I'm inclined to believe the Boston Globe blew it. The paper had at least part of the Patriots' drug-abuse story nearly six weeks ago but got trap-blocked by Coach Raymond Berry into staying silent.

Unless additional details become known, I'm inclined to believe that the NFL Players Association is wrong to resist the voluntary-testing agreement between Patriots players and management.

I was inclined to think that the Patriots had, for the most part, acted responsibly in the sad and shameful affair. Until Tuesday, when General Manager Patrick Sullivan opened his mouth once too often.

Sullivan and Berry had earned the players' respect during an ordeal that evidently has gone on for at least a year. Berry said he began to sense drug use after he became coach in October 1984.

"We realized we had to face the problem," said assistant player representative Ron Wooten. "Given the unique relationship we have with Raymond and Pat, we decided to make a personal issue with the Patriots and with these two gentlemen . . . ."

Wooten said that Tuesday. He may be less charitable today, now that Sullivan has identified those he called the major offenders: running back Tony Collins, wide receivers Irving Fryar and Stephen Starring, defensive lineman Kenneth Sims and defensive backs Ray Clayborn and Roland James.

Confidentiality that had remained solid crumbled and apparently took with it the voluntary agreement.

More information will surface. That's the way with all stories, terrific and tragic. This one began to filter beyond the team when Berry braced some players after a Dec. 16 party in Miami.

According to the Globe's story in Tuesday's paper, it "first questioned Berry after it was told about a possible coach-players confrontation concerning the party in Miami. At first he refused comment, but when confronted with specific detail, he said he would talk off the record."

That phrase, off the record, is smoke to a reporter. He knows, or should, that fire is somewhere nearby. With at least one source on the team and at least one "specific detail," the Globe reporter should have told Berry: "I'll accept any comment except off the record."

Ron Borges had a story. But like most reporters, or at least the classy ones, he wanted more than a couple of threads. So he bought the off-the-record plea from Berry, who was buying time.

Lots of us have acted similarly. Some of us, me included, have been embarrassed by doing what seemed the honorable thing at the time. Searching for the best possible look at the fire, we've been burned.

Explained Berry: "(The drug problem) has been going on for a year, and I had to weigh the damage of doing something about it immediately by going public. We felt with the season going the way it had, we had to keep our eye on the bull's-eye. That's why we didn't do anything before."

He meant talk for the record.

He and Sullivan had done much in private. They had tried to help the players, and hoped the players could be cleaned up without scandal.

"Help (already) has been rendered to the players who have the problem," a source within Patriots management told The Washington Post. "Several players have already gone for treatment. All the players with a drug problem were allowed to keep playing."

The history of the National Football League is rife with instances of players being demeaned and exploited. That's why the union of players was formed.

Given that background, one might ask: why wouldn't Berry, if he cared about the players as more than irreplaceable parts of a corporation that deals in legal violence, simply tell each offender to work full-time at getting his life in order?

Return to games when you're able, a compassionate coach would have added. Take your time.

Well, maybe objective outsiders judged that the players could work at getting themselves readjusted -- and also work at winning the NFL title. Treatment was administered by the Massachusetts General Hospital staff.

By their actions, most Patriots acknowledge the team has done right by them.

"These things cause so many problems at home and in your life," Sims said. "We have to face it and we have to do something about it."

Sport also has to face a lot it has chosen not to. High schools must face allowing exceptional athletes to slide scholastically; colleges must face admitting those unqualified athletes and then also failing to educate them.

The shame is that so many enormous men are trained to block and tackle everything but life.

What the union and players agreed to in collective bargaining two years ago seemed reasonable: teams may test for drugs only as part of the preseason physical and in the event of "probable cause" by the team physician.

Eight teams (the Bills, Lions, Oilers, Saints, Jets, Cardinals, Seahawks and Buccaneers) requested postseason drug tests and fined those who refused.

Most refused.

I cannot fathom why.

It's the team's money being spent; it's the players' reputations at stake.

I also believe testing should include steroids and amphetamines as well as "recreational" drugs. A player juiced up with pep pills also can hurt somebody else.

And the only effective testing, it seems to me, is random testing. If a motorist knows the location of the radar trap, he speeds before he gets there, and after. Through the trap, prepared for it, he seems blissfully safe.

Good for the Patriots, so far.

Good for their players, so far.

Such cooperation has been absent in the NFL for too long. Too bad it had to come in such a way. Too bad Sullivan may now spoil it. Too bad more teams are not similarly moved. Too bad trust usually has to be forced.