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Sunday, April 21, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Les Carpenter / NFL reporter

Even his family hopes Stevens can finally behave

Seattle Times NFL reporter

KIRKLAND — She used to ride shotgun in a police cruiser with the red lights on top, a pistol on her hip and the handcuffs tucked onto her belt.

For six years, Fran Stevens was a deputy officer in the wilds of Wyoming, hauling criminals out front doors and throwing them in cells.

So when the police came for her son, she was not the weepy mother begging for mercy, screaming that they had the wrong boy. In this world, you can fool a lot of people but you can't trick a cop. Her first words every time Jerramy Stevens came home from trouble were, "I love you."

The next ones were, "What did you do? And what are you going to do about it?"

Want to understand why Mike Holmgren even bothered to take the risk by taking Stevens and all his arrests with a first-round pick? Why he opened himself up to what could be the biggest public-relations disaster since he yelled (bleep) the fans? Just meet Fran Stevens, shake her hand and stare into the eyes that challenge you to even think about questioning the integrity of her family. Maybe then it's easier to understand this public dichotomy that her youngest son has become.

A man accused of awful crimes and yet so polite, remorseful and honest when confronted with his actions.

"She's the rock of our family," her daughter, Janeal, said. "She's like, 'You messed up, now you're going to fix it.' "

This is a big gamble Holmgren is taking — like he needs any more of those. But he also needs a tight end, a player who can make the Seahawks dangerous on third-and-fours. On pure talent alone, on the ability to catch a pass and wriggle down the field, there isn't a better player available in this draft. Not Jeremy Shockey. Not Daniel Graham. Without Stevens, the Washington Huskies never would have beaten Miami two years ago. He's simply that good.

And just in case the Seattle coaches didn't know for sure, he came in for a workout this month and caught every pass thrown to him by Brock Huard, former UW and Seahawks quarterback.

But to come to grips with what he has done — to comprehend the car accident at the senior home, the fights in high school and the allegations of sexual assault that brought a SWAT team to his house — and still believe he is worth the trouble, you must talk to Fran Stevens. Which is why bringing the Stevens family to the team headquarters yesterday was the smartest thing the Seahawks could have done. Because Fran Stevens didn't understand the things her son had done either. And more important, she didn't try to justify them or hide them in some blurry context.

Sympathy? There would be no sympathy. She's an assistant principal at a middle school in Thurston County now, the head disciplinarian. You don't get sympathy from cops and you certainly don't get it from assistant principals. He'd have to own up to his mistakes and grow from them himself.

"Hell, yeah, I was mad at him," she said. "What kind of question is that? I wanted to kick his butt. I wanted to say, 'What, did you just have a brain fart, son?' "

No, you don't fool Fran Stevens. You don't sell her some line about a child who's been misunderstood. This is why, while she adores her son and loves him dearly as the baby of the family, she is not going to make excuses for him. Instead, she and husband Bob have always left him to face the world alone, without the cover of their tearful protests to the public.

They love him, they support him, they're right there behind him. But when the camera lights come on, it is Jerramy who has to face the truth.

"Look, I'm a white woman who married a black man in the '70s," she said. "If I really cared what other people thought of me doing that, I probably wouldn't have done it. When you look at the mirror, the person looking back at you is yourself. You better be proud of the person looking back at you."

And when it came to Jerramy, when it came to the trouble, this is where she knew she could believe in him. Because she knew he trembled when he stared into the glass.

"Jerramy was embarrassed," she said. "He was embarrassed because he knew we would be disappointed in him."

She paused.

"And that's a good thing."

It's a good thing because this pick Holmgren made is always going to bring controversy. Jerramy's last trouble, the accident at the senior home, was just last summer. And, yes, he says he doesn't drink anymore, which he believes was the denominator in all of his trouble. Yet the fact is that he is still in the town where his problems have all occurred, and there are many here who will always remember that he was arrested for sexual assault.

Even though charges were never filed and even though his sister Jameka said, "He is not like that, we would beat him up if he ever did anything like that," the specter will always be there, dangling above the franchise.

Yesterday, Stevens grabbed his mother and father and two sisters with his giant arms and said, "I couldn't done this without my family."

The Seahawks have given him a fourth chance, which is an awful lot in this world. He's going to need his family more than ever.

Les Carpenter can be reached at 206-464-2280 or lcarpenter@seattletimes.com.

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