When his stock as an NFL running back plummeted in 1996, Errict Rhett tried something a little less precarious than playing in the NFL: playing the stock market. Having fallen out of favor with the Bucs after an acrimonious 94-day holdout, Rhett bought a computer and opened his own company as a way to add excitement—and cash flow—to his life. Soon he was buying and selling stocks in chunks as large as 5,000 shares. He says he got in early with Internet stocks and made a killing. "But I wasn't happy," says Rhett. "I was scared I had become a better trader than football player."
Rhett also gambled poorly on occasion, one time losing a hundred grand in less than 12 hours. But he didn't bail. I le stuck it out and earned the money back. "When you're as low as you can get, that's when you don't want to panic," he says. "You want to ride out the storm. Believe me, I know."
It's difficult to tell whether Rhett is referring to his life as a trader or as a runner in the NFL. In 1998 the Bucs shipped him to the Ravens, and this season he leads Baltimore in rushing with 781 yards. "I've been through 2� years of emotional hell," says Rhett. "I went from starring and starring in this league to holding bags and then not being sure they'd even let me do that."
A 5'11" 210-pounder, Rhett is a slashing runner who explodes through holes like a much bigger man. He has always played—and talked—big. In high school in West Hollywood, Fla., he moved up in weight class so he could take on larger opponents and won a state wrestling title. He broke Emmitt Smith's career rushing record at Florida and was taken by the Bucs in the second round of the 1994 draft. Rhett won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after rushing for 1,011 yards and seven touchdowns in his first season. He followed that with 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns in his second year.
Then he made the dumbest financial decision of his life. Rhett got bullish about his earning potential and instantly became the NFL poster boy for ill-fated holdouts. The Bucs never bent to his demands, and seven games into the 1996 season Rhett crawled back to the team with a bad attitude. He admits his study habits worsened, and he quickly developed a reputation as a lazy, inept blocker. When Tampa Bay selected Warrick Dunn in the first round of the '97 draft, Rhett's days as a Buc were numbered. In 1997 he carried the ball only 31 times, and the following February he was traded to the Ravens for a '99 third-round draft choice.
Rhett's lot didn't improve much under Ted Marchibroda, Baltimore's coach at the time. "That was just an old, conservative coach who hated my style," says Rhett, who carried the ball 44 times in 1998. "But I needed that wake-up call. Sometimes we all need to be humbled."
That happened this past off-season when Rhett was an unrestricted free agent. Having attracted little interest, he re-signed with the Ravens for a league-minimum $400,000. But Baltimore offered him something as valuable as money: a clean slate under new coach Brian Billick. "Sometimes in the NFL an unchallenged lie about a player becomes the truth," says Billick. "When players are on the edge and looking at being out of the league for good, that changes their perspective. If they do get a second chance, a lot of times they take on a kind of born-again-Christian mentality—they become zealots about the game."
That certainly describes Rhett's resurrection in 1999. Several times Billick has left the practice facility after 11 p.m. and noticed Rhett still studying game film; the coach can't remember Rhett's making a mental error in pass protection. After a recent practice Rhett spent three extra hours lifting, watching film and working on his blocking footwork with running backs coach Matt Simon. "I've never been around a player who cares more," says Simon. "Errict has the fever to do well."
When starter Priest Holmes suffered a sprained right knee in Baltimore's season opener, Rhett went on a rampage, gaining more than 100 yards in each of his first three starts. He is running with the fury of a man who knows he has been given a second chance.
"I'm glad this all happened," Rhett says. "I didn't really like the old me. Now, because of all that I've been put through, I am 10 times the person and 10 times the football player I used to be."