SI Vault
 
Invisible Man
Michael Silver
December 18, 1995
Carlton Haselrig won a fresh start with the Jets, but he vanished after a series of missteps pushed him back toward addiction and despair
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
December 18, 1995

Invisible Man

Carlton Haselrig won a fresh start with the Jets, but he vanished after a series of missteps pushed him back toward addiction and despair

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

As heartwarming as Haselrig's story seemed, his life was filled with trouble. In 1988 two Pitt-Johnstown students were convicted of raping another student in a campus dormitory the previous year (although both men served minimum sentences, the convictions were subsequently overturned). The victim testified that Haselrig had cut off her exit and locked the door, but no criminal charges were filed against him. In '89 Haselrig served two days in jail after he was convicted of punching another Pitt-Johnstown student, who suffered a brain bruise. Haselrig was arrested for drunken driving in 1991 and was convicted two years later.

On Sept. 26, 1992, Haselrig totaled his car while driving to the Pittsburgh Airport, where the Steeler charter was waiting to take the team to Green Bay for a game with the Packers. Fearing that he would be late for the flight, Haselrig had sped the wrong way down a one-way street and had collided head-on with another car. Haselrig's head smashed through the windshield, and his chest broke the steering wheel. After a large gash in his forehead was stitched up, Haselrig caught a commercial flight to Chicago, then passed out at the airport there and missed his connection. He paid $500 for a 200-mile cab ride to Green Bay, arrived after 4 a.m. on Sunday morning and started that afternoon against the Packers. "I was seeing two of everything," he told SI several months later. "And of course my chest was hurting where I broke the steering wheel."

By February 1994 Haselrig had been a patient at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and at the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Aliquippa, Pa. The latter stay forced him to miss four games of the '93 season. His third rehab stint, at the John Lucas Residential Treatment Center in Houston, came after a short disappearance early in '94.

On Aug. 14 of that year he vanished from the Steeler training camp in Latrobe, Pa. After Sara filed a missing-person report three weeks later, a tip led authorities to the Econo-Lodge Motel near the Pittsburgh airport. Anthony Griggs of the Steeler training staff went to the motel on Sept. 6 and urged Haselrig to return to Gateway. But Haselrig went home to Johnstown instead, where he began training with the Pitt-Johnstown wrestling squad.

That fall Haselrig disappeared again, surfacing in December after driving his Jeep up the steps and across the lawn of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Police found a pistol in the Jeep and said his blood-alcohol level was 0.17—well over the legal limit. He was charged with DUI, malicious mischief and possession of an unlicensed firearm. He posted bail and went AWOL again, failing to show up for a preliminary hearing in January. Spotted by police officers the following month in a Pittsburgh bar, Haselrig resisted attempts to handcuff him, and it took nine officers to bring him in.

By this past March, Haselrig was making ends meet by unloading refrigerated trucks for a Pittsburgh grocery store. When approached by Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Haselrig began talking about his family and burst into tears. In January, Sara had obtained an order of protection against her husband and had moved with the children to Atlanta. "Carlton has changed so much," she told Bouchette. "It's like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It's sad. He's such a good person. People instantly like him. Drink and drugs turned him into something he's not."

By summer Haselrig, through his charm and apparent dedication, had once again persuaded someone to give him another chance. This time, after a stay at the Harvard Medical School's rehabilitation facility, Haselrig won over the Jets. Shortly before training camp he signed a two-year, $450,000 contract—with playing-time incentives that could have doubled the amount. With Evans as a big-brother figure, Haselrig appeared to be a model citizen and was named a co-captain.

Haselrig often joined the other offensive linemen for Thursday-night get-togethers at a Long Island restaurant owned by former Jet linebacker Greg Buttle. "He would usually eat quickly and then leave," Jet center Cal Dixon says. "The rest of us usually play cards and have some beers. I don't think he wanted to be around that temptation."

Apart from Evans, Haselrig's Jet teammates knew little about him—except that he could play. "He was far and away their best lineman," the Steelers' Donahoe says.

It was Donahoe who had told Haselrig last December, shortly after the seminary episode, "You're going to wind up dead." Haselrig said nothing in response. Now many people close to him share Donahoe's concerns.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4