SAN DIEGO, JAN. 28 -- One reason Denver tight end Clarence Kay has talked so freely in recent days about his past problems with drugs and alcohol is that he wanted to get everything out in the open.

But today, after being the subject of apparently untrue press, radio and television reports about his off-the-field actions this week, he said he felt more like a criminal than someone who successfully fought problems with cocaine and alcohol a year ago.

Kay is a fourth-year player from the University of Georgia who has become one of the best tight ends in the league. He has been candid about his problems, which he said began on a small scale in high school, picked up dramatically at Georgia, and cost him thousands of dollars in fines in his first three seasons with the Denver Broncos. Coach Dan Reeves received more than one positive drug test and suspended him from the team last year. Kay later entered a rehabilitation center.

All was fine. Then came Super Bowl week.

Tuesday night, he was seen with friends at a local restaurant/night spot. The next morning, he didn't show up for a mandatory press conference near the team hotel.

The NFL sent three security aides to his room, and he told them he didn't feel well. When the security people returned to the media room, one was overheard telling an NFL official, "He looks hung over to me." That remark soon found its way into the media.

Pete Abitante, AFC director of information, said: "The word hangover came up out of context. It's unfortunate it came up like that, especially with Clarence Kay. I apologize to the Broncos."

Kay said today every time he drinks water in San Diego, and then practices, his stomach bloats. Problems with drinking water in certain parts of San Diego are common.

Kay answered questions himself today. "I heard somebody make it sound like I had relapsed and was on my way back to the {rehabilitation} clinic," he said. "I had thought I had shown a lot of responsibility, consistency in my behavior, being on time for meetings, being considerate. That may not sound like much but it was a big step for me.

"Why can't I go out and have a good time? My life is not living in a cell. It's not like I can't go out into a bar. I live a normal life, but I live a clean, free life.

"I could understand if out of town people, who don't know me, were skeptical. But Denver people assuming {he has relapsed}, that's what disappoints me so much."

During this week, with hundreds of cameras and note pads in his face, he talked whenever asked about his former drug problem.Even after Reeves suspended him Dec. 11, 1986, telling him, "Clarence, you are of no use to the team or yourself," Kay said he went on a three-day binge. Next morning he checked into a rehabilitation center.

He wound up staying from Dec. 12 to Jan. 5. He can quote exactly how many days it's been since he went into rehab, and how many since he's come out.