Steelers' Maddox honored for season's best comeback

Friday, January 3, 2003

Some good came out of the XFL, after all. Just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers, who found their quarterback and The Associated Press NFL Comeback Player of the Year: Tommy Maddox.

Maddox easily beat Miami running back Robert Edwards in voting conducted by the AP and announced Thursday.

A flop as a first-round draft pick who became an insurance salesman before resurrecting his career in Arena Football and the one-season XFL, Maddox earned 24 votes from a panel of 48 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL.

"I'm very excited about the opportunity Pittsburgh's given me, not only to be a part of their organization but to go out there and play," Maddox said as he prepared for Sunday's playoff game with Cleveland. "It's been a good year, but we still have a lot of work to do."

Not only did the 31-year-old Maddox come back from past failures to replace Kordell Stewart as the starting quarterback on a division champion, but he returned from one of the season's scariest injuries.

On Nov. 17, in a 31-23 loss at Tennessee, Maddox went down from a seemingly normal hit by linebacker Keith Bulluck. But the quarterback struck his head on the ground and was knocked unconscious. He had no movement in his limbs for more than 30 minutes.

Taken to a hospital, Maddox quickly recovered. And by the Dec. 8 game against Houston, he was back in the lineup.

Asked about the potential for further injury, he said: "If you're worried about that, you shouldn't be playing."

There were many who said Maddox shouldn't be in the NFL after his early struggles. Selected by Denver as the 25th overall selection in the 1992 draft after just two seasons at UCLA, Maddox had little impact in two seasons with the Broncos. He didn't do much for the Rams in 1994 or the Giants in 1995.

The next four seasons included more time selling insurance than playing football. When he did return, it was to the New Jersey Red Dogs of Arena Football, and then to the Los Angeles Xtreme of the XFL.

Maddox was the MVP of that failed league, which got several NFL teams interested in him as a backup.

"I don't know how many opportunities he has had," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "It is a great story based on where he had been. The thing I like about him is he has a good perspective on things. He doesn't get caught up in it -- maybe because of where he has come from."

The Steelers were 0-2 and trailing Cleveland in the fourth quarter of their third game when Maddox replaced Stewart with the Steelers. He quickly led them to a tying touchdown and an overtime field goal, and Cowher made him the starter. Maddox quickly showed instant rapport with receivers Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress, who each went over 1,300 yards receiving this year.

Maddox completed a team-record 62.1 percent of his passes, with 20 touchdowns and an 85.2 rating. He was 7-3-1 as a starter, including winning the final three games to capture the AFC North.

Edwards, returning from three seasons out of the NFL after tearing up his left knee in a beach football game at the February 1999 Pro Bowl, was a backup to Ricky Williams with the Dolphins. He rushed only 20 times for 107 yards, but he had 18 receptions and scored two touchdowns.

Just his being back in the NFL after such a long rehabilitation impressed voters.

Edwards had 14 votes, nine more than Buffalo quarterback Drew Bledsoe. Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis had two. Getting one vote each were Carolina QB Rodney Peete, Indianapolis RB Edgerrin James, and Jacksonville RB Fred Taylor.

Maddox is the first Steelers player to win the award, which went to San Francisco RB Garrison Hearst last year.

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