Only Seat in the
note: this column is a work of fiction.)
Jan. 22rd, 2001
The Super Bowl is this week. Baltimore against New
York. I could be in it, but I am not. Instead, I
am a leper in a world run by insane winners and
losers. My name is Lawrence Phillips.
Five years ago, I met with Baltimore Ravens owner
Art Modell about the prospects of being his club's
No. 1 draft pick. I was fresh off a 100-yard-plus
performance in the Fiesta Bowl, a game between my
school, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and the Florida
Gators that was to determine the mythical national
champion of 1995. We won handily. I looked great
that night, a combination of Sonny Liston and Fred
Astaire in my opinion. More than one sportswriter
said I looked like Jim Brown, the only NFL brother
who will forever matter. I had fun in that game.
I was the real me, LP, king of the long play.
Modell is a man I don't know well, but I will never
forget. In March that year, about two weeks prior
to the draft, he wanted to meet me alone, without
the conversational help of my agent. He said he
wanted to get a feel for the kind of man I truly
was. He, of course, had heard about my problems
during my senior year with Nebraska. The way I drug
my old girlfriend Kate down a flight of stairs by
her hair and bruised her face shortly thereafter.
I don't know what happened that night. But anyway,
I agreed to meet with Art one-on-one.
picked me up in his limo at 11 am at the Baltimore
airport. It was a nice limo. It had a TV, a little
kitchen and a waiter who would get you damn near
anything you wanted. I ordered a Coke, Art had a
coffee and we talked about the weather as we crawled
along an interstate leading to the city. It was
chilly and windy, but the sun was real bright out.
I remember seeing an old brother working on a road
crew with a puffy winter coat and ski mask on. I
felt awfully nice sitting in that limo when I saw
him freezing his tail off trying to earn a buck.
made our way to a downtown steak house in what Art
said was the city's tallest building. The restaurant
was located on the 60th floor. When we got off the
elevator, I immediately noticed the place was all
windows. Even the floor! I looked down between my
feet and there were these guys running around in
white blazers and checkered pants. The kitchen was
the next floor down! I thought that was pretty cool.
I know it made me hungry looking down there, and
I think that was the idea. Within seconds of our
arrival, we were seated at a table in the corner
of the dining area. I looked out the windows and
I could see the ocean. "Man, this is nice," I thought.
I wanted to stay in that restaurant for as long
as I could. It was a long way from my hometown of
Compton -- that's for sure. When I walked in there,
I knew I wanted to be a Raven. I really did.
meal was one of the best I have ever had. Beef ribs
in some kind of Cajun gravy, garlic mashed potatoes,
some corn and pumpkin pie for dessert. Art ordered
fried salmon and chocolate cake. Art asked me a
lot about Coach Osborne as we ate. I told him that
old Tom was real strict, but nice at the same time.
I told Art that Coach was a vegetarian and Art laughed
and said, "Well, I sure as hell better not ever
bring him up here." He giggled a little and then
pointed his fork down to the next floor where two
kitchen guys were carving up a fresh, red slab of
meat. I thought that was pretty funny. Coach is
an avid hunter and a vegetarian for dietary reasons
alone. I didn't tell Art this because I didn't want
to mess up his funny remark.
the meal ended, Art became a lot more serious. He
asked me about my mother who I hadn't seen in years.
He asked me about my father who I had never met.
He asked me about Kate.
you love that woman you hurt, son?"
first I said yes and then I said that I didn't know.
I was confused and shocked by his question.
this going to happen again, Lawrence? This overly
aggressive behavior? Son, I know you've had a tough
go of things. Heck, you were raised in an orphanage
practically, but here you sit in one of the finest
restaurants on the East Coast. That says a lot for
your character. A lot of kids like you are dead,
but you've made a go of it. But you have to tell
me Lawrence, is this going to happen again?"
looked each other in the eyes for a couple of seconds
and then he goes, "Tell me no, and I will see to
it that you will be the first great Baltimore Ravens
running back in what is going to be a storied franchise.
We'll make you the first pick, son, just tell me
no and God damn mean it."
scrunched up my brow, held back a somewhat distant
feeling of tears, and told him no.
good Lawrence," he said as he got up to leave. I
stood up too. "You're gonna be a damn good ball
player and a decent citizen of Baltimore. I can
feel it. I mean look at you. Look at that build!
You look like you could put Mike Tyson on his canoosh!"
shook hands and walked out of the restaurant.
day came and I was watching the draft show on television
back in Compton. Most high draft picks were in New
York for the presentation. My agent told me to stay
out of the limelight, so I went to hang out with
some old neighborhood homies. We were drinking Coronas
and on the edge of our seats when they announced
Baltimore's pick, the fourth overall. NFL commissioner
Paul Tagliabue walked to the podium, and said "Baltimore
selects Jonathan Ogden, tackle from UCLA, with their
was heartbroken. The announcers said that Art initially
wanted to take me with the pick, but he was advised
by public relations people to take someone less
controversial. I thought he might call to explain,
but he never did.
liked Art more than any other owner or old man that
I've ever met. I wanted to play for him. I often
wonder what would of happened had he kept his word.
Would I be playing in the Super Bowl this weekend?
Would have playing for Art meant enough to me to
keep me from driving drunk, abusing more women?
All I know is that I had a knot in my stomach the
entire draft day after Art picked the UCLA guy.
The Rams took me with the sixth pick, which was
nice, but I knew it was not going to work. I was
trying to look at this as a new beginning, but inside,
I knew I was in deep shit. Rams Coach Dick Vermeil
called me to welcome me on his team. I could see
the grin on his shiny face.
have been out of work for more than a year now,
so I have had plenty of time to think. I want to
try to explain something that's been on my mind
as of late. I have done a lot of bad things. That,
I admit. But if I would have done them all while
in the pros, rather than in college, I would not
be nearly the poster boy for bad behavior that I
have become. People hate me much more than the pros
who couldn't help but fuck shit up. I can feel the
hatred. Hell, I could hear it when the ESPN announcers
would say my name during my highlights as a pro.
They sounded ashamed to mention me, even though
I hurt Kate a long time before. The memory of me
hurting her is never distant for these journalists.
It's like it happened yesterday, forever headline
I think people, journalists especially, view college
players as virgins and professional players as whores,
or something like that. For some reason, it's not
a big deal when the pros fuck up because they are
part of an industry where the bottom line is discussed
rather than ignored. While, you know, college football
is romantic and shit. We were suppose to be "student-athletes."
Nebraska didn't spend all that money on tutors so
I could get straight A's. They had money to make
too. The tutor stuff was like them picking up my
bus fare so I could get to work. And college teams
have kooky traditions like Texas A&M's 12th Man
and Touchdown Jesus at Notre Dame. College ball
ain't about keeping it real. It's a damn fairy tale.
I've never been much of a scholar, but I've been
doing some research about pros and abuse towards
women. Irving Fryar, an old Husker brother, stabbed
his wife in the hand when he was playing for the
New England Patriots. Warren Moon has been arrested
for abusing his wife. I bet Lyle Alzado dragged
a woman around by her hair twice a week during his
prime with the Raiders. Alzado, who died due to
complications stemming from steroid abuse, is remembered
as a victim. God knows the number of victims
of his manic steroid indulgences.
on the other hand, was given a new motorcycle from
his team owner when he initially retired. (He's
back in the NFL.) And Moon might as well be the
man on the moon. People love this dude. Upon retirement,
both these brothers are going to end up with a cushy
job in the announcers' booth. Meanwhile, I can't
get a job as a blocking back on extra point kicks
because I made my big mistake while still in college.
believe me? Just ask Jason Williams, point guard
for the Sacramento Kings. Now this white brother
has got some nasty shit crawling out of his game,
but that's another story. My point is that he got
caught smoking marijuana a bunch of times in college
and he is still thought of as a no-good stoner years
later. Never mind that the NBA is full of reefer.
Everyone knows it and nobody cares. Grown men can
be as bad as they want to be, I guess. It's like
college players got to stay pure or forever live
in disgrace. Meanwhile, the pros can smoke a blunt
and stab their wives and later become TV game commentators.
back to football, there's Ray Lewis, star linebacker
for Art's Ravens. He lied to the cops to get one
of his homies off a murder rap. Someone died there
and no one's doing time. But he'll be playing in
the Super Bowl this weekend, and people will pay
him much respect. Me? I'll be sitting here watching
the game on TV from leper land, buying my homies
Coronas. I'll see a camera shot of Art sitting in
the owner's booth and I'll think about beef ribs
with Cajun gravy. I'll think about carrying the
ball, about dancing and ramming. I'll think about
what could have been.