End of an era
Absolutely nothing is funny about the Lawrence Phillips case, so let’s not even go there — there isn’t a single laugh to be found in this past week’s news that the onetime Next Jim Brown was sentenced to 10 years in Cali. One of the great wasted talents of our time, the former Ram/49er/Dolphin/Cornhusker/Montreal Alouette will now be shooting baskets in Lompoc until his early 40s, marking perhaps the last sad chapter in what is likely the most consistently sad story in sports crime of the past two decades.
Phillips was drafted out of Nebraska by the Rams in 1996 and was expected to be a great running back. He had awesome power and speed. Virtually the last time the name “Lawrence Phillips” wasn’t a joke, we watched him running through Steve Spurrier’s Gator defense like it was wet tissue paper in the ’96 Fiesta Bowl. Linebackers fell down just looking at Phillips. Unfortunately, a steady string of women also fell down when Phillips smashed their heads on stairs or mailboxes.
Phillips already had a laundry list of transgressions before he left college, but the Rams drafted him sixth overall anyway because, well, NFL teams will put up with the odd crack-a-chick’s-head-on-the-mailbox trick if they can get 18 TDs a year from one guy. Unfortunately, Phillips ended up not being able to deal with having a real job and cracked under pressure, getting himself cut from the Rams and then ringing up a truly awesome arrest record, one that would dwarf even that of a J.R. Rider (in severity, anyway). He was repeatedly arrested for acts of violence against women, once striking a woman who refused to dance with him, another time allegedly choking a girlfriend to unconsciousness.
The sad end came when, out of organized sports, he was involved in a pickup football game at a park in Los Angeles in August 2005 and got mad at a bunch of teenagers he was playing with. He hopped in a car and hit three of them — vehicularly, as it were. This led to seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon and the current 10-year sentence, which could become worse, actually — the courts are still sorting out a prior charge for domestic assault, one in which he hit a woman he was dating at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Phillips is trying to get his guilty plea overturned so that the car-ramming charge will be just his first strike in three-strike-law California, not his second. If he fails, they could add more years to his sentence. In any case, Phillips managed a tearful apology in court to one of his teenage victims, who apparently had to give up his own sports career after getting hit by Phillips’s car. “I’m sorry your leg is messed up,” will therefore be among the last words Phillips uttered to the world as a free man.
The really weird thing about Phillips is that he seemed to know that he was a knucklehead. Some guys — take Pacman Jones, for instance (see next item) — try hard to say the right thing, but you can tell they really think that they’ve got it figured out. You never got that sense with Phillips. He knew he was a screw-up. But he lived in a series of foster homes growing up and just never learned to control his temper. Coaches tried the indulgence method (Nebraska’s Tom Osborne should have, but didn’t, cut him after he — you guessed it — dragged a girl down a flight of stairs, bashing her head into a mailbox), and failed. The story just basically sucks all around. Now Phillips sits atop our list, beating our fellow former Cornhusker Thunder Collins.
Meanwhile, in Dallas
There’s a new tale involving the next generation’s Lawrence Phillips, Adam “Pacman” Jones of the Cowboys. Jones, who was suspended all of this past season after getting arrested nineteen hundred billion times as a Tennessee Titan, was allowed back in the league this year only after Cowboys owner Jerry Jones convinced commissioner Roger Goodell to put his balls in a storage closet prior to a summer disciplinary hearing. We were told after the reinstatement that Pacman would be bounced straight to Siberia if he so much as sneezed on a parking meter in 2008.
Well, police were called this past week after Pacman was involved in a hotel altercation with Tommy Jones (another Jones!), a security guy essentially hired by the team to babysit the cornerback. Jerry Jones has already blamed the matter on the babysitter (whom he himself hired!), but the league doesn’t seem to be buying it — Pacman was suspended indefinitely n Tuesday for violation of the NFL’s personal-conduct policy. Don’t be surprised to see him meth-skating with Todd Marinovich in the Valley real soon.
When he’s not googling “breaking the Lawrence” and “Cowboys and idiots,”Matt Taibbi writes for Rolling Stone. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.