Unlucky in pro football, lucky in life.
That's a second line that should be added to the nondescript one-line summation of Huey Richardson's NFL career:
Two years, three teams, 16 games played, no statistics.
He was among the biggest and most mysterious busts in Steelers history, selected with the 15th pick of the 1991 NFL draft and ejected little more than a year later.
An All-America, record-setting pass-rusher from the University of Florida, Richardson was released before the 1992 season, played that year split between the Jets and Redskins and left football without earning an NFL sack.
What he achieved later, though, would put him among rare company. Ten years after his rookie season, Richardson was in the World Trade Center when the first plane struck in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
A financial analyst for Merrill Lynch in New York, Richardson and his boss entered the World Trade Center, he told friends, for a meeting on an upper floor. They headed for an elevator when his boss decided to enter a men's clothing store in the center's shopping mall to buy shirt collar stays. They were in the clothing store when American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the north tower at 8:45 a.m.
"He called me that morning," said Phil Pharr, senior director of development at the University of Florida and a former Gators player. "He said he was headed back to his apartment. He was stunned. It was just good fortune that he was sidetracked."
Acquaintances say he does not like to talk about the event; there were people he knew at that meeting who died that morning.
Richardson, 37, answered his cell phone Saturday and mildly disputed that he was a highly successful analyst on Wall Street, saying, "I wouldn't necessarily say that."
After checking with his boss, however, Richardson declined an interview for this story.
"I will not be able to speak with you. I apologize for that," he said in a message yesterday afternoon.Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette
Huey Richardson listens to Coach Chuck Noll during Steelers training camp in 1991.
Click photo for larger image.
Besides Huey Richardson, the Steelers have had several notable first-round busts in the draft the past two decades. Here's a selection:
DE Daryl Sims, Wisconsin, 20th pick, 1985: The most notable statement he made was when he told the Pittsburgh Press his favorite color was plaid. Lasted two seasons with Steelers.
G John Rienstra, Temple, 9th, 1986: Jittery player who left team one training camp for mental health reasons. Rumored steroids user, admitted alcoholic. Gone in 1990.
DE Aaron Jones, Eastern Kentucky, 18th, 1988: Their 10th-round pick that year, OT John Jackson also from Eastern Kentucky, said they got a better player in him and they did. Somehow, lasted five years with the team.
RB Tim Worley, Georgia, 7th, 1989: Four busts in five years. Worley ultimately was suspended for the '92 season because of drug use and was finished in '93. His selection prompted team to pass on Emmitt Smith in '90.
OT Tom Ricketts, Pitt, 24th, 1989: Called "natural" left tackle, he could not play the position. Moved to guard and lasted three seasons. NFL career ended in '93.
OT Jamain Stephens, North Carolina A&T, 29th, 1996: Steelers' plan to have him sit and watch as a rookie turned into an extended plan. Stephens was gone after the '98 season.
It was a gracious turndown that shed no light on the mystery of Richardson's flop in the NFL that included a phobia of the news media. He literally backpedaled when approached by them and nearly ran from them when he signed his rookie contract and reported for his first day of training camp in Latrobe.
"I don't think he enjoyed being in front of the camera at all," said Charles Bailey, the Steelers' pro scout back then. "He was an intelligent guy, but it was something he didn't prefer."
Few of those associated with Richardson during his brief pro football career have seen or heard from him since. Some won't even talk about him. Ralph Cindrich, his former agent, sent word through a secretary that he hadn't heard from Richardson in a long time and had nothing to say about him.
Those most closely associated with him during his brief time with the Steelers would like to forget him. He wasn't just a bust, he was a monumental bust. He set a Florida record with 12 1/2 sacks in 1989 at outside linebacker, then moved to defensive end as a senior and recorded five sacks. Still, the Steelers thought they had drafted the pass rusher they coveted after missing on other first-round busts such as Daryl Sims (1985) and Aaron Jones (1988).
But the Steelers played a 3-4 defense and Richardson was not stout enough for end and he was not adept enough to play outside linebacker. After his first minicamp, the coaches switched him to inside linebacker because they felt he was too stiff to play on the outside. That upset Steelers scouts. It was one big disaster.
"The Huey Richardson pick to me was total insanity," said Tom Donahoe, the Steelers' director of football development at the time. "It just wasn't going to work and it didn't work.
"It was a stretch to think he could play outside linebacker because he was not a very fluid athlete. He was very stiff. But, that was what we decided, that was what we did and it obviously didn't work."
Dave Brazil, the Steelers' defensive coordinator in 1990 and 1991, remembers Richardson almost comically. One morning early in his first training camp, Richardson's nose was broken during a walk-through in civilian clothes on the lawn in front of Bonaventure Hall at St. Vincent College.
"He was out of commission there," Brazil said, laughing. "That just says it all. He was not a good player. It was a bad pick, no question. He just wasn't a football player.
"I couldn't see any physical talents that would be beneficial to him making the team other than height. He must have had some good games at Florida, must have rushed the passer or made something happen. It's not his fault somebody picked him in the first round."
That's just it. He was a wonderful player at Florida, where he was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame. And he was not drafted higher than he should have been, based on many scouts' ratings in 1991. Dick Haley, the Steelers' director of player personnel when the team drafted him, took a similar job with the New York Jets the next year and purposely checked the Jets' ratings on Richardson.
"Everybody else had him graded high," Haley said. "I knew the Jets had him graded high. He was a good college player, 235, 240 pounds. He was not a perfect linebacker, not a perfect defensive end. You don't have the perfect projection all the time."
The Steelers listed Richardson at inside linebacker as a rookie, even though he never played the position in college. He played five games as a rookie and had two tackles on defense, another on special teams. His knee was injured in training camp and reinjured that fall. But it wasn't the injury that caused coaches to turn their noses up at him.
"He was a bust, no question about that," Brazil said. "He sensed, I'm sure, that he was in way over his head for being a No. 1 pick."
Draft analyst Mel Kiper said it's not such a surprise. He estimates that half of the first-round picks don't pan out for teams.
Richardson, as a Florida Gator, engendered much more respect.
"He was an excellent player at the University of Florida," said Packers defensive end coach Bob Sanders, Richardson's position coach in college. "He's a phenomenal young man, sharp. I was very surprised he didn't make it. He was an excellent rusher for us."
Pharr believed Richardson would be a good pro player, based on what he saw at Florida.
"He had God-given physical ability. He was quick, aggressive and an intelligent football player. He could drop in coverage, play the run. Any difficulties he encountered [in the pros] would have had to be a personality grate."
Yet, he failed with two coaching staffs in Pittsburgh. Chuck Noll retired after Richardson's rookie season. Bill Cowher and his new staff were no more impressed. Cowher turned to Donahoe one day in training camp '92 and asked, "Can you cut a first-round pick?"
Extremely rare, but that is what Cowher did after trying Richardson at outside linebacker that summer.
Some say Richardson, a bright man who went on to earn his MBA from Emory University, had other things he wanted to do in his life besides play pro football. It did not take him long to get started on them.
"If it doesn't work out, you try to forget it," said Haley, who still does some work for the Jets. "You only remember the ones who work out."