For New England Patriots' LeGarrette Blount, walking off works out

LeGarrette Blount's winding up in Super Bowl with New England Patriots prompts Bill Plaschke to comment

There are XLIX different sentimental journeys to football's ultimate game, lifetime trips fueled with pride and perseverance by players who arrive with humility and honor.

This is not one of them.

This is the story of LeGarrette Blount, the New England Patriots running back who quit his way to the Super Bowl.

"Don't ever give up," he told a child reporter during Super Bowl media day this week.

Well, um, er, that depends.

The tale begins in Pittsburgh last spring, when Blount, a bruising 250-pound veteran, signed a two-year contract that included a $950,000 signing bonus. He was cashing in after proving himself with the Patriots in 2013, when he rushed for seven regular-season touchdowns and had a three-score playoff game.

He was lauded as the perfectly tough Steelers acquisition. But things in Pittsburgh became a bit hazy for him even before the season began.

On Aug. 20, one hour before the team's charter flight was scheduled to leave for an exhibition game in Philadelphia. Blount and running back Le'Veon Bell — a young star whom Blount was supposed to mentor — were arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession while driving in Bell's Chevrolet Camaro. (Blount will perform 50 hours of community service as part of a deal with prosecutors to drop the marijuana charge, and Bell will participate in a probationary program for nonviolent first-time offenders pending a judge's approval.)This incident followed a training camp disturbance when Blount ran off the sidelines in street clothes to join an on-field fight and nearly came to blows with Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter.

Blount's welcome was quickly wearing thin, and, after scoring two touchdowns in the first three games, he was slowly buried under Bell's celebrated emergence as one of the league's top running backs.

Fast-forward to Nov. 17, a Monday night game against Tennessee in which Blount did not have a carry while Bell rushed for 204 yards and a touchdown. Blount had carried the ball only 21 times in a month, and had clearly become little more than high-priced veteran insurance. Instead of being happy for his close friend, he was clearly upset that the success wasn't his.

So upset that he walked out on the team before the Tennessee game ended, leaving the sideline late in the fourth quarter, dressing quickly in the locker room, and heading for the buses before Coach Mike Tomlin had a chance to deliver his victory speech.

Asked about the incident, Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers quarterback, said, "It will be tough if it was just for pure selfishness." Other teammates openly wanted Blount thrown off the team. And that's basically what happened; the Steelers released Blount the following day.

Two days later, after clearing waivers — because few trust a player who goes AWOL — he was signed by his old friends, the Patriots.

The Patriots had lost top running back Stevan Ridley to a torn knee and been forced to troll deep into their depth chart to come up with the guys to carry the ball. Even though third-stringer Jonas Gray rushed for 199 yards and four touchdowns against Indianapolis, the Patriots figured that wouldn't last.

They needed Blount, and Blount needed them. So Blount walked right out of Pittsburgh and right into Sunday's Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks.

"I just want to do whatever it takes," Blount said this week, and nobody could argue.

By throwing in the Terrible Towel, Blount went from invisible to invincible, leading the Patriots in rushing in four of their final six games and then carrying them into the Super Bowl with a 148-yard, three-touchdown performance in the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Of course, had he persevered to live up to his commitment in Pittsburgh, Blount could have still starred in the playoffs — Bell suffered a knee injury in the Steelers' regular-season finale against Cincinnati. Using four different running backs, none successfully, the Steelers never had a chance in their wild-card playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Not that Blount sees it that way, or ever saw it that way.

"Things didn't work out as planned," he said of his departure from Pittsburgh. "We just had to part ways and I ended up here and now I'm about to play in the Super Bowl."

If it seems so convenient to be true, well, because the main characters are a historically scheming team and an unsettled player, it all seems choreographed. Given a chance this week to explain, Blount did little to dispel that notion.

Asked if he knew he had a job with New England before he left Pittsburgh, he laughed, paused, then muttered, "I didn't know nothing."

Asked when he first spoke to New England about joining the team, he laughed and did not answer.

He said that after his successful 2013 season with the Patriots, he was close to many of the players and remained in constant touch. But when asked if he also kept in touch with coaches, he once again laughed and did not answer.

"I don't know anything about Pittsburgh, you have to ask Pittsburgh about Pittsburgh," said Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, who wasn't laughing. "When he was available, we were excited to get him back.... We didn't claim him on waivers, he actually cleared.... I think he's been a good addition to our team."

Blount is not looking back. He refused to answer why he walked off the field in the first place, refused to cite any problems with the Steelers, and when asked if he owes Steelers fans an explanation, he said, "No."

In today's NFL, this is what is known as living the dream.

"I'm about to be playing in the Super Bowl in four days. I'm thankful for that," he said.

In 2009, Blount was suspended by Oregon for eight games for punching a taunting Boise State player. Five emotional years later, this same player is in position to deliver the ultimate knockout punch.

Who says quitters never win?

"That I'm here now says wonders about how good things have gone for me in this league," Blount said. "I've had my ups and downs, but right now I'm on the up and up."

Pass the Kleenex.

Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter @billplaschke

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