Sweet Redemption Ravens running back Errict Rhett is making the most of a second chance

December 13, 1999

When his stock as an NFL running back plummeted in 1996, Errict
Rhett tried something a little less precarious than playing in
the NFL: playing the stock market. Having fallen out of favor
with the Bucs after an acrimonious 94-day holdout, Rhett bought
a computer and opened his own company as a way to add
excitement--and cash flow--to his life. Soon he was buying and
selling stocks in chunks as large as 5,000 shares. He says he
got in early with Internet stocks and made a killing. "But I
wasn't happy," says Rhett. "I was scared I had become a better
trader than football player."

Rhett also gambled poorly on occasion, one time losing a hundred
grand in less than 12 hours. But he didn't bail. He stuck it out
and earned the money back. "When you're as low as you can get,
that's when you don't want to panic," he says. "You want to ride
out the storm. Believe me, I know."

It's difficult to tell whether Rhett is referring to his life as
a trader or as a runner in the NFL. In 1998 the Bucs shipped him
to the Ravens, and this season he leads Baltimore in rushing
with 781 yards. "I've been through 2 1/2 years of emotional
hell," says Rhett. "I went from starting and starring in this
league to holding bags and then not being sure they'd even let
me do that."

A 5'11" 210-pounder, Rhett is a slashing runner who explodes
through holes like a much bigger man. He has always played--and
talked--big. In high school in West Hollywood, Fla., he moved up
in weight class so he could take on larger opponents and won a
state wrestling title. He broke Emmitt Smith's career rushing
record at Florida and was taken by the Bucs in the second round
of the 1994 draft. Rhett won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
honors after rushing for 1,011 yards and seven touchdowns in his
first season. He followed that with 1,207 yards and 11
touchdowns in his second year.

Then he made the dumbest financial decision of his life. Rhett
got bullish about his earning potential and instantly became the
NFL poster boy for ill-fated holdouts. The Bucs never bent to
his demands, and seven games into the 1996 season Rhett crawled
back to the team with a bad attitude. He admits his study habits
worsened, and he quickly developed a reputation as a lazy, inept
blocker. When Tampa Bay selected Warrick Dunn in the first round
of the '97 draft, Rhett's days as a Buc were numbered. In 1997
he carried the ball only 31 times, and the following February he
was traded to the Ravens for a '99 third-round draft choice.

Rhett's lot didn't improve much under Ted Marchibroda,
Baltimore's coach at the time. "That was just an old,
conservative coach who hated my style," says Rhett, who carried
the ball 44 times in 1998. "But I needed that wake-up call.
Sometimes we all need to be humbled."

That happened this past off-season when Rhett was an
unrestricted free agent. Having attracted little interest, he
re-signed with the Ravens for a league-minimum $400,000. But
Baltimore offered him something as valuable as money: a clean
slate under new coach Brian Billick. "Sometimes in the NFL an
unchallenged lie about a player becomes the truth," says
Billick. "When players are on the edge and looking at being out
of the league for good, that changes their perspective. If they
do get a second chance, a lot of times they take on a kind of
born-again-Christian mentality--they become zealots about the
game."

That certainly describes Rhett's resurrection in 1999. Several
times Billick has left the practice facility after 11 p.m. and
noticed Rhett still studying game film; the coach can't remember
Rhett's making a mental error in pass protection. After a recent
practice Rhett spent three extra hours lifting, watching film
and working on his blocking footwork with running backs coach
Matt Simon. "I've never been around a player who cares more,"
says Simon. "Errict has the fever to do well."

When starter Priest Holmes suffered a sprained right knee in
Baltimore's season opener, Rhett went on a rampage, gaining more
than 100 yards in each of his first three starts. He is running
with the fury of a man who knows he has been given a second
chance.

"I'm glad this all happened," Rhett says. "I didn't really like
the old me. Now, because of all that I've been put through, I am
10 times the person and 10 times the football player I used to
be."

--David Fleming

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERTO BOREA/AP Rhett has already tied his career high for 100-yard games in a season, with four.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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