FULTONDALE, Ala. (AP) — The owners of the little company that stirred up the Super Bowl controversy with deer antler spray and other performance-enhancing products don't like being labeled snake oil salesmen.
There was plenty of activity Thursday at the modest, one-story building that houses Sports With Alternatives to Steroids after a Sports Illustrated article linked the company to college and pro athletes — including Baltimore's Ray Lewis. At the facility located in suburban Birmingham, phones were buzzing in one room while muscular young men were pumping iron in another.
SWATS co-owners Christopher Key and Mitch Ross bristled at the magazine's depiction of them.
"I'm not just this quack peddling these stickers," said Key, who received a bachelor of science degree from Alabama in 1996. "This was my life work."
His work — and his aggressive way of promoting it — has been in the spotlight before.
Ross' email signature ends with:
"If you ain't chippin, you must be trippin"
"If you're still cheatin, you ain't competin"
Auburn's Dr. Frederick Kam, director of the AU medical clinic, Michael Goodlett, team doctor for the Tigers' football squad, and David Pascoe, a professor of the university's kinesiology department, gathered for a meeting requested by Key to demonstrate SWATS products about two years ago.
Goodlett and Pascoe weren't interested in the products.
Kam, who said he has no scientific evidence that SWATS' products work, described Key as "very fast-talking, salesy."
"One of my clinicians says he is the P.T. Barnum of the present time," Kam said, while adding he knows people who have claimed benefit from similar products.
Key's tactics are working — for SWATS at least.
His phone goes off frequently during Thursday's 45-minute interview with The Associated Press and while Key doesn't give specifics, it's pretty clear the attention this week has been good for business.
"It's been good crazy," Key said. "It's been the best thing that could have happened. It's been fabulous."
Just not for everybody.
The apparent link to the company has led Lewis to spend part of the week leading to the final game of a brilliant 17-year NFL career addressing questions about SWATS. He denied ever using any of the company's products.
Key and Ross declined to discuss Lewis in the interview. Ross said he planned to hold a news conference in New Orleans on Friday, two days before the city hosts the Super Bowl.
Still, Lewis' poster is among those lining the walls in the front room with apparent testimonials promoting SWATS beneath the pictures. The message on Lewis's poster contends that pain in his lower back disappeared after he used one of the company's chips in 2008.
"I will never compete without them," it says.
Key said the company has had dealings with players from five Southeastern Conference football programs — at least three of which have asked them to stay away. Ross said players from LSU, Mississippi and in the SEC championship game wore the chips during their games with Alabama.
He said he provided the chips for free to four Alabama players who went on to the NFL during the 2008 season. The two have said 20-plus Alabama players used it during the 2009 national title season and others from Auburn used it en route to the championship a year later.
While there may be legitimate questions about their products, Key and Ross say they're just passionate about products that he believes work. He angrily holds up the magazine page with the words "Snake Oil Salesmen."
While Key acknowledges the company is benefiting from all the publicity, Ross said this "this is different" and vows he'll explain why on Friday.
"I've been working with professional athletes since 2006. Reggie Bush. Terrell Owens. We can go on and on," said Ross, a former male stripper who frequently cites his religious faith. "But I signed up for this? Really? Who would do that? I signed up for my company to be what's out there. This is all about helping people. God just put me in a sports world and everything that's happened this week and every bit of this story, God knew it was going to happen.
"And He allowed it to happen the way it happened."
The two maintain that the deer antler spray is natural and won't lead players to fail drug tests.
Ross, 45, has had at least one prominently dissatisfied client.
St. Louis Rams linebacker David Vobora was awarded $5.4 million in June 2011 against Ross's former company, Anti-Steroid Program LLC of Key Largo, Fla. Vobora was suspended for four games in 2009 after testing positive for methyltestosterone, a banned substance, after using the company's "Ultimate Sports Spray."
Ross's take is "that clown spiked my bottle of spray. That bottle went through four hands in three states."
Nowadays, Key isn't complaining about claiming some of the spotlight ahead of a game featuring coaching brothers Jim and John Harbaugh and Lewis's finale.
"Right now, we have what's supposed to be the biggest game ever," Key said. "You've got two brothers playing each other, you've got the guy who's about to retire and right now, what are they talking about? They're talking about SWATS."