by Reggie Rivers

Column for publication 12-27-01 Word Count = (658)

For the first time in my life, I have true passion.

That may seem odd to people who followed my career with the Denver Broncos and who saw the enthusiasm with which I played the game. I enjoyed football, but it never defined me. It wasn't my passion in life.

Coaches at every level since junior high attempted to push me to be more aggressive and reckless on the field. They wanted me to spend more time with other players, talk more football, study more film and make other aspects of my life secondary to the pursuit of football excellence.

I could never do it. Of course, I liked the sport a lot, and I was good enough at it to get a full scholarship to college. Later, I performed well enough to make it into the NFL. But still I rarely was social with my teammates; I studied just enough film to know my assignments, but not a minute more, and I never had the type of win-at-all costs instinct of say a Bill Romanowski.

Ultimately, my lack of true passion for the game is likely the reason my career lasted six years rather than 10.

The same can be said of everything else I'd done in my life, including writing columns and books, hosting a radio show, working on television, delivering speeches and participating in charity events. I've enjoyed all of these things, but I've never felt a burning passion about a job.

Until now.

In the same way that young men and women rushed to military recruiters' offices after Sept. 11, I've felt compelled to use my column, radio show and speaking engagements to defend the U.S. Constitution.

My passion has been sparked by furious nationalistic flag-waving, the detention of Arab nationals, the passing of the misnamed U.S.A. Patriot Act, the government's decision to listen in on attorney-client conversations, the president's executive orders to create military tribunals and his later order to ensure that presidential documents could be sealed from public view forever.

These are all direct threats far more devastating than anything terrorists could do. The commitment we have to our Constitution is very much like that of a marriage. Outside forces might be able to burn down your home, destroy your car or kill family members, but only you and your spouse can initiate a divorce.

Terrorists have no power to attack the Constitution; that assault can be mounted only by the government, and it's happening.

In response to my defense of the Constitution, I've been bombarded with voice messages, letters and e-mail telling me that I'm a fool; I don't know what I'm talking about; I'm in over my head, and I should leave the important stuff to the big boys. I've been called a traitor, accused of sedition and urged to move to Afghanistan.

I don't argue with much of that. I am a fool. I am in over my head. These topics might be better left to people with more knowledge than me. But one thing I understand is that in times of great danger, every American should get in over his head and defend the document that makes us unique.

While other people were buying American flags to put on their antennas, I purchased copies of the U.S. Constitution -- 500 of them.

Our government is a powerful aggressive dog, with great speed, sharp teeth and incredible bite pressure. The Constitution is a leash. He's not the type of dog that can be trusted to be off the leash. He'll run away. He'll sneak into other people's yards. He'll bite. We have control of that dog only while he's on the leash. If you'd like a copy of the leash, send me an e-mail. I'll be happy to give you one.

Former Denver Broncos player Reggie Rivers ( writes Thursdays on the Denver Post op-ed page and is a talk host on KHOW Radio (630 AM, weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m.)
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