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ports Peter Warrick: Remember, the NFL is a Business


BRADENTON – It's an unseasonably hot and sticky Florida afternoon when I meet Peter Warrick at the offices of the Manatee County Police Athletic League to talk about his second annual 7 on 7 flag football invitational, this weekend at the PAL Facility off 301 between Tropicana and the Red Barn Flea Market. The former Florida State standout and Southeast High alum arrives in a late-model, custom Mercedes Benz sedan, jeans and a t-shirt. Aside from a few gray curls in his facial hair, he looks like he's still an NFL rookie – lean and youthful, his dense frame suggesting that his trademark explosive speed is still intact.

photo by Dennis Maley

At last year's event, which featured several present and former NFL players, it was clear that Warrick still had the magic, and he warned teams thinking of taking his trophy home this weekend that they should think twice.

”Make sure all those other teams know the P-Dubs is taking it home again,“ he laughed, saying that while the primary purpose of the event is to give back to the community, at least some of his motivation rests in getting himself back on a field. ”I love football,“ he told me. ”It's in my blood and flag is my game man, so it's a chance to put something on for the community and get all these guys out here playing.“

In an area blessed with arguably the richest football heritage in the entire country, spawning dozens of college and NFL stars, Peter Warrick is still on a tier of his own. A two-time All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist at Florida State, Warrick was named Sugar Bowl MVP when the Seminoles won the 1999 National Championship – the second straight year they vied for the crown. A video search on Google yields a top result titled, Peter Warrick: the Most Elusive College Football Player Ever (see below) and that's not a stretch.

Warrick was the kind of player that comes along once in a generation, an athlete blessed with the sort of talent that makes even extraordinary competition seem mundane, while challenging sportswriters to find adjectives audacious enough not to understate his exploits. Warrick was drafted number four overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2000 NFL Draft – ahead of household names like Jamal Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Plaxico Burress, all because NFL scouts quickly recognized the litany of skills he brought to the table.

Warrick was a gifted receiver who came with the bonus attribute of being quite possibly the greatest punt returner the game had ever seen. His legendary jukes, cuts, misdirections and last-second improvisations could yield six points at a moment's notice. He'd cut back 10 yards and run 35 more laterally, spinning free of every grasping hand until he found the narrow route to paydirt. Every 4th down out of field goal range meant a possible score at best, good field position at worst. Peter Warrick kept opposing special teams coaches up at night.

Though Warrick's pro career never ascended to the seemingly limitless heights suggested by his success in college, the 34 year old nonetheless is one of the few players to play in a BCS National Championship game and a Super Bowl, he's financially secure and his name will still be in the record books when his son laces up the cleats. So – any regrets? Just one, says Warrick.

Near the end of his third season in the NFL, the wide receiver tore his meniscus. With a playoff spot on the line in the final regular season game, Warrick, the consummate team player, bit down and suited up against the advice of his mother, who warned of the potential consequences. "This is what I'm here to do," Warrick told her. The knee got infected and he missed nearly the entire 2004 season because of the injury, which he says he never really recovered from. Warrick started hearing rumors that the Bengals were looking to let him go after just four years, a thought that seemed preposterous to a young man that had hitched himself to the franchise, embraced the city and its fans, while feeling sure that he'd always be a Bengal.

Warrick was assured by Coach Marvin Lewis that no such plans were in the offing, and the player, who understood the volatility of life in the NFL, asked only to be given forewarning were he to be shown the door. The next day he was unceremoniously released, something Warrick's never gotten over.

”I felt really disrespected by the way that was handled,“ he told me, still noticeably creased by the memory. ”I gave everything I had to Cincinnati, and I just felt like they owed it to me to tell me like a man. Not hearing it everywhere else first, and then just asking not to be humiliated if that was the case. Let me know before I walk in there, you know, men have pride. That's when I really understood that this is just a business and they're not looking out for anything but their bottom line. There's no family, no loyalty, it's just a money thing.“

Warrick says that the lesson taught him everything he needed to know about a career in the NFL. ”Treat it like a business,“ he told me, when asked what advice he'd give to area football players on the verge of such opportunities. ”You've gotta look out for yourself and realize that they're doing the same. I found out the hard way that the Bengals didn't give a damn about Peter Warrick. They were only gonna look out for themselves.“

Warrick ended up essentially sacrificing his career for a single game that could give his Bengals a shot at the post season, but once that season passed, his sacrifices were quickly forgotten. Warrick points to Peyton Manning's current situation as an example.

”Look at what he (Manning) did for the Colts,“ argues Warrick. ”He built that franchise and then he gets hurt and they start looking at it like, is he gonna get back to this certain level and do we wanna pay him all that money? Now they're going to pick Andrew Luck, who yeah was a good quarterback in college, but they don't know what he's gonna be able to do in the NFL. There are a lot of guys who are great in college that never make that transition.“

Warrick's dismissal from Cincinnati was fortuitous in that signing with the Seahawks would provide the chance to appear in Super Bowl XL, where he returned 4 punts en route to Seattle's 21-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Warrick was released at the end of the season and bounced around arena leagues, briefly signing in the CFL. But once that knee took away just fraction of a second, the magic was gone.

”In the NFL, it's speed, speed, speed,“ Warrick explained. ”That's the big difference from college, where you can get away with a lot of things by being faster than every other guy on that field. You get to the NFL and it's like damn, everybody is that fast, and then it becomes about angles and technique.“

The lessons of an illustrious career will be on display this weekend when Warrick and fellow NFL alums Mike Jenkins, Fabian Washington and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie compete on teams from all over the Tampa/Orlando/Bradenton/Sarasota area for fun and bragging rights. Adult admission is $5. Children under 12 get in free. Games will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Manatee PAL.


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