What are we to make of Sam Adams? One minute, the Bills defensive tackle is challenging his coaches in public, refusing to leave the field against the Dolphins, tossing his helmet in disgust. Then, a few days later, he is contrite, apologizing to his teammates and espousing the virtues of family and team play.
Adams is a mountain of contradictions. But the one thing you can't deny is his passion for football. His clashes with the Buffalo coaching staff derive from a simple desire: He wants to play more. He wants more snaps, more opportunities to rush the passer. The two-time Pro Bowler wants to be more involved in the sport he loves.
How else do you explain the responsibilities Adams has taken on outside his real job?
Adams owns not one, but two minor-league franchises. A few months ago, the former Seattle Seahawk bought the Everett (Wash.) Hawks, an expansion team in the National Indoor Football League.
Last year, Adams purchased the Eastside Hawks, a semipro team in his offseason home of Kirkland, Wash. On Saturday night, his Eastside team played in the championship game of the Northwest Football League for the second year in a row. Adams is also commissioner of the North American Football League, a loose federation of about 100 semipro teams.
Sam Adams, who was scolded for playing music too loudly in the dressing room, a commissioner? Who's in charge of discipline, Terrell Owens?
"They asked me to do it when we joined the league last year," Adams said Friday after practice. "The second year, I recruited all the teams in the Northwest Football League as well as some other semipro teams in the area, so we could try to grow and expand the league to the West Coast."
When a 6-foot-4, 340-pound man with a persuasive tongue and a Super Bowl ring comes recruiting, people tend to listen. Adams says he's not in it for the money, though he would like to see a day when his teams turn a profit. So why would a millionaire athlete bother with football on a small-time scale?
"I'm having fun," he said. "It's for the love of the game. I love it. I love being around the guys. Administration is fun, trying to raise money, working in a community, putting together a good product and seeing it all come out successfully -- financially and on the field. It's fun."
Being commissioner isn't all fun. Adams said teams call with all sorts of problems, from financing to ejections to scheduling. Last year, Adams created a stir when he ruled that the Springfield (Mo.) Rifles had to travel to the West Coast for a playoff game -- against his own team in Washington.
"You could have 20 problems on a Saturday night and your phone is constantly ringing," Adams said. "We have rules, but not the type of rules that are strictly enforced. You have to have a certain kind of field, or provide ambulances, or referees. There could be tons of problems all over the country. It's not a job one person can do because we have almost 100 teams. It takes a lot of people to do it."
So Adams knows a thing or two about the business. Sam is in his 11th NFL season. He played six years in Seattle, two in Baltimore (where he won a Super Bowl), one in Oakland (a Super Bowl loser) and two in Buffalo.
Adams says he hasn't thought about working in NFL personnel when his playing days are through. He doesn't come across as the classic company man. But it's often the workers who are willing to challenge authority who become leaders down the road. It's no secret that Adams hasn't always seen eye to eye with Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, who doesn't ask Adams to rush the passer and frequently substitutes for him on passing downs.
"It's not the fact I'm challenging leadership," Adams said. "It's the fact that I command the same respect that every man commands. Just because there's one person here to lead us doesn't mean other people can't speak up if they see something wrong. I have been that type of person. I ask for the same respect that you demand from me. I have a mortgage. I have children to raise, and I expect the same treatment, especially when I'm trying to reach the same goal as you."
The goal, of course, is to win the Super Bowl. That's why Adams came here in 2003.
Adams has a reputation as a football mercenary, a guy who jumps from city to city in search of the best deal. But he says he could have gotten more money in Cincinnati. His contract with the Bills -- $10 million over four years -- isn't exorbitant for a run-stuffing tackle with two Pro Bowls on his resume. He's big on community. That's the main reason he used his money to bring two minor-league football teams to Washington State.
"They love their team in Buffalo," Adams said. "You want to be in a place with that kind of support system. I'm not disappointed at all. I still believe in the system that's been implemented. People make mistakes. But the thing I like is the people here aren't afraid to put it on the line."
He says it with such passion, such conviction, you're almost ready to buy in.