just dug this up...poor guy I think he should still be in the league and playing if Ricky gets a shot so should this guy
As the NFL dusts off the welcome mat for Ricky Williams, and rolls out the red carpet for the imminent return of the Miami Dolphins' erstwhile tailback, Rashard Anderson can't help but speculate whether the league is rolling up the sidewalks and preparing to bolt all of the remaining unlatched doors on his football career.
While league officials have circumvented their own rules by opting to treat Williams' voluntary hiatus from the game as time served on the one-year sanction for three positive marijuana tests, Anderson wonders aloud why he was always held to the letter of the law during his own two-year suspension. Sitting at home in Forest, Miss., waiting for a phone call he acknowledged this week might never come, Anderson questions how one documented reefer junkie is suddenly a prized prodigal, while his own addiction to marijuana has seemingly made him a pariah.
Anderson isn't bitter, mind you, just bewildered.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Rashard Anderson played from 2000-2001 with the Panthers."Every time I turn on the TV, it seems like they're talking about Ricky Williams, how he is coming back," said Anderson, a cornerback chosen by the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the 2000 draft, who hasn't played an NFL game since the 2001 season. "I feel like I'm sitting over in a corner, you know, screaming, 'Hey, look at me! What about me?' And it's like, no matter how loud I scream, no one is listening. I mean, I'm 6-feet-2 and 205 pounds, and I can still run. In a league where everyone is always looking for corners, I think to myself, 'Man, I'm supposed to be what everybody wants.' But right now, it's like I'm the only one thinking that way."
For those unfamiliar with Anderson, and the folks with selective amnesia (a subset that includes some team personnel executives), a refresher course: Anderson was selected 23rd overall in the 2000 draft, and after signing a five-year, $6 million deal that included a $2.83 million signing bonus, the former Jackson State star appeared in 27 games during 2000-01, with nine starts. Bouncing between cornerback and safety, he collected 59 tackles, one interception and nine passes defensed.
Then in the spring of '02, Anderson was suspended for a repeat violation of the NFL substance abuse policy. A subsequent screening while still in the program, believed to be a third positive test in a four-month period, earned Anderson an indefinite suspension. After some bouts with recidivism, Anderson was finally reinstated by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in 2004, whereupon the Panthers immediately released him.
Anderson hasn't worked in the NFL since, and at age 27, time is running out on him.
Despite being clean from marijuana and ecstasy, a secondary vice, for about 15 months, Anderson has seen more woe than workouts. Only Green Bay and New Orleans brought him in for auditions after Carolina banished him. There have been some promises, but no contract proposals – at least from NFL teams.
Two weeks ago, asked about Williams' pending return, Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor noted that "this is America," where everyone gets a second chance. While the globe-trotting Williams toured third-world countries, criticizing the materialism he apparently has now decided to embrace again, Anderson didn't go quite that far. His road to what he hoped would be redemption began, instead, in Canada.
Eager to resume his football career, and willing to use the CFL as a potential springboard, Anderson signed on with the Calgary Stampeders last month. Yet even after snatching an interception in his first professional appearance in 41 months, Anderson was released last week when the Stamps slashed their roster to the 40-player regular-season limit.
Not even the man who handed Anderson his CFL pink slip, though, is convinced the former Panthers cornerback should be earmarked for the football scrap heap.
"People who haven't seen our game might not understand this, but it's just different for a cornerback, and some of the things Rashard does well simply didn't translate to our style of play," Calgary general manager Jim Barker said. "He's got really long arms and he is physical, able to jam receivers. But in our game, the receivers are in motion before the snap, and it's hard to get your hands on them and lock them up. Granted, I don't think Rashard has the same top-end speed that he had coming out [of college], and there was a little rust involved, but there is still talent there. To me, the guy has done his penance, and I'm pretty surprised that there are no NFL teams willing to bring him to camp."
If his release by Calgary was surprising – "Oh man, more like stunning, OK?" Anderson said – the endorsement by Barker is not. From a temperament standpoint, Anderson is an even-keeled guy. He is bright, with a degree in criminal justice that he soon may be forced to use. He's articulate and candid (perhaps to a fault) in discussing his past.
Neither work ethic nor attitude were problems, Barker said, during Anderson's short stint north of the border. He was, according to Barker, a model citizen, a player who displayed no signs he was slipping back into his purple haze past.
“ It's true that, whatever wounds I've got, physical or psychological, well, they were all self-inflicted. Oh, man, I have stabbed myself bad, you know? There is no one else to point the finger at and say, 'Ah-hah, it was your fault.' All I've got to do is walk to the mirror, that's all. And why was it? Immaturity. Stubbornness. A lack of self-control. Ego. All of the above. It all comes with the professional athlete's territory. ”
— Rashard Anderson, former Panthers CB
"A lot of NFL guys who come up here," Barker said, "kind of look down on our game. They think they're better than this. You didn't see any of that [with Anderson]. He was so humbled by his experience, and trying to jump-start his career again, that none of that was a factor with him. He was a good guy. Our players and coaches liked him. We just couldn't afford to keep him, that's all. But if some NFL team called me, I'd recommend him, and have no [qualms] about it."
Whether any NFL personnel director actually reaches for the phone and calls Barker, remains to be seen.
Just on the chance that some team seeking a veteran cornerback with a minimum-salary price tag finds him, Anderson will likely begin working again with renowned New Orleans-based personal trainer Tom Shaw, who prepared him for the Calgary training camp. Don't expect the pragmatic Anderson, however, to sit all day just staring at the phone.
Even though NFL teams have brought back several players with rap sheets longer and considerably more extensive than his, Anderson harbors few illusions. He won't suggest there is collusion involved in keeping him out of the NFL, but is confused by the dearth of interest in him. There are some gray areas about his status in the NFL substance abuse program, under which he is still subject to 10 random tests per month. But he has not tested positive for marijuana or ecstasy since his reinstatement.
One league official confirmed no franchise – at least in the past few months – has even checked with the NFL to determine Anderson's standing. A quick survey of seven NFL personnel directors this week indicated Anderson isn't on the emergency lists of any of them. Every day away from the game lengthens the odds Anderson will get back into it.
Mentally, there is a palpable calm about Anderson. But physically, after getting the juices flowing again during the CFL preseason, he is convinced he could come back to the NFL and contribute for someone.
"My first few days [in Canada], man, the soreness was just ridiculous," Anderson said. "I'd be down in my backpedal and thinking, 'Rashard, can you even do this anymore? And, if you can, is it worth all this pain to prove that you can?' But after those first two or three days, I was just like a car after you get the first 200 or 300 miles on it. The breaking-in period was over all of a sudden, and I was like on 'go.' That's still where I am. Maybe I didn't realize, during the years I was out of the game, just how much I missed it. But I sure do know it now. I missed it a lot."
The next few weeks, leading up to the July opening of training camps, will tell whether teams missed out on an opportunity to add a player, on the cheap, who once held great promise. One negative for Anderson during his time in the NFL was that the Panthers were never quite certain if safety or cornerback was his best position. But Jack Bushofsky, the team's personnel director when Carolina chose Anderson in 2000, felt the best approach was to put him on the corner and keep him there long enough to ascertain if he had the natural instincts to play on the edge
"He was big, physical and could run well enough," Bushofsky said. "That was kind of the prototype of what you were looking for [at cornerback]."
Playing him at cornerback was the way the Panthers were headed when Anderson was suspended in '02. Referring to the "basic one-on-one challenge" inherent to the position, cornerback is where Anderson would prefer to play.
Remarkably candid about his past weakness, Anderson said staying straight remains, even after 15 months after swearing off marijuana, a far more significant challenge than covering the fastest wide receivers on a deep go route.
His hard-working and perseverant agent, Ben Wilson, who has burned up the phone lines merely trying to get a team to look at Anderson, said his client has never harmed anyone but himself.
"The only person who's ever suffered from the consequences of Rashard's actions is, well, Rashard," he said.
If he can't explain his self-destructive bent of the past, a habit in which he squandered millions of dollars in bonuses and salaries, Anderson certainly doesn't deny it.
"It's true that, whatever wounds I've got, physical or psychological, well, they were all self-inflicted," Anderson said. "Oh, man, I have stabbed myself bad, you know? There is no one else to point the finger at and say, 'Ah-hah, it was your fault.' All I've got to do is walk to the mirror, that's all. And why was it? Immaturity. Stubbornness. A lack of self-control. Ego. All of the above. It all comes with the professional athlete's territory.
"People will say to me, 'Man, you have p----- away millions.' But when you're doing it, you don't think of it that way. When I was sitting there all alone, and firing up [a joint], no one was telling me not to do it. Least of all myself. The only things that change you when you're like that are experience and maturity. I mean, you can tell someone not to stick their hand in a fire, right? But sometimes they've got to experience the pain for themselves, and be smart enough to decide, 'Well, now, I don't ever want to do that again,' before they get it. I got it, but it took me three years. And that's a long time."
Maybe, unfortunately, too long. Especially in a profession with such a short shelf life. Anderson has been out of sight for three seasons, and given the lack of response to Wilson's calls to personnel directors around the NFL, apparently out of mind as well.
Anderson is reluctant to set a time for when he will decide the pursuit of trying to be pursued again has run its course. But there are family considerations – like his two daughters, ages 3 and 1, and a loving girlfriend – and those realities are part of the equation he mentally crunches several times a day.
Just before the Calgary Stampeders called to offer a possible job, Anderson was all but convinced time had run out on him. The flirtation with resurrecting his career whetted his appetite for the game, and for the competition he so relishes, but the realist in him says he can't chase the dream forever.
If his football career is, quite literally, up in smoke, it seems Anderson will find a way to reconcile what could have been with what he now has in his life, and move on.
"I made sure I got my degree and I'm not afraid, not like some athletes, of doing the 9-5 thing," Anderson said. "I've got a family to care for and that is uppermost. So while I can't answer right now how much longer I'll chase this thing, it won't be forever. There is something in me that tells me something good is going to happen but, if it's going to happen, it has to be soon.
"I mean, I'm a believer, but I'm not a fool."