Being a number one draft pick comes with the territory of lofty expectations. But being selected that high as the potential heir apparent to a quarterback as great as John Elway was, well that’s something entirely different. Aaron Rodgers is a more recent example and he’s a hell of a success story, as he evolved from Brett Favre’s understudy to arguably the best quarterback in the game.
However, the evolution of Tommy Maddox is a bit different. After being the first-rounder of the Denver Broncos in 1992, Maddox was traded to the Los Angeles Rams after the ’93 season, due in large part to his less-than-stellar showings in limited game action. This stint was also unsuccessful, and after bouncing around to different teams, Maddox found himself ultimately out of football, so in 1997 he embarked on a career as an insurance agent.
However, his football career was far from over, as WWE Chairman Vince McMahon started up his own entity, the now-defunct XFL or Xtreme Football League, where Maddox became the league MVP for the Los Angeles Extreme in 2001. After the league folded, the Steelers noticed his standout play and signed him to a contract as the backup to their current starter, Kordell Stewart. Eventually, he became the starter and led the team to a postseason appearance in 2002. For his efforts, he won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2002.
He started during the 2003 season as well, although the team limped to a 6-10 finish. The writing was on the wall for him, as during the 2004 NFL Draft, the team grabbed franchise savior, Ben Roethlisberger, in the first round. The 2004 season would be his last as a starter, and after an early-season elbow injury, he gave way to the rookie phenom.
Playing the sport since he was a youngster, it all ended after the 2006 season and the game he loved so much was once again taken from him.
However, football wasn’t the only thing taken from him, as in 2008 his wife inadvertently read a text that revealed infidelity on the part of Maddox. His wife of 16 years, Jennifer O’Dell, filed for a divorce from him, and that also meant losing his two children.
Left at a crossroads, Maddox knew he needed to find a way to get his life, and his family back. Seeking advice, he touched base with an old friend from high school in Madison Michener.
“He said, ‘I want my family back. I don’t know how to work and I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Michener said of Maddox, according to Gibson.
Michener manages a deer breeding grounds and ranch and instilled a great idea in Maddox’s head.
“I told him, ‘God rewards hard work,” Michener said, according to Gibson. “If you get up and you put in a hard days work and you go to bed tired, good things are going to happen. I’m not saying once a week, twice a week, I’m saying every day: sweat and work.’”
Maddox went to work, earning only $400 a week by getting his hands dirty. However, according to Maddox, it was an eye-opener for sure.
“It was a great opportunity to take a step back and see what I wanted to do with my life,” Maddox said, according to Gibson.
After three years of hard work and sacrifice, Maddox truly was a changed man and he started opening the communication lines with his wife. Ultimately, the two reunited in the summer of 2011, although this time, there was no huge wedding ceremony as it was more about resiliency instead of a celebration.
Much like anything in life, after you hit the brakes and step away from it, whenever you come back you truly realize how much it meant to you.
“As my daughter was going into her senior year in high school I sort of realized how fast it goes by,” Maddox said, according to Gibson.
Now, after coaching his teenage son’s baseball team, Maddox began working with several of his son’s friends and it gradually changed into Steelers Baseball, a 7,500 square foot training facility and youth baseball club he started near Fort Worth, TX. As a multi-sport athlete in high school, it was actually baseball and not football that was originally Maddox’s first true love.
He said hundreds of kids have passed through his program.
“I stay in the kids lives and try to prepare them for not only sports but life in general,” he said, according to Gibson. “Just like everybody else I’m human and I’ve struggled at times and been through some bad times.”