The Ghost Of Players Future
Although we’d like to think of ourselves as a scientifically oriented society, there’s a certain amount of magic and mysticism that accompanies almost everything we do. Nowhere is that more true than football. Players are carefully groomed, statistics are highly monitored and every potential player is examined from their high school and college career foreword to see their strength and weaknesses. Though all this happens, the perceived potential of an NFL draft pick is still pure prophecy. Some players fulfill their promise and make a team the Super Bowl winner. Other players fail to make that potential a reality and lead their team down a dark and winding path.
Ricky Williams was anybody’s dream of a football player. A Heisman Trophy winner with speed and strength, he seemed like the next Walter Payton or Earl Campbell. It was no surprise to anyone when head coach of the New Orleans Saints, Mike Ditka, traded all of his draft picks to get Ricky Williams. Although Williams and Ditka seemed like opposite sides of the spectrum, conventional wisdom was that Williams would lead the Saints to an unprecedented string of wins. Unfortunately not only was Williams unable to live up to his potential, he did so badly that the team performed at an all-time low. Ditka was eventually fired for the team’s performance and Williams traded to the Miami Dolphins. Williams, who not only could not perform on the field was terribly shy and had awful relations with the media off the field. He was finally diagnosed with severe depression and social anxiety disorder. With medication, he began to do better, but decided that marijuana was a better medication than the Paxil he’d been proscribed. Not long after that, Williams failed his three allowable drug offenses, and was asked to retire from football. Although he has tried several times to get back into the NFL, his continued failure at drug testing indicates that he may never be able to return to the sport of which he seemed to have such great promise.
Arguably one of the worst players to ever take the football field, it’s unimaginable now to realize that Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning were neck and neck in the draft of 1998. Manning went to the Indianapolis Colts, had a stellar rookie year and set five new NFL records. Ryan Leaf went to the Chargers. He struggled both on and off the field playing one of the worst NFL games a quarterback ever played, completing only 1 of 15 passes with two interceptions. By the end of the year his completion rate was only 45.3%. He spent the second year out on injuries. Complicating his poor performance was bad behavior, fighting with fans, heckling media and being insubordinate to coaches. Leaf was traded 3 times in 5 years, and eventually left football to coach at the college level.
Courtney Brown was known for such a prolific running ability that he was drafted first by the Cleveland Browns, who intended to build their team around his strong running game. Unfortunately, his many injuries and failure to perform on the field earned him the nickname, “Tough luck, Brown”. He spent the entire 2006 season on the injured reserve list and then failed a physical and was unable to return. In 2007 he was cut and it is doubtful that he can ever return to play at a professional level for a sustained period of time. A tragic injury cut his career far short of his expected potential.
We see these young college players with their skills, agility and potential and imagine nothing can go wrong. Whether it’s a medical disorder, poor behavior or tragic injury, a player is sometimes simply unable to live up to their prophecy.