A loud,controversial inside linebacker who plays with stark Raven-mad intensity?Sounds like Ray Lewis--only it isn't the five-time All-Pro but rather anundersized hitting machine with a remarkable range of skills
This is an article from the Sept. 3, 2007 issue
A voice piercedthe still August air, raspy and wild. The Baltimore Ravens were nearing the endof yet another training camp practice on yet another humid morning, with thetemperature approaching triple digits and every player on autopilot. Exceptlinebacker Bart Scott, who in the waning moments of an intrasquad scrimmage wasbaring his teeth and barking taunts at quarterback Steve McNair.
"You've gotthe trials of Job ahead of you!" screamed Scott. "You've got the trialsof Job!" The Biblical trash talk seemed almost comical; only Scott knewthat he was quoting movie dialogue. (Never mind that he thought he was quotingKevin Spacey from Se7en when in fact he was quoting a maniacal death row inmateplayed by Ed Harris in Just Cause. Nobody asks for a filmography after on-fieldsmackdowns.)
Between playsMcNair approached Scott. "Man, just shut up over there," McNair said,yet he laughed because he knows the truth: There is no quieting Scott, andthere is no quelling the emotion that he brings to every snap, every day."Say this about Bart: He loves football," says Ravens All-Prolinebacker Ray Lewis. "That kind of passion is hard to findnowadays."
Scott, 27, is aPro Bowl inside linebacker on one of the best defenses in football, a slightlyundersized (6' 2", 242) hitting and jawing machine six years into a careerthat might have stopped far short of NFL stardom if not for an extraordinaryseries of breaks and Scott's ability to capitalize on them. "He's anexample of what happens when you give a hungry guy a chance," says formerSteelers running back Jerome Bettis. "And believe me, this guy washungry."
Scott's journeymight have ended during his adolescence in Detroit, where he walked 15 gang-and drug-infested blocks every morning to high school in a building kids calledThe Jungle. It might have ended when a poor SAT score left him without ascholarship offer after graduation or when he was suspended from the team atDivision¬†I-AA Southern Illinois four games into his junior season. Itmight have ended when just one NFL team worked him out after his last year incollege, and it might have ended even after he made the Ravens, who consignedhim to anonymous special teams work.
But the journeydidn't end. It kept going, and getting better. A year ago, his second as afull-time starter in Baltimore's voracious defense, Scott was tied for the teamlead with Lewis, with 103 tackles, and threw in 91‚ÅÑ2 sacks and twointerceptions. Crushing tackles on Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman andPittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger solidified his reputation as one ofthe league's fiercest hitters. "He's not afraid to take on offensivelinemen," says Bengals right guard Bobbie Williams, who outweighs Scott bymore than 100 pounds. "You get some linebackers that like to duck aroundyou, but Bart doesn't mind coming right at you."
"Every play,I'm throwing every little bit of my full 242," says Scott. "It's goingto hurt sometimes, but I just don't care. I'll keep comin'. Offensive playershave to ask, 'Am I willing to do the same as this guy?' I'm comin' allday."
Here Scott pausesand widens the image, like a cinematographer pulling back with his camera. Afull life becomes visible: his career and teammates; his pregnant wife,Darnesha, and their two-year-old son, Bartholomew; the friends and coaches whohave pushed him forward. "I'm playing with house money, baby," saysScott. "I wasn't supposed to make it out of Detroit. I wasn't supposed toget a scholarship. I was supposed to be running down under kicks for the restof my life. But here I am. I'm a man playing with the house's money, and that'sa dangerous man."
There was a blockfull of Scott's family on Hurlbut Street on the east side of Detroit,surrounded by the customary urban hazards: drugs, gangs, guns. Bart lived withhis mother, whose married name is now Dorita Adams, and half-sisters Cutrice(10 years older) and Dawnyell (six years older). His father, BartholomewCapers, whom Dorita never married, didn't live in the home, but, says Bart, wasalways involved in his life.
Dorita worked onan assembly line in an automobile plant, often needing three city buses and asmany as six hours for her round-trip commute. "A lot of the time Bart'soldest sister was his mama," says Dorita. And Dawnyell was the familyenforcer, regularly punishing Bart by locking him in the dirt-floor basementand telling him that the flames in the ancient furnace were the gates of hell."I was battle-tested by my sisters," says Bart. "It was nothing towalk past the gangs after those two."
At SoutheasternHigh, Scott played both ways--running back and linebacker--on a 22-man teamcoached by an old school disciplinarian named Drake Wilkins, who kept a woodenpaddle in his office and wasn't afraid to use it. "I had a lot of guys whowere gang members, and they always had to prove they were the toughest man onthe street," says Wilkins, 50, now the coach at Denby Tech in Detroit."There were times when I had to take a stand."
Scott says hefelt the paddle only once. Wilkins and assistant coach Reinard Davis recallBart as a force of nature. "He went 110 percent on every snap and nevercame off the field," says Davis. "He was unbelievable."
More than 100schools sent recruiting letters, but his low SAT score left Scott without acollege as his senior year ended. By midsummer he had improved his test scoreenough to ensure eligibility, but most major schools had no scholarships left.Here came a lifeline. Scott was so impressive on the field during July workoutsfor a Michigan high school all-star game that one of the coaches, Bryan Masi,called an old friend, former Michigan State quarterback Dan Enos, an assistantcoach at Southern Illinois.
"Bryan toldme they've got this kid who is a hell of a football player," says Enos, nowan assistant coach at his alma mater. "He asked if we might have ascholarship. For a player like that? Yeah, we had a scholarship."
Scott's careerwas nearly derailed again when he was suspended for the final six games of hisjunior season after a halftime altercation with defensive coordinator MichaelVite. The incident was triggered when Vite took offense to Scott's eating anapple during a tense locker room meeting. ("I'm not a big eater beforegames," says Scott. "I always eat fruit at halftime.")
Vite, now thedefensive coordinator at Division III Guilford College, says, "Sometimeskids make bad decisions when they're young. It was a long time ago. Bart is ahell of an athlete and a hell of a kid, and he's made a lot of good decisionssince then. I've got nothing but good things to say about him."
The SouthernIllinois staff was fired after Scott's junior year, and new head coach JerryKill threw Scott another lifeline. "Some of the old coaches told us, youdon't want this kid or that kid," says Kill, noting that Scott was one ofthose mentioned. "Bart played like he was on a mission for us, and he was acaptain and leader."
Kill told severalNFL teams that Scott could play in the league, but only Baltimore sent a scoutto work him out. Joe Hortiz put Scott through an old school box drill, in whichpressure-sensitive pads are placed on the ground and connected to an oversized,black stopwatch; the player runs from pad to pad, showing his quickness andreactions. After testing Scott, Hortiz excitedly called Ravens scoutingdirector Phil Savage (now the Browns' general manager) and said, "This guyhas the best numbers I've seen in two years." Baltimore's then Midwestscout T.J. McCreight watched tape and saw a whirling dervish who looked like anNFL player. Another lifeline. The Ravens issued team-wide orders to keepScott's name a secret; three days after the draft, they signed him to afree-agent contract. "My signing bonus was $500," says Scott."After taxes, $329.60. And I was an NFL player."
Scott was aspecial teams terror for three full seasons, but got few snaps in the regulardefensive rotation until Oct. 31, 2005, when he replaced Lewis, who had gonedown with a hamstring tear that would end his season. Scott has not been out ofthe starting lineup since, and before last season he signed a three-year,$13.5¬†million contract with a $6.5¬†million signing bonus, turningdown a larger offer from Cleveland to stick with the team that first believedin him. On the field, he has evolved into that rare 3-4 insidelinebacker--Lewis is another--who never leaves the field, even in the nickeland dime packages.
"He can rushthe passer, he can cover slot receivers and tight ends, he can play deep safetyall by himself," says Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. "Andhe's mean as hell."
Scott is alsocolorfully--and sometimes controversially--cacophonous. On a fourth-and-oneagainst Pittsburgh in '05, he drew an imaginary line on the ground and screamedat Bettis to cross it. In the same game he called Steelers Pro Bowl wideoutHines Ward both "soy sauce" and "rice rocket" in reference toWard's Korean ancestry. Neither Bettis nor Ward admits to remembering theincidents. Says Ward of Scott, "He's talking all the time, but no one'spaying attention. At the same time, he's a great talent and getting better andbetter."
Former Pittsburghlinebacker Joey Porter, a legendary trash talker himself, recalls spinningScott around during a change of possession, mocking him by reading the name onthe back of his jersey. "He was like a first-year starter, and I told him,'I don't argue with nonstarters,' " says Porter, who's now with theDolphins. Scott responded by making nine tackles, and after every one heshouted to Porter on the sideline, "That's one. That's two. . . ."
It's an approachsome teammates don't fully embrace. "He's too emotional most of thetime," says Lewis. "I try to get him to control himself."
But others loveit. "He's a fire, and I pour gasoline on him out there," says veterancornerback Chris McAlister. "It's Bart being Bart, and I want him thatway."
In truth it is anact, reserved for the field only. When the Super Bowl came to Scott's hometownin 2006, he arranged for students from six inner-city middle schools to gatherat Southeastern; Scott spoke to them wearing a suit and tie. "Never mindthat football," Davis, his former coach, told him that day. "Now youlook like a man."
Last summer Scottsent plane tickets to Kill's office at Southern Illinois and arranged for hisformer coach to use Scott's South Beach condo. "Bart knew I never takevacations, so he made all the arrangements for me and my wife," says Kill."Honestly, it's the nicest thing anybody has ever done for me."
Soon anotherseason begins. With do-everything outside linebacker Adalius Thomas gone to thePatriots, Scott will be expected to deliver even more. Veterans such as Lewisand McNair are quickly aging, putting pressure on the Ravens to make anotherrun now. None of it scares Scott. House money. He spreads his arms wide like apreacher before his congregation and speaks through a broad smile, "I'vealready won."
EXTRA Is Bart Scott too high in Peter King's ratings?Weigh in with your thoughts on FanNation and name your Top 10 linebackers ONLYAT SI.COM.
The undrafted Scott loves to talk the talk (just ask any of his irritatedfoes), but he also stalks the stalk, having harassed quarterbacks,ballcarriers, receivers and linemen with equal ferocity during his rise. to theNFL elite.
Even the animated Lewis (52) would like Scott to rein in his exuberance a bit,but the '06 Pro Bowler keeps enjoying himself--and says much of his histrionicsis just an act.