Watching the Patriots-Giants game on Sunday, I have to admit that I forgot that Albert Haynesworth was even on the Patriots roster. I was reminded Tuesday evening when I learned that he had been unceremoniously released.
The Patriots are notoriously tight-lipped about such matters, but as best anyone could tell, not only were they unhappy with Haynesworth’s uninspired play (three tackles and no sacks for the season), but they were just as unhappy with his sideline outburst when he was confronted by one of their coaches, Pepper Johnson, about the enormous hole that allowed Brandon Jacobs to break off a 10-yard touchdown run.
Whether that’s the reason or not, Haynesworth is no longer a Patriot, and, as of the time I am writing this, he’s looking for his next job. (After this entry was written, Haynesworth was claimed by Tampa Bay. Good luck with that one, Bucs!) Someone will give him a shot. Maybe not this week. Maybe not next. But he will find work. Some team will willfully choose to forget about the way he left the Titans, and the way he left the Redskins, and the way he left the Patriots. Some team will adopt the mantra of every teenage girl who has ever had a crush on a troubled teenage boy: “I can change him!” And in all likelihood they will be wrong. Albert Haynesworth is Albert Haynesworth. He is as unlikely to change who he is as you or I are about to change who we are.
We can debate all we want whether people are capable of change. I, for one, believe that some people are capable of some change. My wife will tell you that before she met me, I could usually be found after work watching some sporting event, eating a hamburger and fries, occasionally glancing at some novel during timeouts or commercials. I spend far less time doing any of those things now. But before anyone believes I made some dramatic transformation, let me tell you what I do on my far too frequent business trips — I watch sporting events in the hotel room or the hotel bar, I eat hamburgers and fries, and I occasionally glance at some novel during timeouts and commercials.
For a time, Albert Haynesworth was the proverbial poster child for how people could in fact change — and dramatically so. Most of us first heard of him when the television cameras caught him in one of the most despicable acts in the history of pro sports, stomping on the face of Dallas Cowboys lineman Andre Gurode. He was, to many, nothing more than another out of control athlete. (See also baseball players Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano.)
But then Haynesworth did something remarkable. He repented. He apologized profusely for his conduct. He became a model citizen, and, just as remarkably, he became one of the top 10 defensive players in the league. He had transformed. He had learned his lesson and had come out a better person — and player — as a result. Do a Google search, and you will find dozens of articles from 2007 and 2008 proclaiming Haynesworth a changed man.
Sadly, that wasn’t the end of the story. Haynesworth left the Titans as a free agent with a little more unpleasantness than necessary and signed a $100 million contract with the Redskins. The fact that Titans, who knew him better than anyone, didn’t even reach for their checkbook should have told us all something about Haynesworth, but we all ignored that. Then, as every Redskins fan knows better than I, he seemed to quit as soon as he cashed his bonus check. His two years in D.C. can be summarized in one sentence: disgruntled, overpaid, out-of-shape tackle clashes with everyone over everything.
The Patriots traded a fifth-round pick for him before this season started, and it was considered a steal at the time. And it was a steal — for the Redskins. Because, from all accounts, Haynesworth approached his new gig with the Patriots with only slightly less disdain and disinterest than he did in D.C. Today, who wouldn’t rather have a fifth-round pick than Haynesworth?
Just a few years ago, Albert Haynesworth had changed our impression of him by making us all think he had changed. He could have been remembered as one of the greatest defensive tackles of his time. Instead, he will be remembered as that guy who stomped on a lineman’s face, then stopped trying after taking millions from the Redskins and Patriots.
I will not miss seeing him on my TV screen at home this Sunday. I will miss the hamburger and fries.