September 22, 1997 in Sports

Broussard Learns How To Finish

John Blanchette The Spokesman-Re
 

The slip of blue paper affixed to his locker told Steve Broussard to report for a drug test. The year was 1990. He was a few months removed from Washington State University, in his rookie season with the Atlanta Falcons.

And the night before, he’d gotten high.

“I panicked,” Broussard remembered. “I went out to the grocery store and got a big bottle of vinegar and some orange juice and drank it, knowing the vinegar would deter the test. That’s the ancient secret on how to beat the system - vinegar and orange juice.”

But in the National Football League, the system simply beats itself. The league tests for all drugs before training camp; during the season, the random tests are for steroids only - unless you come up dirty for something else in the first screen.

And when Steve Broussard learned that, he was “home free.

“I could stop during June and July, get clean, flush my system out, and then go back to what I was doing.”

What Steve Broussard was doing was hastening the end of an NFL career that had barely begun, that perhaps would never be fully realized, that he has since salvaged - he believes - with a commitment of faith in Jesus Christ which has transformed his lifestyle and resurrected his relationships.

The personal rewards for such a makeover, he insisted, are realized daily.

On Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks reaped some, too.

With the outcome of Seattle’s AFC West game against the San Diego Chargers in the balance, that was Broussard flitting through the seams supplied by the Seahawks’ offensive line. That was Broussard, the third-string running back, slashing through gaps vacated by the Chargers’ mad bull, Junior Seau. That was Broussard - not Chris Warren or Lamar Smith - fighting for the tough yards inside the 10.

And that was Broussard hurtling over the goal line for the touchdown that gave Seattle a 26-22 victory and a fresh start in this still-young NFL season.

When he was needed most, Broussard had his best football afternoon in five years - rushing for 72 yards (69 in the fourth quarter), returning kicks for 117 more, simply being the difference.

Seattle - that is to say, Warren and Smith - had rushed for exactly two yards in the first half Sunday, and 10 more in the third quarter. Broussard was taking this all in on bended knee when running backs coach Clarence Shelmon hustled over to tell him it was his turn.

And the first three times he touched the ball in the fourth quarter, Broussard ripped off gains of 16, 20 and 14 yards - changing the complexion of the game.

“He’s a little quicker, a little different, a little bit more dartery,” said Seahawks coach Dennis Erickson, a lexicographer in his spare time. “He was making cuts those other guys weren’t making and the way things were being blocked, he just happened to be the best guy at that time.”

Offered Broussard, “They’re more power runners. I give it a change of pace, a little more quickness. I’m smaller. You can’t see me as easy as you can see those guys.”

That was true even at WSU. At 5-foot-7, Broussard stood a foot shorter than some of the linemen who opened the holes that helped him rush for more career yards than any Cougar other than Rueben Mayes.

Of course, some of his other qualities also came into focus at Wazzu.

There was the time he was arrested for popping the grocery store clerk who had witnessed a teammate shoplifting. There was the never-verified story of a brutal beating he supposedly administered to another student after a Cougar basketball game.

There was the Aloha Bowl trip in 1988, when reporters arranged to meet with athletic director Jim Livengood daily at 5 p.m. in case the NCAA released its drug-test results - so certain were they that Broussard would come up guilty.

“The Bruiser watch,” we called it.

“My melee years,” he calls them now.

The tattoos up and down his arms serve as souvenirs of those years, and there’s a jeweled gold chain around his neck that would seem to speak of his excesses - except that there’s a heavy cross dangling from it.

“These were things I’d grown up around, things I’d always done in high school, college,” said Broussard, who indicated his transgressions included - but were never limited to - drugs and alcohol. “But the money (he made in the NFL) made things more accessible. And it got out of hand.”

He was slow to get the message. For seven years - through a turbulent stay in Atlanta, a stop in Cincinnati and finally a reunion with Erickson in Seattle - he carried on. He smashed up a few cars, threw his money around, took off on his family whenever he pleased, hung with whomever he pleased.

A friend came to him early in 1996 and told Broussard he had a problem.

“I blew him off,” Broussard said.

A month later, his wife Monique left him and took their daughter, Tarin, now 5.

“Coming home to an empty house, that was when I hit the emotional bottom,” he recalled. “They were up here, I was off doing my thing. We got into an argument and she left. That’s where the rubber met the road.

“I had to decide what would allow me to prosper. I wanted to change. And my faith has brought me happiness and peace instead of trying to do it through the riches and fame of the NFL.

“My wife and I have a wonderful relationship now. I can lay my head down and go to sleep at night not worrying about the wrong things I’ve done coming back to haunt me.”

The revamped lifestyle may have just kept him in the NFL. Third-string running backs can’t afford self-destructive tendencies. The new Broussard wonders if the old Broussard would have been ready for Sunday’s opportunity - though he didn’t view it as affirmation.

But he did acknowledge that it was a good weekend for Cougars new and old. He had perhaps his most satisfying afternoon as a pro, and his old school climbed to 15th in the college poll.

“I’m happy for them,” he said. “They’ve played great. They just have to keep their heads up - they’ve been in this situation before - and remember it’s how you finish, not how you start.”

He was talking about football. And then again, he wasn’t.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

MEMO: You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review


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