In the television show 60 Minutes Wednesday, CBS will report that three members of the Carolina Panthers, including former Ravens center Jeff Mitchell, filled prescriptions for a banned steroid less than two weeks before they played in the Super Bowl in February 2004.
Despite that reputation, the NFL's testing mechanism failed to catch Mitchell, former Carolina tackle Todd Steussie or punter Todd Sauerbrun after they allegedly filled prescriptions repeatedly.
Records obtained by CBS show that Steussie, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, obtained 11 prescriptions for testosterone cream over an eight-month period in 2004, and that Mitchell filled a testosterone prescription seven times.
According to the report, Sauerbrun not only received the testosterone cream, but also purchased syringes and Stanozolol, an injectable steroid also banned by the league.
The drugs reportedly were prescribed by Dr. James Shortt, a Columbia, S.C., doctor who is under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration for allegedly prescribing steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.
That development, coupled with last week's admission by New Orleans Saints coach Jim Haslett that as a player 25 years ago he experimented with steroids - before they were banned - raises anew the league's ability to control such drugs.
The league conducts year-round testing. Seven players per team per week are randomly tested during the season, including the playoffs. There is periodic testing in the offseason, and every player is tested for steroids at least once a year.
First-time users are suspended four games. There is a six-game suspension for a second positive test and a one-year ban for a third.
Opinions are divided on how strong the league's steroids program is.
"There are ocean-sized holes in drug testing that you could fit the Atlantic fleet and Pacific fleet through at the same time," said Steve Courson, a retired offensive lineman with the Pittsburgh Steelers and admitted steroids user in the NFL's pre-testing days.
"Growth hormones is an open door [for abuse]; designer steroids are an open door. But the NFL and all sporting federations are hampered by the fact they're using the same technology, and it is an ancient technology."
The NFL disagrees.
"We use the Olympic testing lab at UCLA, which has the most current technology," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "It's the lab that discovered the designer steroid THG, which we immediately added to our banned substance list.
"We are also funding the creation of a new laboratory, in conjunction with USADA [United States Anti-Doping Agency] in Salt Lake City, to conduct research and testing on performance-enhancing drugs."
Michael McCrary, a retired Ravens defensive end, said the testing procedures are stringent and that he was checked for steroids a dozen times in one year.
"I'm glad the test is as strict as it is because it makes for an even playing field," McCrary said. "The league is pretty clean as far as I know.
"This isn't baseball. The league's steroid testing policy is tough - tougher than the regular drug-testing policy. As far as steroids, you can be tested as many as 15 times a year."