He would take that water bottle everywhere, including the Bronco weight room, and the team started getting suspicious when, before minicamp practices, he'd grab the bottle and say, "I gotta get my Goose on.'' It wasn't a joke; the Bronco players were convinced he was chugging Grey Goose.
There was another incident at the team hotel, where he was accused of making sexual comments toward a guest. He denied it, but it didn't help that he had also begun alienating members of the Broncos staff. That summer, after minicamp, he had missed a weight-lifting session with the team's strength coach of 11 years, Rich Tuten, and he and Tuten had then engaged in a profane shouting match. Offended by it, Clarett marched into GM Ted Sundquist's office and demanded that Tuten be fired. When Sundquist refused, Clarett -- who hadn't even signed a rookie contract yet -- asked to be traded. By this point, the Broncos were wary of him. They offered Clarett a $416,000 signing bonus, but only if the contract had default language. But Clarett, against the advice of Clarett's former agents, Steve Feldman and Josh Luchs, turned it down. Feldman and Luchs -- who now, as agents for Gersh Sports, represent the Broncos' new star rookie RB, Mike Bell -- implored Clarett to take the signing bonus, but Clarett wanted to replace it with an incentive package that would pay him first-round money if he rushed for 1,000 yards in multiple seasons. It was his ego talking. Clarett even wanted Pro Bowl language. It was a reach, and if he got cut, he wouldn't see a penny. Obviously, the Broncos agreed to the deal. And when he spent 18 days nursing a groin injury, they cut him. He never carried the ball in a preseason game.
And now what? He had no money, although he claims he's made some periodic cash doing autograph sessions. His rap friends had financed him, with the idea he'd pay them back with his NFL riches. But there were no riches. He left for his hometown of Youngstown, thinking he'd go to NFL Europe and get himself back on the field, get himself financially liquid. But then there was his New Year's Eve arrest in 2006, and his pending court case. Not a team would touch him. "He'll never play again,'' said a league executive. So how was he going to pay these people back? How much did he owe? Were these people on his back? Were these the threats his lawyer spoke about?
Does this explain the assault rifle? The bulletproof vest? The phone call to me?
They found a half-full vodka bottle in his SUV early Wednesday morning. Grey Goose. Something was driving Maurice Clarett to drink (although police said they did not sense he was intoxicated) and it was obviously on his mind Tuesday night. He said his thank-yous to me, to Tressel, to LeBron, and after he hung up with me, he called his newest football coach, Jim Terry.
Terry is the head coach and owner of the Mahoning Valley Hitmen of the Eastern Indoor Football League. This isn't even arena ball, it's minor league arena ball. And this was the only team on earth that wanted Maurice Clarett.
According to Terry, Clarett was on the phone with him at about 1 a.m, a half hour after I was on the phone with Clarett and two hours before the gun arrest in Columbus. Clarett was very likely thanking Terry, too, thanking him for being the last football coach on earth to take a chance on a has-been from Ohio State.