Tommy Maddox Revives Career, Opens Door for Big Ben: Steelers Lookback
Tommy Maddox had carved out his own niche by 1997: He became an insurance agent in Houston, Texas and worked with his father.
Not exactly what the former first-round draft pick envisioned with his selection in 1992 by the Denver Broncos. In fact, his drafting came in the middle of a deeply fractured relationship between head coach Dan Reeves and legendary quarterback John Elway.
However, any ideas of a quarterback controversy between Maddox and Elway were quickly dashed with Maddox's 0-4 record in 1992, throwing only five touchdowns to nine interceptions. (Reeves was fired after that season as well.)
Maddox's next season with the Broncos was relegated to merely one pass for the entire year, and by the end of the 1993 campaign, he was out in Denver.
He never even played an official down with the Falcons as he was released during the 1997 preseason.
With his career appearing to have bottomed out, Maddox left the game and settled down in Houston to work with his father.
But the itch to play football never left the former UCLA Bruin.
In 2000, he attempted a comeback of sorts and found himself a job with the New Jersey Red Dogs of the Arena Football League. Although it was another brief tenure, it opened the door to another opportunity.
In 2001, Vince McMahon, owner of WWE, ambitiously set out to create a new brand of football that was to run in the spring and supposedly be a more rugged version of professional football with stripped down rules and less penalties.
One of the XFL's west coast teams, the Los Angeles Xtreme, offered a tryout to Maddox for their starting quarterback position, which the 30-year-old won. He led the Xtreme to the first XFL championship, following a victory in the "Million Dollar Game" against San Francisco.
In fact, Maddox led the league in passing yards as well as touchdowns and was even named the one (and only, as it came to be) XFL MVP at the end of the season. Under an odd sort of circumstances, he had rejuvenated his football career not only statistically, but also in the fashion he played the position.
Because the XFL's rules lent to an increased sense of unpredictability and lack of protection at times, Maddox turned into more a traditional pocket passer with a reliance on quick releases to avoid sacks rather than unnecessary bootlegs.
The XFL might have folded after one year, but Maddox would not have to wait long for another job.
Maddox would re-appear in the NFL as the Pittsburgh Steelers signed Maddox for the 2001 season as a backup to Kordell Stewart. Maddox played sparingly during the Steelers' march to the AFC Championship Game, and it wasn't until the 2002 season that Maddox found himself truly rediscovered in the eyes of the NFL.
When Stewart threw a pass into double coverage against the Cleveland Browns that was intercepted during a Week 4 game at home, Maddox was thrust into the leadership role and manufactured a 16-13 overtime victory against the Browns.
Maddox would remain the starter the rest of the year and guided the team to a 10-5-1 record and an AFC North title. Although they would fall to the Titans in the divisional round of the playoffs, Maddox would be named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year, as he threw for 2,836 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2002. The Steelers seemed to have their next franchise quarterback.
The 2003 season might have made them think otherwise, as Maddox followed his magical season with a 6-10 record as the Steelers' full-time starter.
The result was a fateful first-round draft pick in Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.
The '04 season would begin with Maddox as the starter, but an injury in Week 2 against Baltimore thrust the young Roethlisberger into the starting role, and 14-consecutive regular-season wins later, Big Ben was officially, and unequivocally the new starter and the franchise quarterback for Pittsburgh.
Maddox would remain the backup for the 2005 season, but was 0-2 in the games he started, and although he would earn himself a Super Bowl ring as part of the Steelers' championship team, he would be released the following offseason.
The magical ride was over.
There were subsequent tryouts with other teams such as Dallas, Oakland and New England for jobs, but none panned out for Maddox. He signed with the Philadelphia Soul of the AFL, but never saw any action during the 2006 season.
Maddox walked away from football for the second and final time, resuming his residence in Trophy Club, Texas. His ride into the sunset provides a unique and possibly dubious closure to his professional football career: He is only one of three players in NFL history to have won a Super Bowl and an XFL Championship.
We all have to hang our hats on something.
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