HE didn't expect to be in town long, so when wideout Oronde Gadsden traveled to Miami in August for a tryout with the Dolphins, he packed only one change of clothes. Three months later the 6'3", 220-pound itinerant receiver with a penchant for clutch catches has found a home in Miami's starting lineup. "I still have to pinch myself from time to time," says Gadsden, who leads the Dolphins with 362 yards receiving. "It seems like every day is the biggest day of my life."
After averaging 23.4 yards per catch and hauling in 43 touchdown passes in three seasons at Winston-Salem State, Gadsden spent the 1995 season on the Cowboys' practice squad and was rewarded with a Super Bowl ring. The following year he picked up some more hardware after breaking his orbital bone while making a tackle on special teams in a preseason game: Doctors inserted a metal plate in the bone area under his right eye.
Although he is blessed with huge hands (he wears a size XXXL glove), Gadsden, with 4.7 speed in the 40, is slow by NFL standards. He was released by the Cowboys during training camp in '96, then waived by the Steelers during the '97 preseason. So he gave the Arena Football League a shot last summer, and he finally got to showcase his skills as a receiver while doubling up at linebacker for the Portland Forest Dragons. After scoring 37 touchdowns in 14 games, Gadsden was named rookie of the year. Then came the call from the Dolphins.
Already thin at wideout, Miami was in desperate need after Yatil Green and rookie Larry Shannon went down with torn anterior cruciate ligaments in training camp. Gadsden was summoned and wound up leading Miami with nine catches for 165 yards in the preseason. Then in the regular-season opener, against the Colts, he outleaped cornerback Tyrone Poole for a pass from Dan Marino and chugged 44 yards for a touchdown, carrying Colts strong safety Robert Blackmon for the last several yards. The following week Gadsden became only the fourth Arena player to start an NFL game.
He is averaging a team-high 15-7 yards per catch, and in a 12-9 overtime win over the Patriots on Oct. 25, he set up the tying and winning field goals with grabs of 28 and 10 yards, respectively, in heavy traffic. "He's the only guy on this team who could have made those plays," says Miami receivers coach Robert Ford. "Here's a guy with a dream to play in the NFL who has proven you don't have to be Superman to make it."