On the Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger has a long way to go in rehabilitating his image
Ben Roethlisberger talked for the first time Thursday since he was cleared to resume team activities by the league office.
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Athletes are forever coming back from one thing or another, whether injury, a poor season, personal loss or even -- as Michael Jordan, Mario Lemieux, Brett Favre and Sugar Ray Leonard -- from retirement.
Their success rate is mixed, not surprisingly. And if someone pulls it off, they sometimes put a name to it (Tommy John surgery, for example).
Pro football has a trio of current prominent players attempting comebacks of one sort or another. They involve quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick and wide receiver Santonio Holmes, and their circumstances are different from each other.
The league suspended them, each was accused of a crime but only Vick was convicted and served time in jail. Roethlisberger was never charged with a crime. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Vick for two games to open the 2009 season after the former Atlanta Falcons star quarterback was convicted for dog fighting, among other things. He spent 21 months in jail and missed the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for the first four to six games of the 2010 season for some sleazy action in a Georgia bar that authorities deemed did not rise to criminal activity. Holmes, who has been accused and arrested several times on different charges, also has never been convicted, but violated the NFL drug policy and will serve a four-game suspension to start the season because of it.
How will these three players come back? So far, Vick has lost the most of the three. The Falcons cut him, he turns 30 this month and likely will not become the Eagles' starter even though they traded Donovan McNabb. He filed for bankruptcy and played little in his first season back.
Roethlisberger has a long journey ahead to win back the respect of fans, but still has that $103 million contract and is only 28. His recovery rests in his hands, not someone else's (although there remains the Nevada civil suit).
Holmes can carry on with a new team, the New York Jets, and at only 26, can salvage his NFL career.
Many athletes have returned successfully from disgrace, legal problems and drug addiction. Ernie Holmes overcame a 1973 incident in which he shot a police helicopter and a drug trial in Texas to help form the Steel Curtain defense, earn two Super Bowl rings and continue his life without incident until his death in 2008.
Baltimore's Ray Lewis was arrested for murder in 2000, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and has gone on to become the most beloved player in Ravens' history and a sure-fire Hall of Famer.
Others were not so successful, and I have first-hand knowledge of a few. I wrote a story many years ago after talking to quarterback Art Schlichter, who proclaimed to me that he had beaten his gambling addiction. The day the story came out, Schlichter was charged with passing a bad check to fuel his gambling addiction. I listened to Bengals fullback Stanley Wilson talk about how he overcame his drug addiction, five days before the 1989 Super Bowl in Miami. I wrote an uplifting story about Wilson. The night before the Super Bowl, they found Wilson in his hotel bathroom in a cocaine stupor.
The NFL landscape is littered with stories of successful redemption and those of relapses and failure. Vick, Roethlisberger and Holmes have chances to write their own accounts.
Speaking of comebacks, Denver claimed linebacker Bruce Davis off waivers from New England the past week. Davis was the Steelers' third-round draft pick in 2008, No. 88 overall, and he did nothing. He did so little that he was cut last summer after spending most of his time out of uniform as a rookie.
Remember his name the next time someone says the Steelers should base their draft picks on "production" at big-time colleges. Davis played at UCLA and finished second in that school's history with 29 sacks, just 1.5 off the team record. He had 24.5 of them in his final two seasons. His 42.5 tackles for losses were third in school history, three behind record-holder Carnell Lake.
That's big production in a big conference. He also is smart, having earned the school's Director's Honor Roll, and he did not leave college early, spending five years at UCLA, starting with his redshirt year in 2003. By all indications, Davis was a good, solid pick for the Steelers in the third round.
He was one of those 'tweener college defensive ends the Steelers have had such success converting to outside linebacker through the years. He had good size at 6-3, 252 pounds. But the red flag went up when he could not make it on special teams as a rookie in 2008. Most young outside linebackers who became successful with the Steelers had to wait a few years before they played; in the meantime, they cut their teeth on special teams.
Davis did not suit up for 11 games in 2008. He "played" in five and his number of tackles equaled the GPA of Bluto Blutarsky, 0.0. The Steelers waived him Sept. 4, 2009, and, after spending last season on New England's practice squad, he's still looking for his first tackle.
Maybe he will thrive in Denver. In the meantime, the Steelers are still trying to find the type of linebacker they thought they had in Davis. This year, they drafted defensive ends Jason Worilds of Virginia Tech in the second round and Thaddeus Gibson of Ohio State in the fourth. The Steelers will put both at outside linebacker.
First Published June 6, 2010 12:00 am