When Tommy Maddox won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award, it was another mile marker on an incredible journey from a cant miss quarterback, who left college after only two seasons at UCLA, to a journeyman quarterback, to an Allstate insurance agent, to a one year stint with the New Jersey Red Dogs of the Arena League and another one year stint with the Los Angeles Xtreme of the XFL, to the backup to Kordell Stewart of the Pittsburgh Steelers, to leading the Steelers to the doorstep of the AFC Championship Game.
Its the kind of story that has fairy tale written all over it except its true. Ive told the story so many times, Maddox says, Someone asked if Ive added things to it as Ive told it. The scary thing is I dont have to add anything to it.
Maddox decided to forego his remaining eligibility at UCLA and entered the draft in 1992, selected as the 25th choice in the first round by the Denver Broncos. He was drafted to be the next John Elway, who was Denvers starting quarterback. Things didnt work out. He didnt get much playing time, had little impact, and was shuffled off to the Los Angeles Rams, moving with them to St. Louis. He was released three days after moving into a house in St. Louis, signed with the New York Giants, was released by them, signed with the Altanta Falcons and was cut during training camp. 1997, 1998 and 1999 found him out of football entirely, selling insurance for Allstate.
I had just gotten back from an insurance meeting. I found myself wondering if this is what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life. I drove back to the office and was listening to the radio. The song, The Dive by Steven Curtis Champan was on. It was about taking a leap of faith. That night I decided to sell the agency. I wanted to get back into football in whatever way either as a coach or a player.
Three days later the phone rang. It was someone from the New Jersey Red Dogs. The call came out of the blue, from a man Maddox had never met. Tommy signed with the Red Dogs and within two weeks, had sold his insurance agency.
He played with the Red Dogs in the Arena League, and the next year played with the Los Angeles Xtreme in the XFL. Since the XFL folded after one year, Tommy Maddox is the only MVP in the entire history of the league.
Based on his MVP year in the XFL, Tommy was signed as the backup quarterback with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and, after entering the third game of 2002 season with the Steelers trailing the Cleveland Browns and leading them to a comeback victory, Maddox was installed as the starting quarterback and has ushered the Steelers to the doorstep of the AFC Championship Game, which is the final obstacle before reaching the Super Bowl.
Perhaps the most dramatic event within the Maddox story occurred on November 17 of 2002, in a 31-23 loss at Tennessee, when Tommy was tackled on a seemingly harmless play. But he didnt get up. He couldnt. He had hit his head on the ground and was knocked unconscious. He had no movement in his legs for 30 minutes.
Maddox recalls the experience: I guess the good thing is I do not remember lying on the field. I was awake, but my memory was not there. I remember being on the x-ray table and the doctors telling me what had happened.
Thoughts of being able to play with my kids ran through my mind. I remember also thinking of Jennifer (his wife) and if I would be able to continue being the kind of husband that she needs.
I really was not scared until the feeling in my arms came back and I could not feel my legs. I really thought all the feeling would come back at the same time. That was the moment I started to wonder if I would ever get the feeling back. Fortunately, the feeling started to reach my legs about 15 minutes later.
Three weeks later, he was back on the football field.
From this side of the journey at the age of 31 and with the experience of the roller coaster ride of his professional life under his belt, would he change anything? There were those critical of his decision to sacrifice his final two years of eligibility at UCLA, speculating that had he finished his collegiate career and gained strength and experience, he might have been a starting NFL quarterback for longer than this past year.
Thats not the way Tommy Maddox chooses to see it..
I dont regret my decision to leave school early because its turned out so well. I have a great wife and wonderful kids. If you regret something it means youre sorry the way things turned out. Im not at all.
Actually, Tommy thinks his journey is exactly the way things were meant to be, and they only way things could have worked out so well. Through all the things Ive gone through, God has been opening my eyes to so many things. I was so dependent on everything I thought the NFL could give me cars, money, security, fame. One by one, those things were taken away, until, in 1997, we didnt have anything left. It brought us to our knees, and we had nowhere to lean but God. The way it has turned out is unbelievable. And I know its all from Him, because theres no way in the world we could have done all thats happened.
Through all the things Ive been through I can now see that God was preparing us, preparing us to handle the good things. Sometimes, I think the good things are harder to deal with than the difficult things. When things are good, we become wrapped up in who we think we are. Our identity becomes confused. Hes prepared us for all were experiencing now.
God has given me such an opportunity, and I know its just begun.
One of the compelling charms of the Tommy Maddox story is the impression that he is not so different than the rest of us. He is a man non-athletes relate to. He has struggled. He earned a living, for several years, in the way the vast majority of people do by getting up every day and going out and facing the world, for far less money than many athletes receive.
And he is back at the top of the profession for which his seeming destiny of stardom had crashed and burned, but now he is wrapped in genuine humility and a wondrous appreciation of his time and place in life.
I want people to look at me and see a regular person. I want people to know that I have not done all theses amazing things by myself, but through Christ. I want people to see that Im a family man that I love my wife and kids and theyre more important to me than anything. I want people to see a light inside of me. Even if they dont know Im a Christian, I want them to know theres something different. And I want them to know you can do some amazing things and still stay grounded.
It seems as if Tommy Maddox, one time Allstate insurance agent, knows his life is in Good Hands.