Back when he was a collegiate wrestling champion at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Carlton Haselrig used to summon a strength few athletes can comprehend. Haselrig would scale the gymnasium bleachers while carrying another wrestler on his back.
It's a remnant of his past to which Haselrig, with his future now so uncertain, probably doesn't give much thought. Once again, the talented 29-year-old New York Jet guard has buckled under the weight of unmet expectations, legal troubles and the horror of chemical dependency.
For the fifth time in the last two years, Haselrig, a former Pittsburgh Steeler All-Pro who had been named a co-captain in his first season with the Jets, has disappeared. In the summer of 1994 Haselrig was missing for more than three weeks before police found him alone in a cheap motel room near the Pittsburgh airport. That episode cost Haselrig his job with the Steelers. As of Monday the 6'1", 290-pound lineman remained one of America's fleshiest fugitives. There had not been a confirmed sighting of him for 14 days; he was thought to be in possession of a vehicle that had been reported stolen; he had received a one-year suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy; and there was a warrant for his arrest in Pennsylvania for failing to appear at a Dec. 4 hearing in Allegheny County to answer charges that he had driven his Jeep up the steps of a seminary a year earlier.
What began in July as one of football's most inspiring comeback stories has degenerated into a dark mystery. "Every time I hear the phone ring," says Bruce Haselrig, Carlton's uncle, who is the executive assistant vice president for student affairs at Pitt-Johnstown, "I get a knot in my stomach."
"Hell, he might be in Florida some-damn-where," says Fred Haselrig, Carlton's father. "He might even be down around that Carolina team."
"For all I know he could be on the moon," says James Ecker, Carlton's Pittsburgh-based attorney. "Everything seemed to be so wonderful for him, and all of a sudden he's gone. It could be a homicide, a suicide, a kidnapping. Someone's got to go out and find the guy before it's too late."
When Haselrig vanished on Nov. 27, shortly after receiving a letter from the NFL informing him of his one-year suspension, he undoubtedly was racked with guilt. "I think he's embarrassed because he feels he's let a lot of people down," Haselrig's estranged wife, Sara, told the New York Post last week. "And the way he handles that is he isolates himself."
Most significantly, Haselrig let down Sara and their two children—son Jordan 5, and daughter Jade, 3. Although the Haselrigs were separated, family member say that Carlton had been discussing a possible reconciliation with Sara, who live: with the children in Atlanta. This pas summer Haselrig cited Jordan and Jade as his reason for wanting to return to football saying, "I wanted them to have a father who was a something instead of a nothing."
Haselrig also betrayed the trust of hi: close friend Donald Evans, a teammate with both the Steelers and the Jets. Evans, a defensive lineman, had vouched for Haselrig's character before the Jets signed him last summer. Evans leased a 1995 Nissan Altima for his friend so that Haselrig could get around. Last week Evans reported the car stolen, hoping that might help lead the police to Haselrig, who was allegedly driving the vehicle last month when it was involved in a minor hit-and-run accident
That Nov. 4 accident, in New Jersey apparently touched off a monthlong down ward spiral for Haselrig that culminated in his disappearance. During that time Haselrig was arrested, missed two court dates, i team flight and two games, skipped a drug test and subsequently tested positive for alcohol and/or cocaine at least once. Based on interviews with friends and family members, as well as news reports, here is a chronology of recent events in Haselrig's troubled life: