New Moon Rison in Green Bay? : After Burning Bridges With Five NFL Teams, Receiver Is Finding Peace With Packers
It’s Christmas Eve, 1989, his Indianapolis Colts have just lost to New Orleans to miss the playoffs and Andre Rison is clocked by the Highway Patrol going 128 mph in a 55-mph zone.
Rison’s response to the trooper who stops him: “I thought I was only doing 95.”
Fast-forward to Atlanta, where Left Eye is looking cross-eyed at her boyfriend, Andre Rison, who has been out all night with the guys.
Rison has already been charged with aggravated assault, discharging a firearm, simple battery and carrying a pistol without a license after a fight with Left Eye, also known as Lisa Lopes, one of the three members of the singing group, TLC. Lopes also has been charged with attacking a police officer.
That little misunderstanding has been cleared up, but now Left Eye has a bat in her hands and she’s blasting the windshields of the various cars Rison owns. They argue, he takes a walk to cool off. She starts a fire in the sunken bathtub of the house they share, and Rison’s two-story mansion, valued at more than $1 million, goes up in flames.
Rison’s response to Left Eye: He marries her.
Still in Atlanta, Rison misses a team bus and is benched for a quarter. A few weeks later, after committing his 19th team infraction, he is suspended for a game.
The NFL’s response to an irresponsible Rison: A bidding war ensues for his services, Cleveland winning and paying the wide receiver $17.075 million for five years, plus a $5-million signing bonus.
The Cleveland experience immediately goes sour. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde likes to throw to spots, and Rison likes to run pass routes where he pleases, so the two seldom make a connection.
The fans don’t think Rison is giving full effort and begin to boo him, and he responds by ripping the good people of Cleveland, who then boo him every time he touches the ball the rest of the season. A sign is hoisted at the Browns’ final game: “Dear Andre--The Fans of Cleveland Hope You Get a Very Warm Welcome in Baltimore.” Beneath that is a picture of a house--on fire.
Owner Art Modell has announced that he’s moving the team, and later at an owners’ meeting cites as one of his major reasons for moving his desperate financial situation, saying he had to go to a bank for a personal loan to pay Rison’s signing bonus. Rison becomes the lightning rod for the Browns’ move to Baltimore.
Rison’s response to the irritated Cleveland fans: “Hey, Art Modell is cool. He just wanted a new stadium. I do too. We don’t have a home field. Our home is Baltimore. To hell with these fans.”
In Baltimore, new Raven Coach Ted Marchibroda gets a look at Rison and cuts him before the season begins. Jacksonville then hands him a three-year, $6.6-million contract, and Rison is the only player not to show up for a mandatory meet-the-Jacksonville-community dinner to start the season. He’s fined. He’s late for more team meetings, and he’s fined some more.
Quarterback Mark Brunell throws 20 interceptions, and insiders say that most result from Rison’s turning the wrong way on his patterns. The team loses, Rison blasts Coach Tom Coughlin in the newspaper, gets into a dispute with Brunell and is fired.
Jacksonville’s response to losing Rison: The team hasn’t lost a game since his departure.
Whew! It’s been some ride for the rambunctious one, residing now in the land of legends, of good sport and tradition, and why in the world would the Green Bay Packers want Andre Rison?
The Packers’ response: Whatever it takes to win the Super Bowl.
Recalling the Packers’ talk about Rison only a little while ago, they apparently have made a pact with the devil. Quarterback Brett Favre, who had been Rison’s teammate in Atlanta, advised Packer General Manager Ron Wolf two years ago that it would be a mistake offering Rison big money. And when Rison selected Cleveland over Green Bay, Wolf told reporters, “We lucked out.”
But then Robert Brooks went down with a season-ending knee injury, Antonio Freeman broke his arm and tight end Mark Chmura was hurting. The Dallas Cowboys beat the Packers on a Monday night, and Green Bay’s reserve wide receivers were ineffective.
The next day the Packers were on the telephone with Rison, who had boasted as a rookie that he was already as good as San Francisco’s Jerry Rice, who was wearing three Super Bowl rings at the time.
“It used to really bother me that Jerry and I would have comparable numbers, but he was always considered up there on a level by himself,” Rison says. “Can you imagine me running routes for Montana or Marino? I wouldn’t have to fight for respect.
“Sometimes I used to lay in bed and just say, ‘I wish I was in the West Coast offense.’ And then you will hear nothing from me. The only thing you will hear is, ‘Rison scored again.’ ”
With his promise that he would be a good soldier and keep his mouth closed, the Packers claimed Rison on waivers from Jacksonville, beating San Francisco, Dallas and Kansas City, who were also after him but were waiting for him to clear waivers.
Of course, before settling into his new uniform, Rison had to torch another bridge. “I just left hell [Jacksonville]. That was hell down there, boy, and this is heaven,” Rison says, and across his belly in large letters there is a tattoo: “Only the strong survive.”
“My critics must just hate this,” he adds. “Now I’m a champion.”
Almost two months now in Green Bay, and still not the slightest hint of trouble.
“Is it an act?” Rison says, repeating the question. “You mean scoring touchdowns? I still have a $100,000 watch, a $40,000 ring and I’m still me--still doing the duck walk, still catching the football, always catching the football, still getting open, always getting open.”
Most everyone who has had to deal with Rison over the years says what a likable person he is. Even Coughlin, the hard-core Jacksonville disciplinarian, admitted that Rison was one of his favorite players, but ultimately, he has been foiled by his own immaturity.
Rison mutters when asked about such observations. Rison mutters a lot. He’s surrounded by reporters, but he’s talking to himself with his back turned to everyone.
“Negative stuff, that’s what they’re always writing,” he mutters. “Always looking for something to get me.”
In Atlanta, Deion Sanders was called “Prime Time,” and so Rison nicknamed himself “Show Time.” It didn’t catch on because most people preferred to call him “Bad Moon” Rison. Rison ultimately agreed and has had the moniker tattooed on his shoulder.
“I’m not some street thug or criminal, but the way I’m portrayed in the media, you’d think I was,” he says. “I’ve got money, a bunch of cars, all the things someone could want, but now I want to go out and bring home that big prize, a little piece of history that says Andre Rison was here, that he did something worthwhile.”
In the Packers’ final regular-season game, Rison caught a touchdown pass and jumped into the stands, where the Cheeseheads warmly embraced him. In Saturday’s playoff victory over the 49ers, he injured a knee, was helped to the locker room and then returned to the field with the Packer fans giving him a standing ovation.
“It was the first time I heard, ‘We love you!’ outside of my wife, my kids or my mom,” says Rison, who caught 13 passes for 135 yards during the regular season for the Packers. “It felt good. All the bull . . . I took in the last year and a half--all the happiness, all the glory that’s coming now makes up for it.”
Rison scored the Packers’ first touchdown against the 49ers, absorbing a major league smack from San Francisco safety Tim McDonald and holding onto the ball. Business as usual for Rison, who scored 56 touchdowns in his first 78 games in the NFL.
“It feels great to be on the field with the MVP of the league and not no wannabe quarterback,” Rison says. Green Bay Coach Mike Holmgren has advised Rison not to sit still for interviews lest he say something wrong, so he’s walking as he talks. “I’m playing with a real team, for a real coach, a real coaching staff and I guess when you got all those things going for you, you got to come with the real deal.
“I love it here. It’s peaceful. Not a lot of people nagging and pulling at me. Plus, I don’t have to pick up the papers and keep reading negative articles or turn on the TV and see my team at the bottom of the NFL standings.”
On his flight to Green Bay, Rison says, he stared at the NFL standings in the newspaper that had the Packers in first place.
Holmgren has had no problems with Rison.
“I think I can work with most players,” he says. “My first impression, like most people, was that Andre needed a bigger city to flourish in, but I talked to him and I learned how much he wanted to be here. And right now, I couldn’t be more pleased with him.”
Rison has been to the Pro Bowl four times, but to remain with the Packers he will probably have to produce and demonstrate his reliability on and off the field. He is due a $100,000 off-season workout bonus and a $500,000 reporting bonus if the Packers elect to bring him back next season, as well as $1.5 million in salary.
“Mike Holmgren gave me another life, so I’m going to make good things happen here,” Rison says. “Everything here has been first class since I got here and I’m a first-class person. Nobody wanted to give me a shot because I’m supposed to be this guy who can’t run disciplined routes and is always causing trouble, and then they said I can’t learn a complex offense.
“But hey, I’m starting, we’re winning, it’s a ‘we’ thing here and I’m doing whatever they ask of me. I mean, what else do people want from me?”
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Rison at a Glance
BACKGROUND: Born on March 18, 1967. . . . 6-1, 188 pounds. . . . Wide receiver originally selected from Michigan State by the Indianapolis Colts in the first round (22nd overall) of the 1989 draft. . . . Traded by Colts in 1990 with OT Chris Hinton, a fifth-round 1990 pick and a first-round 1991 pick to Falcons for top pick QB Jeff George and ’91 fourth-round pick WR Stacey Simmons. . . . Averaged 84 catches and 11 touchdowns in five seasons with Falcons. Made Pro Bowl in 1990-93 seasons and was selected outstanding player of Pro Bowl in 1993. . . . Signed as a free agent by the Cleveland Browns on March 24, 1995. . . . Released in offseason and signed as a free agent by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Released after Week 11 and then signed by Green Bay Packers.
Year Team Rec Yds Avg TD 1989 Colts 52 820 15.8 4 1990 Falcons 82 1,208 14.7 10 1991 Falcons 81 976 12.1 12 1992 Falcons 93 1,119 12.0 11 1993 Falcons 86 1,242 14.4 15 1994 Falcons 81 1,088 13.4 8 1995 Browns 47 701 14.9 3 1996 Jaguars 34 458 13.5 2 1996 Packers 13 135 10.4 1 Totals 569 7,747 13.6 66
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