“Live for something or die for nothing.” -Rosa Lee Hargrove
Former New Orleans Saints defensive lineman and Super Bowl XLIV Champion Anthony Hargrove didn’t have much time with his mother, losing her when he was just nine years old. The phrase above was an incredibly impactful life lesson that Ms. Hargrove was able to teach in the brief window of time she had with Anthony. Despite a seemingly insurmountable amount of trials and hardships, Anthony Hargrove always came back to the lessons taught by his mother and miraculously overcame it all.
Life of a Saint: Anthony Hargrove
Brooklyn, NY – 1989: It didn’t take long for a young Anthony Hargrove to show his resiliency. At age six, he recalled when a fire forced him out of his home. “We were taking a bath in the sink, my brother, sister and I. Smoke started coming up through the fire escape. That’s how we realized there was a fire. Next thing you know, a fireman came through the door and they got us. They took us down the stairs. I lost a shoe. That night ended with my mom going back in a burning building and dragging the lady where the fire started, the apartment where the fire started, my mom dragged her out and beat her up in the middle of the street”, Hargrove recalled.
Being forced out of their home meant the Hargrove family would be forced around to a series of foster homes and shelters. For Hargrove, it was another opportunity to get through a tough situation. When asked what that inconsistency was like for him, Hargrove replied, “For us, my mom always gave us a sense of pride in who we were. That was just how it went. If one place burnt down, you moved into another. I really didn’t learn about structure of life until after she passed away.”
As previously mentioned, Hargrove’s mother passed away when he was just nine years old. For Hargrove, he lost much more than a family member that day. “My mom up until that point, and still to this day, was my best friend. She was someone I looked up to as a role model. Even as a 35-year old today, I look back at a lot of the things I did in my life and I’ve made it through this far simply because of some of the things she did. She was always on the go. She was persevering. Nothing ever stopped her. So, when she died, I lost that person that I identified so much with”, Hargrove stated.
Hargrove at Quarterback?
It’s hard to imagine, but the 6’3”, 287-pound defensive lineman that graced the NFL fields every Sunday was actually a quarterback/safety combination in high school. Hargrove still has fond memories of playing behind center. He shared, “I loved slinging that thing. There was always a part of me, and still is a part of me, that wished I would have stayed slinging that rock.”
Hargrove ultimately listened to the advice of the people around him and concentrated on the defensive side of the ball heading into college. He explained, “What moved me away from the position was listening to other people. Everyone always told me that I would make my money on defense, and I did.”
The Rocky Road Through School
Anthony Hargrove’s story at Georgia Tech started off on a great note. His recruiting trip would provide some great memories. Hargrove offered, “What made Georgia Tech stand out more than anything was how the trip transpired. That night, I made the trip with my high school coach, Ray Hixon, and my uncle, John Caldwell. We left from my high school basketball game against Brandon High School, a team we hadn’t beaten in a long time. My senior year, I had a great game. I hit a couple three’s. I was dunking all over the place. We drove from Brandon (Florida) all the way to Atlanta that night. We stayed in the Marriott and I just remember my uncle, who has since passed away, drank some peach Schnapps that weekend. I just remember how happy he was and how much fun we had on that visit. I didn’t want that feeling to ever go away.”
Georgia Tech got the athlete they were courting and by his sophomore season, Hargrove was making a tremendous impact on the football field. A year later, however, he had lost some focus and become academically ineligible to play in his junior year. The seemingly easy path the NFL had become anything but that.
A Troubled Transition from College to the NFL
After the self-inflicted obstacle at Georgia Tech, Hargrove regained his focus. Hargrove took a few jobs to earn money to support a new addition to his family, his son Tre. He reflected on that time in his life, sharing, “I got kicked out of college, working for a year for Delta at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport parking planes, grinding to work and then training for three hours a day for a whole year and sleeping on a couch was tough.”
The sacrifice and hard work payed off as a year later Hargrove would get drafted by the St. Louis Rams. Hargrove mentioned, “That was awesome. Awesome! Something I always try to tell people, ‘Never quit. Never give up. Persevere.’ It was my first lesson in overcoming obstacles as a young adult. Getting that phone call, oh my God, everything was worth it. Sleeping on the couch and eating Ramen noodles, just the whole grind was worth it. It was the best phone call ever. It was a moment of clarity.”
Hargrove Finds Turmoil Early in His Career
Anthony Hargrove quickly went from a third-round draft choice in 2004 to a full-time starter in 2005. He was making a name for himself in the league as the third and final year of his rookie contract approached. Hargrove then began to have substance abuse issues. Those issues escalated from alcohol to marijuana to cocaine. Eventually, the Rams reported that Hargrove went missing for a few days. It turns out, he was in a friend’s basement engaging in a marathon of drug abuse. When Hargrove surfaced, he realized change was needed.
Later that year, Hargrove thought a trade from St. Louis to the Buffalo Bills would be the thing that would help him transition to the happy and successful life he envisioned when he was younger. Just a short time into his days in Buffalo, he was suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. After the suspension was announced, Hargrove took a longer look in the mirror and sought help, physically and spiritually.
There were several eye-opening, ‘rock-bottom’ type moments that Hargrove would face. Aside from the disappearance in St. Louis and the suspension in Buffalo, Hargrove cited, “The light bulb went off a few times. It went off the moment my daughter was born. I knew I wanted to get my life right.” Hargrove also felt he had something to prove on the field. He continued, “I had a moment on the field as well. I even remember the moment it happened. We were playing the San Francisco 49ers. I hadn’t had many sacks in my second season. I thought about it and I didn’t want to be a bum. I was struggling at that point in my career, but it wasn’t really public yet. I went out and I got a sack against the 49ers and I went on this great run. I had 4-1/2 or 5 sacks in a few weeks.”
Despite the brief window of success, Hargrove shared, “I couldn’t sustain it. I’d go to treatment and I’d get help, but I couldn’t sustain it. I’d go three, four or five months, but then I’d jump right back on that wheel of chaos. Most people say you ‘hit rock bottom’. I guess I grew some nuts. Even when I was going to go (to treatment), I was still scared. But I’d say to myself, ‘Alright, go and fix your life. You’ve just got to do it.’”
2008 to 2009
What started out as a three-month stint in Transitions Recovery Program in Miami turned into something much longer and, consequently, the changes were much more permanent. Hargrove took a year off from football and concentrated on getting his health and his life back in order. He knew the treatment would be tough. What he didn’t anticipate were some of the obstacles he would face once he recovered. “It was difficult as hell. What most people don’t tell you is all the judgement you have to go through. The only side people hear is what you did. You’re very scrutinized. You’re under the microscope constantly. ‘Why is he laughing that way? Why is he going that hard?’ It was strenuous. It was exhausting. But it was worth it,” Hargrove said.
True to form, Hargrove would persevere and find his way back into the NFL, now with the New Orleans Saints. Ironically, the road that started with him leaving the treatment facility in Miami in 2008 would bring him back to Miami just 13 months later, this time as a Super Bowl champion. The drive from Transitions’ treatment facility to Hard Rock Stadium is just 7.2 miles. For Hargrove, the journey was exponentially further.
Hargrove credits the NFL for having all the resources necessary for recovery. He had a remarkable 2009 campaign during that Super Bowl run. Hargrove recalled, “The year I came back, I started eight games. I won NFC Player of the Week. I don’t even know how many game balls I got that year from the Saints. I was the Ed Block Courage Award winner and I also won a Super Bowl.” The list of accolades prompted the question, “How do you not get Comeback Player of the Year?”
Super Bowl Memories
Anthony Hargrove has many obvious reasons to look back at the 2009 season fondly. When asked what great memories jump off the page from that year, he responded, “Gregg Williams and that defense. Walking into that room with that defense every day. There was no one thing that stands out but being with those guys every day was the best. The guys were like-minded, and all wanted the same goal. We had a leader that didn’t judge you but accepted you for who you were. He made the game so much more enjoyable. I would say even back to training camp was fun. Being in training camp that year with those guys. Really, it could have been my last one.”
After a second season in New Orleans and a year playing with the Seattle Seahawks, Hargrove appeared to clearly be on the right path. Despite demonstrating his new-found clarity and focus, however, the scrutinization continued. While he was able to work through the judgement from some players, coaches and general managers, there was another judgement looming. “Bountygate” shook the NFL and Hargrove was one of the people caught in the storm. Hargrove exclaimed, “Bountygate, for me, was hell!”
Hargrove explained that the NFL approached him two years prior to Bountygate about the videotape they had collected. “The NFL told me that it was not my voice on the videotape. The NFL told me that they knew there was no bounty program. The NFL and their security team assured me that I had nothing to worry about. Fast forward two years, in January, I hear that I’m going to get hammered for Bountygate.”
At this point, Hargrove was in Green Bay with the Packers trying to secure a long-term deal that would essentially set him and his family up for life financially. That’s when Bountygate hit. Hargrove shared, “They used that same tape that they told me they didn’t have as evidence against me in our hearings. Imagine being in Green Bay, trying to make a ball club, and your name is being slandered all across tv. The commissioner comes to the team and slanders you to the team and the teammates are looking at you like, ‘Holy crap. You’re an animal.’” Hargrove continued, “I had just got back in the game after a year off for treatment. I was like, ‘How can the NFL not take that into consideration?’ They tore me apart publicly even though they knew I had that history, this troubled past.”
Hargrove had also lost his brother Terrence in a fatal stabbing incident in 2011, prior to that Bountygate decision.
Life Beyond Football
If you had asked Anthony Hargrove to tell you what success meant to him prior to his NFL days, you may have heard him speak about the money, the house and the other material items that an NFL contract affords you. Today, the same question for the same man would get a very different answer. “To me, it means persevering through all odds, never quitting, never surrendering.” Hargrove prides himself on being a great teammate, a great person and a great role model. He reflected on an interaction he had with Florida State’s Todd Rebol when he was 10-years old and shared that it, “rocked my world”. He remembers how impactful that moment was for him and hopes to continue to affect the lives of today’s youth in the same way. Hargrove said, “Whatever I went through, yeah it’s for me, but maybe it’s for someone else to see that’s going through something similar and thinking it’s impossible to make it. Then they come across my story and see I went through this, and this and this all in one life. Then they think, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’ What gives me hope and keeps me going is I’ll just be walking across the street and get approached by someone saying, ‘You don’t know me, but I watched a video about you. It made me want to get my life together.’”
As for the future, while he wouldn’t rule out coaching in college or the NFL, he is content with where he is and what he’s doing. “Right now, I’m retired. I help coach high school football here in southern Illinois. I’m raising my kids. I have a 14-year old daughter who plays basketball and is really athletic. I’m just trying to spend as much time with her as possible. I spent all of my 20’s away from my kids so I’m just trying to get back to that to be a better dad. I’m being a dad, but also trying to help change as many kids lives as possible on and off the football field within high school and youth football”, Hargrove proudly mentioned.
Any one of the barriers Hargrove has worked around could have defeated him. At any point, he could have succumbed to the pressure or the pain that found him or that he inflicted upon himself. But despite the unimaginable amount of stress and suffering, Hargrove has succeeded, by anyone’s standards, largely in part to the seven words his mother offered him all those years ago.
“Live for something or die for nothing.”