Lavar Arrington's motorcycle accident is the punctuation at the end of his career. A man once worth millions and lauded as one of the premier linebackers in the NFL became a mirage-- a wild card from play-to-play for all the wrong reasons. With the Washington Redskins, his erratic style translated well for years. His occasional missed assignment or overrun play were worth the sacks and general excitement when he made a big hit. Then as the quotient of bad plays increased, the injuries mounted and the affability faded, the Redskins fans didn't bat an eyelash when he asked to be released. Certainly, this was a long fall for the face of the franchise a few years earlier.
Signed by the New York "football" Giants, their fans learned quickly that he was not a force anymore. His interviews were the most entertaining aspect of his New York days-- leaning on crutches or lambasting coaches for his declining importance in the defense-- the idea that he was ever really great was hard to believe.
He was great though. He was the face of a defense. He was a disrupting force that coaches had to scheme around constantly. If he was easily fooled from time to time, he made up for it. I remember watching him and thinking he could be, if Marvin Lewis stayed on, the best linebacker in the NFC--maybe the NFL-- for years to come. Of course, this was the hope of every Washington fan. It was not a smart move to invest so much in him-- so much of my affection for the past few Redskins' teams was based on the hope that Arrington would anchor a Lewis-esque defense once again.
When Gregg Williams marched the cover-two into town, Arrington was all but finished in most people's eyes. I still held out hope that he could contribute. When he came back from injury in his last year in Washington, I watched and waited for his impact. He recorded two or three great games-- coming off the bench in a Joe Gibbs/Wlliams' inspired ploy to see of they could get anything from him before casting him off to free-agency. When he was released, I wasn't surprised, but I was sad to see him go nonetheless.
I always wondered if he ever got used to the idea that he wasn't the best player on the field after he started to decline. Each play was a fifty-fifty chance instead of a big play possibility. After the foul-ups and missed tackles, I wondered if he didn't get up and decide that mistakes were just a part of the game. Conjecture, rather than confusion, seemed to rule his style. He believed that he was bigger than a scheme, better than the other team and more important than the play itself. All the while, it was impossible to cheer against him, yet futile to cheer for him.
I had a modicum of hope when he went to the Giants. I wanted him to succeed while the rest of the team failed (NFC East rivals, you know), but the spark and the desire were marred by injury, freelancing style mistakes and a sense that he started to understand that he had to become a role player. The Giants released him in the offseason this year, and I thought sure he would find a new system to inhabit-- even if a backup. I searched around as recently as a few weeks ago to see if he had been picked up-- maybe a Cincinnati (with all their arrests) or maybe an injury made him valuable enough. He was a former All-Pro and a great teammate (or so I heard, anyway), he was worth a gamble, right? Alas, he was still a free-agent when I searched and he is still a free-agent after his accident.
Like many, I saw the rumors of a one-year contract with the Redskins in April. I was happy to see the interest. Arrington, as a back-up, would have a nice moment walking back out in Redskins' colors. Still, there would be that lingering possibility of him re-emrging as a quality linebacker-- the fan-favorite with a perfectly placed mean streak. However assanine it may have been, I had hope. That ended today, as if it was not already dead, with his accident.
I'm glad to see he's safe, but part of me wants to ignore this story and remember the day I was a lot younger and more excitable about the kid from Penn State about to come and destroy the NFC East. Part of me wants to believe he is only now getting to the point that he doesn't have the wheels or the will to be amongst the great linebackers in the league. As of today, I have to stop ignoring that part of me and come to the realization trhat one of my favorite players is not only (all-but) retired, but lucky to be alive. Godspeed, Lavar. It's a shame you won't be around anymore, but a relief to see you survived. On a smaller scale, I felt the same way when you went to the Giants, and I was hoping to feel the same way again this year. The rise and fall of a superstar is a weird thing to watch.