best evidence."


Looking for a Quick End

Davis said that from the start, Druckenmiller wanted the rape charge to be taken care of quickly. "When this whole thing broke, we were talking to Druck about what the ramifications of this were, and how we (the attorneys) needed time to prepare properly. We were telling him, 'We need to take our time, Druck.' But he wanted to take care of it quickly.

"This charge went from indictment to trial in less than a hundred days, and Druck was driving the train the whole time, telling us that he wanted a quick trial, and that he wanted it to be over with. Most innocent people want it that way, so they can lay their head down as soon as possible, so they can put it behind them.

"That's the way he wanted it, and he orchestrated it so he could have all of this done and out of the way by the time camp (the pre-season 49ers camp) started. That's exactly the way it panned out for him, and he was in a situation where once he gave us the time schedule, we just had to make it work. He was not going to let this affect his career."


Support Never Waned

When speaking of his attorneys and the outcome of the trial, Druckenmiller gives a quote worthy of an Oscar acceptance speech.

"I want to thank Bev, Debbie (Caldwell-Bono), Dave (Neufeld) and Richie (Davis) for their good work and their speedy resolution to this. I think it's obvious from the outcome and the speed of it what great work they did. And I wanted to thank my parents, and all the people back in Virginia who were there for me and gave me an extra word of encouragement.

"After the trial, I was driving home with my mom, and a lot of people saw us in the car and gave us the thumbs up. So, thanks to all the people who stuck by me, knew the truth, and supported me throughout it all."

Druckenmiller says he was never worried that he would be convicted of the charge.

"I was never concerned about being convicted. I was concerned that it had even gotten to that point (being brought up on charges). Somebody believed something that just wasn't true. Sure, there was concern. Any time you're in court with twelve people deciding the fate of your life, it's not a comfortable feeling, let me tell you."

"Everyone in San Francisco has been very supportive and very positive. The fans were out there asking for autographs today. There has been no negativity. Everyone has been thankful that I'm back on the team and got out of this situation. I have not heard one negative remark since I've been here.

"I do thank the fans out here for it, plus, the people back in Blacksburg. Everyone I saw while I was back there was very supportive, and I never heard one negative remark when I was there, either.

"I think the people know what type of person I am, and I think they realize what type of situation it was. I have been very happy with the support I have received from the fans out here (in San Francisco), and back in Blacksburg."


Football Talk

When the interview turned towards football, Druckenmiller understandably turned neutral and started relying on the cliches that any football player who is fighting for his job will use.

The 49ers currently have four quarterbacks in camp: Steve Young, Druckenmiller, Jeff Garcia, and Steve Stenstrom. They will not have four quarterbacks when the season starts. One of those four will have to go.

Steve Young, of course, is staying put, and Druckenmiller is somewhat protected by the fact that the Niners will take a salary cap hit if they get rid of him (at least, that's according to my understanding of the situation, which is almost non-existent).

"I'm just out here working," Druckenmiller says. "I've seen Bill (Walsh) once real briefly, passing by, since I've been here. But you know, Bill's upstairs, and the coaches are here. Coach Mariucci and the quarterback coaches have been very positive.

"I think there was definitely some rust when I got back into camp. I couldn't get any work in, having to deal with the trial. But I got the rust off the first two days, and by the third day, I was doing well. I'm making great reads, doing everything right. It's just a matter of getting my throwing touch back, because of the situation I've been in.

"I'm about 235 right now. I went into all the mini-camps before at about 225, or below, and I just wasn't feeling like myself. I felt like I was getting knocked around in two-a-days. I felt a little lighter on my feet, but I just didn't feel like it was that beneficial. I'll drop three to five pounds during camp, so I'll be down to 230 or so, which is a perfect weight for me. That's the weight I like to play at.

When asked how many snaps he will get in this year's preseason games, Druckenmiller says, "That hasn't come up yet. I think I'll get a lot of reps. I definitely hope so."

Did he think the Niners would trade him last year, after the power structure of the team shifted from the men who drafted him back to Bill Walsh, who didn't want to draft him? "I had no clue, but nothing would surprise me. All I knew is that I was going to be playing football somewhere, if it was here or somewhere else."

Being a Dolphins fan, I couldnít resist the urge to ask him about the possibility of playing for Miami, and what he thought of Jimmy Johnson when the two met back in 1997 (Johnson visited Blacksburg and worked Druckenmiller out in the Rector Field House).

"Jimmy and I got along well. He liked me, and I liked him. Anything can happen in this business. I wouldn't mind playing for him, but that's something that only the future knows. I'm willing to go anywhere, any time, and play.

"I can't say that I'm very satisfied sitting (on the bench). But I understand that I'm behind a Hall of Fame quarterback, and I understand that I'm going to have to wait my turn. If the situation arises that the Niners want to get rid of me, or that someone else wants me, whatever the situation may be, I just want to play."

Will Stewart is the founder and General Manager of HokieCentral.com.  He writes the News and Notes section, game previews, and game reports for HC, and he contributes a column when time permits.

          

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