Reeves gets canned. You throw one pass in '93-The Broncos ship you to the St. Louis Rams. You throw 19 balls and get released. In '95 Reeves, then coach of the Giants, brings you to New York. You throw 23 passes. You don't make it out of Giants training camp the next year or Atlanta Falcons camp the year after that, with Reeves overnighting you to the waiver wire each time. Next thing you know, you're selling term and whole life in Dallas.
Hey, at least there's no rookie salary cap, right, Tommy?
But you won't let the dream die. You help coach at a high school. You bug NFL buddies for game tapes. You ache for one more chance. And one night in 2000 you turn to your high-school-sweetheart wife, Jennifer, and say, "Honey, what if we sold the insurance business and joined the Arena Football League?"
And she says, "Whatever your heart tells you."
Whose heart says to go to the New Jersey Red Dogs? Use your car trunk as your locker? Jam your 6'4" self into a center coach seat, bound for such metropolises as Grand Rapids? Take yellow school buses to carpeted hockey rinks?
But a funny thing happens on the way to Nowheresville. In claustrophobic Arena ball you learn to be a pinpoint passer. Three-step drops. Tiny throwing lanes that close up like speakeasy peepholes. Decisions made in nanoseconds.
Next thing you know, you're turning to your wife and saying, "Honey, what if we joined the XFL?" And she says, "Whatever your heart.... What's the XFL?" Well, it's strippers posing as cheerleaders. Cameramen covering your receivers. Wrestlers in the booth.
But a funny thing happens on the way to Schlockville. You learn how to be a leader. You steer the L.A. Xtreme to the XFL championship and get named league MVP. O.K., MVP of the XFL is like being Miss Akron, but it's still football.
Then, in the summer of 2001, you find you're a real, live Pittsburgh Steeler. "I kept dropping back and not believing how much time I had," Maddox says of winning the backup job in camp. "Plus, the holes looked huge!' Still, all season, you throw nine balls.
And now, with rigatoni-armed Kordell Stewart benched, redemption time in the NFL finally arrives with a start on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. A decade older, not much richer, 18 pounds heavier, half a brain smarter, you sit in that Pittsburgh locker room and say, "Whatever happens, it's been a great ride."