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WHO'S SORRY NOW?

Vance Johnson says he's sorry. Sorry for the tantrums, the violence, the abusive behavior.

So sorry, in fact, that the back cover of his recent vanity--and I do mean vanity--book, The Vance: The Beginning & The End, includes a large, generic "I'm Sorry!"

And you will be, too, if you shell out for this drivel.
Because as you wade through it, you can't shake the queasy feeling that the main reason Vance Johnson is sorry is because he got caught. He's sorry that all the money and fame are gone. He's sorry that the heyday of the Three Amigos--a period when Denverites were so depressed they'd buy a new airport, not to mention posters of a trio of wide receivers in tight pants--is over.

This, of course, is not what Vance Johnson actually says. What he writes is this: "If only one person reads this book and seeks help because of it, then it will be worth it for me. We have to stop domestic abuse one person at a time. Spousal abuse has been a hot topic in the media ever since the O.J. Simpson situation began, but it was a reality in the lives of many people long before then.

"I don't know if O.J. Simpson is guilty of murder, but I do know that he is at least guilty of being an abusive person. Simpson needs help, too. His story of abuse shares a lot of parallels with mine. Fortunately, my tale has a happy ending. I hope his will, too."

Like what, exactly? Then Nicole woke up and it was all a dream?
Johnson's book begins with an admirable disclaimer: "I want to make it clear that I don't blame my parents, my family, my friends, or anyone else for the mistakes I made during my NFL career. I can't blame anyone for all of the extramarital affairs that I had, for all of the children I had, for all of the money I spent, for all of the abuse I initiated or for anything else that has happened during the last decade. I was an adult when all of those things happened, and as an adult, I have to take responsibility for my actions."

Then he promptly shifts much of that burden to his "The Vance" persona.
But there is still plenty of blame to pass around. Johnson's first girlfriend, Joanie, not only gave him a "fear of women" (the pre-"The Vance" Johnson was upset to see her talking with some other boys, although the post-"The Vance" Johnson now thinks "the reality was that she probably wasn't capable of loving me at the time") but also a lingering horror of French kisses: "Sometimes she would stick out her tongue and let spit drip off the end of it before we started kissing. It really grossed me out. It made me feel sick to my stomach. It's weird when I look back on it, but I had an unbelievably strong negative reaction to that...I never wanted to kiss anyone with my mouth open again. In fact, I never wanted to kiss anyone on the mouth again. I guess it would be like someone nearly drowning the very first time they ever got into a swimming pool. That person might develop a lifetime fear of water. That's what happened to me. My wife Holly is only the second person that I have ever kissed on the mouth."

His aversion to liplock, however, did not prevent Johnson from collecting dozens of phone numbers a night and fathering numerous children: seven at the last official count, one of those during a one-night stand after he and his two amigos had been out partying. A judge later ordered Johnson to pay $1,300 a month in support for that child. "So this woman went from being on welfare to getting a fat check from me every month," writes Johnson. "Like I said earlier: she hit the jackpot."

Johnson's behavior became even sorrier in January 1990, when he landed at Stapleton after the Broncos had sustained yet another beating in the Super Bowl--and saw his face on the cover of the Rocky Mountain News above a headline "Men Who Beat Women."

"I couldn't believe that they had used a picture of me with that article," says Johnson. "I couldn't face anyone. I couldn't even bring myself to read the article. In fact, I never saw the article until I started writing this book."

But he certainly knew he had a nasty habit of beating his women--three of whom, including ex-wife Angela, had told their stories to the News. And he certainly knew that Angela had obtained a restraining order against him. In fact, he knew the News was on the story: Johnson reportedly was told by a News editor that the article's publication would be postponed--perhaps indefinitely--if Johnson would seek professional help.

And why not? After all, the News had known about the restraining order for months and already had managed to sit on the story about Johnson--author of the paper's insipid "Super Bowl Diary"--until after the big game.

An event that attracts record numbers of calls to battered women's shelters every year.

In the years since the News story finally hit the streets--the ever insightful Johnson compares its devastating effect to being caught by a TV crew while "you're picking your nose, with your index finger buried in your right nostril all the way to the third knuckle"--domestic violence has been the focus of increased attention from the legal community and media alike. And not surprisingly, it's also attracted the scrutiny of those who would debunk battering's connection to sporting events, citing the lack of hard statistics.

But at Denver's Safehouse for Battered Women, the receptionists will tell you that Mother's Day and Super Bowl Sunday are their busiest days of the year. The new, improved, apologetic Vance Johnson volunteered to speak on behalf of the shelter; Safehouse declined the invitation.

Servicios de la Raza's domestic-violence unit has noticed the same phenomenon--increased calls around football games, soccer matches. "Our crisis line demonstrates that," says Nita Gonzales. "We never came up with a rational reason for it--but then, domestic violence isn't rational."

No matter how sorry the perpetrators may be.
Gonzales has a copy of Johnson's book, but says she can't finish it.
Here's what she's missing: Another apology, and then an appendix that lists The Vance's NFL statistics and his "toys"--most of the cars and boats Johnson's owned, although "I bought so many cars during my career that I simply can't recall all of them." But then, in a recent interview, Johnson couldn't recall the names of two of his children, either.

The Vance is hardly a sell-out. Space at local battered women's shelters, however, remains standing room only.

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