Derek Loville is out of jail and on the phone from Arizona, insisting that he’s an innocent man. “Since it’s Super Bowl time, you guys are making a lot out of this. It’s all bullshit, all negativity,” he says in a rising, trembling voice, claiming he did not distribute drugs out of his Scottsdale home as part of a violent sports gambling and international drug-trafficking ring.
“In time, I’ll be happy to tell the truth.”
Until more is known, the former San Francisco prep star and three-time Super Bowl champion represents the dark side of pro football as the NFL showcases its championship event in his hometown. Loville, who as a journeyman running back won a title ring with the 49ers in 1995 and two more with the Denver Broncos in 1998 and ’99, is accused by the feds of associating with a kingpin named Owen Hanson, a former USC football player. This was no ordinary crime ring, say authorities.
The “ODOG” operation, as Hanson referred to the group based on his “O-Dog” nickname, also was charged with racketeering conspiracy and money laundering along with drug trafficking and illegal gambling — and was said to threaten those who couldn’t pay debts, going so far to alter a man’s family gravestone and show videos of beheadings. Specifically, Loville is accused in the indictment of trafficking methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and ecstasy.
I ask Loville if he ever has sold drugs.
“No,” he says.
“I’m not part of anyone’s organization. I didn’t work for anyone. He [Hanson] was a friend of mine. I don’t know anything about what he’s being accused of. … I’m living in Arizona. I don’t travel on the road like that.”
How did he become friendly with Hanson?
“He’s a buddy of mine. We’d meet in [Las] Vegas, used to hang in Vegas. It’s guilt by association,” Loville says. “I’d tell people to go to his [gambling] website, and that it was reputable, out of Costa Rica. I have no knowledge of anything else.
“I was not part of an inner circle. I was a friend of his. If someone is my good friend, I’m going to be there for him, show support. I did when he was incarcerated [in September].”
A crime bust involving a three-time champion, if not bigger NFL names that could surface from the indictment, isn’t how the league wanted to launch Super Bowl week. Not only is Loville a local native who played at Archbishop Riordan High and broke records at the University of Oregon, he was the 49ers’ starting running back for a spell and made contributions to the Denver offense in John Elway’s final two seasons. Think league officials didn’t cringe when San Francisco, the 49ers, the Broncos and Elway — who now runs the Broncos’ football operations — were part of Loville’s eight-season NFL resume?
“It’s heartbreaking,” Loville says. “I’m a guy from San Francisco who actually made it, worked hard, busted his ass and set an example for kids. I’m living proof that good things can happen with hard work and discipline.
“I’m from San Francisco. When I played for the 49ers, I was real good to you guys [in the media]. You already played judge and jury.”
At 47, while one former teammate (Elway) tries to become the first Super Bowl MVP to double as a Super Bowl-winning executive and another ex-teammate (Steve Young) presides as an unofficial local host, Loville awaits his next court appearance. He says he’s worried about his family. He has a son, Derek Loville, who won all-league honors as a high-school receiver In Sammamish, Wash., outside of Seattle, where his father started his NFL career with the Seahawks. The teenager, in an interview with a local prep website called NEI, described his father as his mentor.
“My dad is basically my coach. With all the experience he has, I can always look to him for advice on football,” he said. “Although he played running back, he knows a lot about receivers. He played with the greatest of all time, Jerry Rice. He lives in Arizona, but every time he comes up here, we will work out together, and when I’m off from school I will go down to Arizona and workout with him.
“My dad tells me that improving my speed and route-running will be the difference. Three of the most important things he has told me to do are ladders, jump rope and run hills.”
At 6-4 and 210 pounds, the younger Loville played this past season as a freshman at Scottsdale Community College — not far from where his father is accused of trafficking methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and ecstasy. If anything is “heartbreaking” about this story, it’s the component of a father and son, dealing with a potentially lengthy prison sentence.
“I have to get through this. My family has to get through this,” says the voice over the phone, pausing and then hanging up.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.