A sad story | AspenTimes.com

A sad story

Jon Maletz

Maurice Clarett was running again Wednesday morning.This time he was evading police, not linebackers. Clarett was weaving in and out of lanes, not opposing defenses, on Interstate 70 outside Columbus, Ohio, with authorities in pursuit.Clarett made an illegal U-turn in his SUV, according to published reports, and failed to stop when officers attempted to pull him over. He proceeded to lead police on a high-speed chase, switching lanes and crossing the median as he headed west. A helicopter kept him in its sights.Nearly 10 minutes after the chase began, Clarett, whose vehicle drove over a spike strip, was cornered in the parking lot of a local restaurant. Officers failed to subdue the former Buckeyes standout with a stun gun – Clarett was wearing a bulletproof vest. Pepper spray ultimately blindsided him.A quick search of his car revealed that Clarett was carrying more than a helmet and shoulder pads: Police discovered four guns – a loaded assault rifle on the passenger’s seat, a 9 mm under his legs and two other handguns – and half a bottle of vodka, according to reports. The best-case scenario? Clarett was getting into character for his upcoming stint with the Mahoning Valley Hitmen of the Eastern Indoor Football League. The worst? Another chapter chronicling his fall from grace has just been penned. Sadly, the 2002 Fiesta Bowl is a fading memory. It was career that started so promisingly. Clarett, the in-state product from Youngstown, became Columbus’ darling the moment he stepped on campus. During his freshman campaign he tallied 1,237 yards on the ground and 18 touchdowns. His double-overtime dive into the end zone against the U to clinch the 2002 national title earned him instant recognition. Clarett undoubtedly had the Buckeyes faithful growing nostalgic, hearkening back to the days when two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin lined up in the backfield. In the years that followed, however, fans would watch Clarett accumulate entries on his permanent record, not rushing yards. We should all have seen Wednesday morning coming. In 2003, Clarett faced criminal charges after he filed an exaggerated theft report after a car he was driving was broken into in April. The tailback claimed $10,000 in items were stolen; police didn’t buy the story. Further investigation revealed the car Clarett was driving was “borrowed” from a local dealership. Cue the flashing improper benefits lights.The adopted son soon became a nuisance, as Ohio State did its best to sever ties with the embattled back to avoid possible NCAA sanctions, including being stripped of its title. Clarett sat out the entire 2003 season, then disregarded the advice of family “consultant” Jim Brown and dropped out of school. If the NFL’s greatest running back couldn’t get through to Clarett, did anyone really have a chance?Clarett unsuccessfully sued the NFL for inclusion in the 2004 draft. At the 2005 pre-draft combine, his 4.86 in the 40 was disappointing, but hardly unexpected. He had been out of football for two years, was out of shape and, according to experts, in danger of going undrafted. Enter Mike Shanahan. The Broncos took Clarett in the third round in one of the biggest surprises in draft history. But the team quickly soured on Clarett, who battled an ailing groin during training camp, and severed ties with him during the preseason. Not many were surprised.His downfall didn’t end there. On New Year’s Eve, Clarett allegedly flashed a gun and robbed two people in an alley behind a Columbus bar. Clarett was awaiting trial on two counts of aggravated robbery, four counts of robbery and one count of carrying a concealed weapon stemming from that incident when he again confronted the law early Wednesday. Shanahan thought Clarett would look good in Broncos orange; Clarett may soon be wearing a jail-issued version of the same color. Clarett, college football’s equivalent of a one-hit wonder, is just one more athlete who was ill-prepared to deal with the pressures of notoriety. It was only a matter of time before his self-destructive behavior yielded a catastrophic meltdown – or three. It’s hard to believe that Clarett – a budding star who faded faster than Ryan Leaf or Akili Smith – is only 22. Wednesday’s mug shot shows a worn, tired, lost man. “It’s a shame,” Denver safety John Lynch told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “You don’t like to see that with anybody. We spent a short time around here and everyone wants to talk about what went wrong, but the kid was a nice kid. I wish him the best.”Unfortunately, it looks like this tragedy has a few more acts yet to be played out.Jon Maletz, aka “The Hammer,” can be reached at jmaletz@aspentimes.com