Maddox’s Road To Success Circuitous
January 11, 2003 | By Ryan Clark, Sentinel Staff Writer
Glynda Maddox caught her breath when she saw Tommy take the hit, and she let out the worried sigh of a mother watching her son play quarterback in the NFL.
She hated seeing Tommy in pain, so she looked away from the field and scanned the crowd at The Coliseum in Nashville, Tenn., on Nov. 17. Ten other friends and relatives had gathered to see Tommy’s Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Titans.
But after a career of persevering, one tackle from Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck had stopped Tommy Maddox. On the field, Maddox didn’t move.
“I didn’t know what to say; it was so horrible,” Glynda said. “He wasn’t moving, and we couldn’t tell if he was OK. The people on TV could see him better than us, so we didn’t know what had happened.
“It’s always been hard to watch him play football, but whatever your kids do, you have to support them. The danger is just part of it.”
What Glynda Maddox didn’t know was that while teammates surrounded him on the field — some praying, others looking nervously to the sideline — her son was unconscious. Minutes later, when he regained consciousness, he would tell trainers he couldn’t move or feel his limbs.
In the stands, Glynda watched as an ambulance took Tommy, 31, to the hospital, where he would stay overnight. Glynda stayed, too, after her son was diagnosed with concussions to his brain and spinal cord. Maddox later said he lost feeling in his legs for 45 minutes at the hospital.
“It was a bad, bad experience,” Glynda said. “I just don’t know what else to say.”
Now Maddox, the former first-round pick turned bust turned NFL comeback player of the year, has yet another chance. He is recovered from his injuries, and after leading a 17-point comeback against the Cleveland Browns last week, he and the Steelers find themselves traveling to Nashville to play the Titans at 4:30 p.m. today. This time, the prize is a berth in the AFC Championship Game.
“Everybody has asked me about going back,” Maddox said. “I am excited to go back. I’m excited about where we are in this playoff chase.
“It doesn’t matter what stadium you are in, what field you are on. It’s all playing football. I give no thoughts to [the injury] whatsoever unless I am asked about it.”
And why shouldn’t Maddox be preoccupied with the future instead of the past? After winding through the NFL, the Arena Football League and the XFL, there was a time when the next paycheck seemed as uncertain as a rainy day in his hometown of Hurst, Texas.
THE COMEBACK TRAIL
Ross Dawson, coach of the Bell High Blue Raiders in Hurst, Texas, remembers how Maddox returned to his alma mater to work with his quarterbacks in 1999.
Maddox just had decided to attempt an NFL comeback, four years after appearing in his last NFL game.
Dawson and Maddox stood together on the practice field and evaluated the latest installment of the Bell football team, where, eight years earlier, Maddox dazzled recruiters and accepted a scholarship from UCLA. Maddox would go on to throw for more than 5,000 yards in two years and lead the Bruins to a 1991 John Hancock Bowl victory.
But on this day, Maddox was unusually quiet, and Dawson knew something was troubling him.
During a break in practice, Maddox broke the silence.
“Coach, if the NFL doesn’t work out . . .,” Maddox’s Southern drawl softened. “If the NFL doesn’t work out, well, I’ve never worked a day in my whole life, and I really don’t want to. I don’t like the insurance business. Would you hire me to help coach the football team?”
Dawson smiled. “In a heartbeat,” he said.
Maddox’s NFL career was anything but smooth. He was the Denver Broncos’ first-round pick in 1992, leaving UCLA after his sophomore season. But the Broncos already had a quarterback, the immensely popular John Elway. Maddox threw 122 passes in two seasons with Denver, starting four times when Elway was hurt in ’92.
Maddox was dealt to the Los Angeles Rams in 1994 for a fourth-round choice and threw 19 passes that season in a backup role. He was cut after the season and picked up by the New York Giants, for whom he threw 23 passes in 1995.
The Giants cut him loose after that season, and Maddox tried to hook on with the Atlanta Falcons. But they cut him during camp in ’96, and Maddox, then 24, a former first-round pick with great promise, suddenly was out of football.
For the next three years, he ran an insurance agency in the Dallas suburb of Flower Mound. He still had a yearning for football, though, so he sold the agency.
Instead of finding an NFL opening, he found New Jersey. That is, he found the Arena Football League’s Red Dogs, with whom he threw 64 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2000.
Fame was close by — in the form of an “X.”
In 2001, Al Luginbill, then-coach of the Los Angeles Xtreme of the XFL, plucked Maddox from the arena league to quarterback his team.
“This was a guy who was basically construed by many so-called experts as a failure,” said Luginbill, now coach of the arena league’s Detroit Fury. “But when we were looking for a quarterback, we wanted a guy who could win us a championship, and we thought Tommy Maddox was our guy.”
Luginbill said three factors led him to go after Maddox.
“One, the guy has a tremendously quick release,” Luginbill said. “He’s very quick and very accurate — a product of the arena league. But he’s also a tough guy. You get hit a lot of times in that league, and you have to keep getting back up and walking back to the huddle. Thirdly, he’s a gamer. His history shows that he just gets better as the season progresses.”
In Maddox’s last three games in the XFL, a game to decide the division title and two playoff games, Luginbill said his quarterback’s level of play grew to match the intensity, resulting in a 38-6 drubbing of San Francisco in the championship game. Maddox was chosen the league’s MVP.
“It’s the same way now,” Luginbill said. “He is at his best when his team needs him.”
After starring in the XFL, Maddox again found himself without work when the league folded after its first season. He then drafted a letter, with the help of his father, and sent it to all 31 NFL teams, asking for a chance to come to training camp.
He received no responses. He revised the letter and again sent it to every NFL team. This time, three letters came back.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs showed polite interest and said they would be in touch, but they never followed through.
The Steelers, though, invited him to camp.
“He really impressed us in camp,” Steelers Coach Bill Cowher said. “He just blew us away. He very quickly picked up our offense and showed great accuracy and decision-making.”
The Steelers kept him around as a backup to Kordell Stewart.
Going into this season, nothing was guaranteed for Maddox, who had to battle former Detroit Lions starter Charlie Batch for the backup job. His play again impressed Cowher, and when Stewart and the Steelers stumbled badly early in the season, Maddox suddenly was the starter.
While not nearly as athletic as Stewart, Maddox is a better passer. Sure, he took some chances (witness his 16 interceptions), but his consistency and strong arm also opened the passing game. He works extremely well with Plaxico Burress, who has emerged as a legit No. 2 receiver behind Hines Ward. Burress and Ward combined for 190 catches and 19 touchdowns during the regular season. The receptions total was the third highest for a receiving duo this season, behind the Buffalo Bills’ Eric Moulds and Peerless Price (194) and the Indianapolis Colts’ Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne (192).
One of Maddox’s problems the first time around in the NFL was that he held the ball too long. That problem was cured by his stint in the Arena Football League, which requires its quarterbacks to make quick decisions and quick throws.
“People tell me, `Well, he’ll be a flash in the pan in the NFL,’ but I say, `No way,’ ” Luginbill said. “Tommy Maddox has arrived.”
His teammates agree.
“We’ve seen ourselves grow as players together,” Burress said. “I’ve seen him grow as a leader here, and we’ve developed our own kind of communication on the field. To see him go down at Tennessee, that was really hard because we’d been playing so well together.”
Atlanta Coach Dan Reeves was Denver’s coach when the Broncos chose Maddox in the first round in 1992. Reeves also gave Maddox a chance in 1995, when he coached the Giants.
“Tommy Maddox is the one you need to pat on the back because of all he’s been through,” Reeves said. “I’ve experienced rejection twice, and any time you experience rejection, it hurts, and it hurts deeply. To have him come back and persevere, I’m proud of him.”
Maddox grew up in Hurst, a suburb of Fort Worth with a population of about 30,000. It’s where Maddox built his legend.
Former Bell High coach Tim Edwards says Maddox still is grounded and still remembers his many career disappointments.
“I remember when I first heard of Tommy Maddox,” Edwards said. “My oldest daughter was in the fifth grade, and she came home and said Tommy Maddox kissed her.
“I kept my eye on him ever since.” Maddox started at Bell for two years, and Edwards said he was a natural leader.
“He makes people think they can win, no matter what’s going on,” Edwards said. “You have to have courage to keep believing and dreaming, and he has that.”
In a league of superstar quarterbacks, Maddox has developed a genre of his own: The League Thought I Was Washed Up But The League Was Wrong. The number of members? One.
Maddox is signed through the 2006 season and is making $627,160 this season. That’s about 10 percent of what Stewart is making this season — and that’s why it’s expected that Stewart will be traded or released after the season.
“This is what I do,” Maddox said. “When I step out on the field, I expect to play well, and I expect to win. There will come a time after it’s all said and done that I’ll look back and say, `What a great ride.’ But now’s not the time to do that.”
Until then, Glynda Maddox will keep worrying.