Our heroes are not always who they appear to be

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 12, 2004

A wide-eyed 10-year-old stood trembling in a high school cafeteria, clutching a book and anxiously awaiting the arrival of his hero.

Soon, the great athlete would arrive and sign that book, his biography. When the hero walked into the room, the young boy felt tingly all over. After all, it is not often that a young sports fan has the opportunity to meet his favorite athlete.

As he waited in line, wearing the football jersey of his flag football team, adorning No. 10, the same number as his hero, the young boy daydreamed of what life would be like once he, like his hero, became the posterchild for every football fan in the state of Ohio.

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Then, the time came. The young boy walked up to the table. "What's your name?" the athlete asked. "Shawn," the boy replied. Then, on the inside cover of the book he wrote: "To Shawn, good luck. Art Schlichter, #10."

As I was visiting my parents a couple weekends ago, I was looking through some books in my former bedroom when I came across that book, "Straight Arrow." If someone was to write a book about Schlichter now, though, it would likely be titled "Broken Arrow."

Looking through that book brought back memories of how I, at an early age, realized that your heroes are not always who they appear to be.

Growing up, I idolized Art Schlichter. He was the All-American quarterback at Ohio State who I watched every Saturday or Sunday (the local PBS station used to telecast all Saturday OSU games the following Sunday morning).

After his career at OSU, where he set nearly every passing record, the Baltimore Colts made him the fourth player taken in the first round of the 1982 NFL draft. He was a

sure bet to become one of the NFL's top quarterbacks. Unfortunately, Schlichter bet his career away.

He gambled away his $350,000 signing bonus during his rookie season and

was suspended from the team. He was reinstated the next year, but was cut by the Colts in 1985 after it was apparent his gambling habit was far beyond control.

He played briefly in the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League, but could never resurrect his glory days.

Now, he is in prison, doing time on money-laundering charges. Since 1995, he has been in and out of prison, serving time for theft, forgery and fraud charges - all because of his gambling habit.

Several years after my first encounter with Schlichter, I saw him again. This time, I was actually competing against him at an open gym session during my junior year of high school. My coach was an assistant basketball coach at Miami Trace, where Art was a multi-sport star athlete.

Somehow, this time was not as special. He was but a shell of his former self - slightly overweight and balding - and nowhere near as appealing as he was when he was the star quarterback for the Buckeyes.


Had somebody told me several years earlier that I would one day be playing basketball with Art Schlichter, I would have beamed with excitement. As it turns out, he was just another person on the basketball court, in my eyes.

Deep down inside, I probably felt this way because of anger - my boyhood hero had betrayed me. It is easy to have bitter feelings when someone you truly care about lets you down.

For a while, Art Schlichter was on top of the world. He was the most heralded quarterback in Ohio State's storied tradition. He was one of the biggest stars in college football, even considered as a preseason favorite to win the Heisman trophy in 1981.

Quicker than he rose to the top, he slid to the bottom. It just goes to show that today's heroes can turn out to be tomorrow's zeroes.

Shawn Doyle is managing editor of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached by calling (740) 532-1445 ext. 19 or by e-mail to shawn. doyle@irontontribune.com.