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The Mouth That Soared
Josh Elliott
November 27, 2000
Fast-talking defensive end Hugh Douglas has taken his game to new heights and helped put the Eagles atop the NFC East
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November 27, 2000

The Mouth That Soared

Fast-talking defensive end Hugh Douglas has taken his game to new heights and helped put the Eagles atop the NFC East

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Though Reid denies it, team sources also laughingly reveal that Reid was forced to give Douglas and other veterans their own hotel rooms, after three teammates on consecutive weeks begged the coach for a new roommate after experiencing Douglas's sleep-depriving rants. "Hugh was like a crazy man, up and down, up and down, talking all the time," says one insider. "[Reid] had no choice."

Not surprisingly, Douglas is a dervish on the field, using his bull-rush to set up blockers, then whirling and clawing toward the quarterback. His success seems more impressive when you consider that Douglas, listed at 6'2" and 280 pounds but closer to 6 feet and 260 pounds, routinely goes against taller tackles who outweigh him by more than 50 pounds. "He's so low to the ground and so strong that he gets great leverage," says Washington Redskins rookie tackle Chris Samuels. "That's what separates him from the rest."

In uniform, Douglas is an optical illusion, with his weight and heft being so concentrated in his thighs and rear that, at the snap of the ball, his upper body seems to disappear. His strange proportions and quick initial burst leave little for opponents to hit, and Douglas often gets a clear path to the quarterback. "For how little he is, he's the all-around package," says Dallas Cowboys All-Pro guard Larry Allen. "Basically, you've got to be perfect on him."

That hasn't always been the case, though Douglas's career began with great promise. In 1995 the New York Jets made him the 16th pick in the draft out of Central State in Wilberforce, Ohio, and Douglas made a huge impression. He racked up 10 sacks and was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, then led New York again with eight sacks in his second year.

The honeymoon ended, however, in 1997 with the arrival of coach Bill Parcells, who switched the defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 set. Douglas, deficient against the run and too small to beat frequent double teams, struggled as a two-gap end and consequently chafed under Parcells's leadership. "I wanted out and went to Bill early in the season to tell him so," recalls Douglas, who would finish the year with four sacks. "I was selfish and handled it poorly. A lot was said about my relationship with Bill, but he taught me so much. I owe the man a lot. He traded me when he didn't have to."

In what is now judged a bona fide steal, Philadelphia dealt a second-and a fifth-round pick in March 1998 for Douglas, who then signed a six-year, $25-3 million extension. Back in the 4-3, Douglas had a team-high 12� sacks despite a nagging groin injury sustained in early December. Meanwhile, a revitalized Douglas found a kindred spirit in Thomas and, more important, the stability for which he had longed. "I was worried about coming in with that contract, what the guys would think, but it was a good situation," Douglas says. "Yeah, we went 3-13, but I knew things were getting better."

Instead, things got far worse. In January 1999, Douglas returned home to Mansfield, Ohio, to see his father, who was suffering from emphysema. Hugh and his wife, Ayanna, pregnant at the time, stayed in nearby Dayton with Ayanna's sister. On Jan. 7, Hugh received a call informing him that Ayanna was at the hospital and was going into labor. An elated Hugh had scarcely hung up the phone before it rang again. His sister Stephanie was crying on the other end. "She didn't have to say anything," Douglas says. "I could hear it in her sobs. I knew that my father had died."

Shock set in, and he remembers little else from the afternoon. Douglas missed the birth of his daughter, Brianna, so he could return home to comfort his family. "I struggled to balance my home life with the grief I was feeling, while also trying to focus on my workouts," says Douglas. "All that carried over into the season."

Last year, his first under Reid, he started well, with two sacks in two games. But he missed three games with a partial tear of the MCL in his left knee, and his season ended when he tore his left biceps in Week 6. Shortly thereafter, he and Ayanna endured a painful separation and divorce, leaving Douglas to wallow in self-pity. Only he didn't. "My father would never have wanted that," Douglas says. "He would've wanted me to rededicate myself, to keep going forward, so that's what I did."

He returned to his home in Atlanta, put on 10 pounds of muscle by adding red meat to his diet and training with workout fiend Shannon Sharpe, the Baltimore Ravens tight end. The extra bulk, Douglas and Eagles coaches agree, has translated into an injury-free year, his first since '96. "He really worked hard," says Sharpe. "I'd be disappointed if he didn't make the Pro Bowl."

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