It's one thing that still haunts me. Well, maybe haunt is too strong a word, but I do think about it from time to time....especially during the football season. It's the memory of a wonderfully talented young athlete who played for the New Orleans Saints briefly during the Jim Mora era.
His name was Reggie Sutton.
Do you remember how excited everyone was about Malcolm Jenkins during his rookie season? The kid was fast, physical, and he had a knack for separating players from the ball (and their senses too). Although he was only a backup DB who played primarily on special teams, you could see the talent and you couldn't wait to see how he performed as a starter (which we were all fortunate enough to witness last season).
If you were a Saints fan in 1987, you probably also felt that way about Reggie. Well, maybe you did if you were paying attention. Unlike Jenkins, who was a 1st round draft choice with high expectations, Reggie was a 5th round pick out of Miami in the 1986 draft who didn't even suit up that season because he was placed on the reserve list so he could go through drug rehab.
Reggie had a history of drug use at the University of Miami but the Saints drafted him anyway because of his tremendous talent and also his ability to make big plays on defense and special teams.
I was introduced to him one night in 1988 by Pete Dimitri at one of the nightclubs he owned with his brother. Aside from meeting Reggie, I also remember it being the night that Pete's brother Sal almost shot himself in the a** because the gun in the back of his waistband slipped down into his pants as he was bending over to open a case of Dom Perignon. Seeing that lily white plumber's crack with a .38 lodged in it kind of does something to a man's constitution (you're all welcome to hurl now). The next time I would ever see anything that out of place again was a few years later watching my brother-in-law holding up a cigarette lighter, screaming "Free Bird!!!", at a Wu Tang Clan concert (I shoulda slapped him).
At this point, I should probably go ahead and confess that I wasn't at that concert by choice. My brother-in-law and I were entertaining some clients who were big Wu Tang fans. Sorry Sprinkles, I know you're probably going to be deeply disappointed in me but I have never been able to get into "The Wu". Hey, what do you expect? I grew up in a household dominated by Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Vic Damone. But....that all changed in 1967 when I discovered Sly and the Family Stone.
Anyway, back to Reggie. (I do have a tendency to wander all over the place)
There are two things that should be remembered about Reggie's very brief NFL career.
1. In two seasons with the Saints, Reggie had 8 interceptions and several blocked kicks (Punts/Field Goals) which were game changing plays.
2. He intercepted the last pass Sean Payton ever threw in an NFL game which was the end of his brief career as an NFL quarterback.
I know it may seem like it's not much to hang your hat on for a football career, but it's a lot more than other NFL players have accomplished who played a lot longer.
The reasons my memories of Reggie haunt me is because for a long time, I carried tremendous feelings of guilt about his career as a Saints player being cut so short.
I'm semi-retired now with a business that I run for only 6 months out of the year. But, at one time I was employed for several years by company that specialized in catering to the private indulgences of professional athletes. Reggie was not one of my clients but I was very aware of the people he was associating with and some of them were independent contractors for my employer.
It took a lot of convincing by my wife, brother-in-law, and even my grandson over the years, that there was no legitimate reason for my feelings of guilt.
Reggie was not my client, we were not friends, we weren't even regular acquaintances (hell, I only met him three times in the two seasons he was with the Saints), but I've always felt horrible because I was such a fan and also because I knew the people he got involved with while he was playing for the Saints.
It was my wife that got me to realize that I would have had a hard time reaching one our own children, if any of them ever got involved in drug use (thankfully, none ever did) so I could not expect to think that I could have had an effect on someone I barely knew.
My brother-in-law reminded me that Reggie's problems did not begin when he started playing for the Saints. He had those issues back in Miami.
And finally, my grandson gave me the ultimate reality check by telling me that if I were not such a big Reggie fan, I wouldn't have cared one bit what he was doing or what happened to him.
He's right about that one. I have personally witnessed quite a few athletes over the years destroy themselves and/or their playing careers and didn't bat an eye.
It was business.
But sometimes there are athletes that stick with you for a long time. Probably because of the waste of talent and not living up to expectations, or the waste of a life despite being able to live up to the talent and have a successful playing career.
Athletes like, Bob Hayes, Chuck Muncie, Michael Ray Richardson, Doc Gooden, Steve Howe, and many others, these are guys who can stick with you long after their playing days are over. Unfortunately, a lot of fans who claim to love them when they're playing well for their favorite teams, toss them on the scrapheap of ridicule and scorn when they don't produce anymore.
(I'll get off that soapbox now, with my history I certainly shouldn't be preaching to anyone)
Anyway, I was a big fan a Reggie Sutton.....a HUGE fan.
With all the talk this preseason about that other Reggie, I started thinking about him again.
Just like I do every year.