Something is amiss. Ten weeks after returning a kickoff for a touchdown in the Super Bowl, Atlanta Falcons wideout Tim Dwight has regressed terribly. He's sitting at a long table in the middle of a downtown Iowa City bar, surrounded by a cluster of ordinary Iowa seniors who have congregated to do what seniors do in the spring. They gripe about the jobs that haven't been offered, and they tell of their latest idle discoveries, such as what happens when a lab rat is dipped in liquid nitrogen and hurled against a brick building (same thing that happens to a china teacup). They drink and then drink some more.
Dwight, a health nut who scolds his mother, Nancy, for putting butter on green beans, sips from a pint of Killian's and coolly blends in. He chides lifelong friend Jeremy Harrod about the night last fall when, while visiting Dwight in Atlanta, Harrod begged to be driven to the home of Falcons running back Jamal Anderson to get a jersey autographed. (Dwight obliged.) He's stumped by Steve Altman's barroom sucker riddle: "If nine men take nine hours to dig a hole, how long would it take one man to dig half a hole?" Answer: There's no such thing as half a hole.
The night's crowning moment comes at closing time, when Altman and Harrod stuff golf ball-sized Jawbreakers into their mouths and awkwardly crush them, producing side-splitting laughter of a distinctly you-had-to-be-there variety. "I love this town," says Dwight. In all, he's part of the crew, just another senior.
Except that he isn't. One season into a promising pro football career, Dwight has thrown his life into reverse. He has returned to Iowa City to run one last season of track for the Hawkeyes, thus becoming one of the few athletes to successfully initiate an NFL career and return to college to compete in another. Think: Letterman goes back to Ball State to play the tuba right after getting the Late Night gig.
Dwight has taken this homecoming to its extreme. He has gone from playing in the biggest sporting event in America to competing in a minor college sport contested far beneath the public's radar. He hasn't simply gone back to college; he has also gone home, to the city where he was raised and lived an athletic life straight out of Gil Thorpe—"Opponents were asking for his autograph when he was in high school," says John Raffensperger, Dwight's track coach at City High—and to the house where he grew up. He mows his family's lawn, bugs his father, Tim, a high school history teacher, to buy new work boots and tries to remember to call his mother when he won't be coming home for the night. In addition to running track, he finished his course work this spring and graduated on Saturday with a degree in sports management.
The track part has been the most trying. First Dwight had to play well enough last season to feel comfortable enough to spend the spring in Iowa City rather than stay in Atlanta and participate in the Falcons' off-season workout program. Then he had to endure a ridiculous NCAA inquiry into his track eligibility, and finally he had to wrestle with an injury to his right hamstring that kept him from running in a meet until May 1. Now he's pointing toward helping Iowa win its first Big Ten outdoor track tide in 32 years, at the conference meet this Friday through Sunday at Purdue. Dwight, a sprinter, will run legs on the Hawkeyes' 4 x 100-and 4 x 400-meter relays and will also run the 100 and 200.
No matter how he does at that meet, Dwight is happy he returned to Iowa City. "Last fall was the first time I'd really been away from home," he says. "Now that I've come back, I have a different relationship with my parents. It's like we're friends, and that means so much because you just don't know how long you're going to have your parents around."
His brother, Jason, an Iowa sophomore and an intermediate hurdler on the track team, is also living at home. This is another bonus for Tim. "I was never there for him when I was in high school or college because I had so much of my own stuff going on," says Tim. "Now I can be more a part of his life."
None of this—the return to campus, the donning of a college track uniform, the rediscovery of family—follows the ordinary trajectory of the ascendant pro athlete, but Dwight isn't ordinary. He was born without the caution gene and, accordingly, has thrown his 5'8", 184-pound body into life and sports. He's like a Super Ball ricocheting around inside a shoe box.
The first time former Hawkeyes football teammate Jared DeVries met Dwight was at the 1994 Iowa high school all-star game, when Dwight blocked the then 225-pound DeVries so violently that both came away groggy. "The guy is just extreme," says DeVries, a defensive tackle who was a third-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions last month. "And he's extreme in a way that you just don't see very often. It's almost crazy."