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Then last spring, about a week before the 1990 draft, Rison was startled when he received a phone call from a cousin, Caderal Jones, who lives in Atlanta. "The Colts are talking about trading you to the Falcons," Jones said. "It's in the papers down here."
"No way, man," Rison replied. "I was a first-round pick. I'll be here the rest of my career."
On April 20, the Colts traded Hinton (a six-time Pro Bowl player), Rison, a fifth-round draft pick in 1990 and a first-round pick in '91 to the Falcons for their first-and fourth-round picks in '90. The plum in the deal was Atlanta's first-rounder in '90, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, which Indianapolis used to select Illinois quarterback and former Indiana schoolboy sensation Jeff George. The Falcons insisted that Hinton and Rison be part of the package. "I really don't think the Colts wanted to trade Rison," says Falcon coach Jerry Glanville. "You don't trade sirloin steak for hamburger."
Nevertheless, the trade left Rison confused and feeling unappreciated. "Everywhere I've gone, I feel like I've disappointed people," he says. "I feel like I have so much to prove. I want to show Michigan State I should have caught more passes. I want to show the NFL I should have been drafted higher. I need to show the Colts they made a big mistake trading me."
Rison has felt shortchanged as long as he can remember. Merdice was a 20-year-old single parent, a secretary who lived with her mother and father in Flint, when Andre was born. "I didn't have any material things," says Rison. "I used to spend my time rippin', runnin' and havin' fun."
Andre immersed himself in sports, and more than once he told Merdice that, "The Lord put me on earth to go pro." He told her that when her applications for credit were turned down. He told her that when she couldn't afford to buy him new clothes for high school and he would switch clothing each morning with his best friend, Troy Woody. He never forgot those words when he was castigated by kids who were jealous of his athletic skills.
Growing up poor in Flint made Rison tough. Being Merdice's son taught him to be his own man. And as a gifted athlete, he learned never to give up. "My arrogance and cockiness have always been a cover-up for the disappointments in my life," says Rison. "I talked big to hide my insecurities. When I was growing up, people were always jealous of me. I used to think, What are they jealous of? They're the ones with clothes, a nice house, a mother and a father, a car.
"I realized at a young age if I didn't stick up for myself, then I'd fall through the cracks with everybody else. I wouldn't get noticed. I had to talk myself up to believe I could achieve something in life. Somebody had to believe in me. Somebody had to say it out loud."