Blastitude Number Three

  ISSUE #4      JANUARY, 3001
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Only Seat in the House
(ed. note: this column is a work of fiction.)

Jan. 22rd, 2001

Dear America,

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.

Art 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.

Art 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.

We 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.

The 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.

After 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.

"Do you love that woman you hurt, son?"

At first I said yes and then I said that I didn't know. I was confused and shocked by his question.

"Is 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?"

We 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."

I scrunched up my brow, held back a somewhat distant feeling of tears, and told him no.

"Well 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!"

We shook hands and walked out of the restaurant.

Draft 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 first pick."

I 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.

I 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.

I 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 news.

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.

Now 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.

Fryar, 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.

Don't 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.

And 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.

I'm sorry Kate.

Lawrence Phillips


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