Broncos punter Sauerbrun loses suspension appeal

DENVER -- Todd Sauerbrun says he's the victim of bad timing
and his own foolishness.

The Denver Broncos' punter lost his appeal this week of his
four-game suspension for using the banned dietary supplement
ephedra in a misguided attempt to lose weight and gain gusto for
his workouts.

"I told him that I was very disappointed in him," coach Mike
Shanahan said Thursday as the Broncos gathered for training camp.
"We took a chance on him. Of all the things, ephedra! What it does
is make you lose weight. He's the only guy on the team which I
don't care if he's fat. I don't care if he's 30 pounds overweight.
All you've got to do is punt the ball. Kick it into the end zone."

Sauerbrun, who was fined by his previous employer, the
Carolina Panthers, for eating too much, worries about his weight all the

"Well, I care if I'm fat," said Sauerbrun, who packs 215
pounds on his beefy 5-foot-10 frame. "I always want to be in the
best shape I can. ... And it kind of backfired on me."

The 12-year veteran said he knowingly took an over-the-counter
weight loss product this summer that he strongly suspected
contained ephedra, which the NFL banned after the death of
Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer during training
camp in 2001. Players are randomly tested and can be suspended
after the first violation.

"I wanted to be up for my workout," Sauerbrun said. "It's not
steroids. Every one of you guys probably had it at one time or
another. And all it does is wake you up, get you ready for your
workout. I just wanted to be in the best shape I could when I got
here, and that's what they're getting me for."

Sauerbrun said he knew the supplement would leave his system
within 36 hours. Trouble is, a member of the league's anti-doping
squad knocked on his door at 8 a.m. the next day for a urine sample
and he knew he was busted.

"It was just a bad timing thing and a bad decision," Sauerbrun

And he said he didn't realize he'd be suspended for a first-time
offense: "That's pretty harsh if you ask me. It's not steroids."

Sauerbrun said he suspects, however, that the league is keeping
a closer eye on him after his name came up in the steroid scandal
in South Carolina last year: "Absolutely, I'm sure it all stems
back to that."

Dr. James Shortt was sentenced this month to one year and one
day in prison after admitting he conspired to illegally prescribe
anabolic steroids and human growth hormone to NFL players. Federal
prosecutors have said they have audio-taped conversations between
Shortt and Sauerbrun as well as other Panthers players.

By the time reports linked him to Shortt, Carolina was looking
to trade Sauerbrun after a series of on- and off-field
distractions, including a drunken driving arrest and fines for
being overweight.

Sauerbrun's acquisition last season helped the Broncos turn
field position in their favor -- he averaged nearly 44 yards a punt
-- and he was quickly welcomed in the locker room.

He said he feels bad for letting down the team, which will have
to face St. Louis, Kansas City, New England and Baltimore in
September without him.

"It completely [stinks]," Sauerbrun said. "This is just not
cool. I'm going to not be around my guys in the locker room and
that's what I cherish most of all. We've got a great bunch of guys
around here and I'm going to miss that month. Other than that, I'm
pretty sick about it."

Sauerbrun, who also kicks off, is allowed to attend training
camp and can punt in the preseason. But he won't be allowed around
the team during his suspension, which will cost him $328,000 of his
$1.395 million salary next season.

It could also cost him a shot at a lucrative extension with the
Broncos after this season.

Vying for the starting job during Sauerbrun's suspension will be
second-year pro Paul Ernster, who tore a ligament in his right
(kicking) knee last September when he was on the Broncos' practice
squad, and free agent Micah Knorr, who played for Denver from
2002-04 and re-signed with the team on Thursday.

Sauerbrun said he especially regrets letting down Shanahan, who
gave him a fresh start last year.

"I'm disgusted about it," he said. "The only thing I can say
is it will never happen again. My goal here is not for things like
this to happen. I want to help these guys, not hurt them."