Outside the Lines:
Willis McGahee and Daniel Snyder

 

Here's the transcript from Show 161 of weekly Outside The Lines - Willis McGahee and Daniel Snyder

SUN., APRIL 27, 2003
Host: Bob Ley, ESPN
Reported by: Jeremy Schaap
Guests: Olandis Gary, running back; Buffalo Bills; Melvin Bratton, former running NFL running back.

DREW ROSENHAUS, MCGAHEE'S AGENT - I think he's going to go right now to the Bills.

BOB LEY, HOST - It hardly seemed possible. Three months ago -- in a flash Willis McGahee went from the top of the NFL draft to very possibly out of football forever.

WILLIS MCGAHEE - I just thought everything was over for me. Everything was silent, the crowd was silent. I just heard the doctor saying, it's over, it's over.

LEY - After a remarkable rehab, finally ready for the draft, Jeremy Schaap spent draft day with McGahee.

MCGAHEE - This is how we do it, baby.

LEY - Also this week, Daniel Snyder on whether his free-spending will bear fruit in Washington.

DANIEL SNYDER, OWNER OF THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS - We took our shot. It didn't work. Obviously I'm responsible. No doubt. I made some wrong decisions.

LEY - Today on Outside The Lines, the pressure on Dan Snyder and the risky business of drafting Willis McGahee.

LEY - It is a precarious and fragile life running the football in the National Football League. Running backs are cursed with the shortest careers in the NFL. They average two and a half seasons. After two years in college, Willis McGahee knows that plus the pain and sacrifice of putting himself back into position to take his chances again.

Gruesome does not begin to describe the injury that ravaged McGahee's left knee in the fourth quarter of the national championship game in January. He tore three of the knee's four ligaments. Conventional wisdom said that McGahee in that instant lost $10 million, hurtling from early in the first round to maybe a mid round. But three months of intensive and focused rehabilitation brought a remarkable recovery and a chipping away at the widespread pessimism over his chances to play, maybe soon.

Willis McGahee was the great question mark of the first round of the NFL draft. Jeremy Schaap was with him yesterday and in the days leading up to the moment that few expected this young man to enjoy.

JEREMY SCHAAP, ESPN CORRESPONDENT - Don't adjust your set. The images on your screen haven't been digitally altered. This is the real thing. Willis McGahee was running Tuesday, not sprinting, not yet, but running when many thought he would never run again.

REPORTER - Can you expect to still go in the first round? Is that a realistic expectations?

MCGAHEE - I'm not expecting to go in the first round. You know, might not go in the second pick like I am supposed to, but all the things I did and how hard I'm working, I should be back in the first round.

ROSENHAUS - Look at all that muscle, man. He's got a lot of muscle for a guy with this kind of injury, doesn't he? Do it again, man. It really is a miracle. This is the most amazing recovery of an injury I've ever seen in any sport.

SCHAAP - This is the gospel according to Drew Rosenhaus, McGahee's agent. Part salesman, part cheerleader, part motivational speaker, Rosenhaus acknowledges no doubts about his client's future.

ROSENHAUS - He's going to be a first-round pick. He's going to be the first running back drafted. He's going to be ready the first day of training camp to put on the pads. He's going to be all rookie and he is going to make the Pro Bowl this year.

SCHAAP - So much for diminished expectations. With scouts from a dozen NFL teams watching in the weight room and on the field, McGahee proves he's fit to be drafted.

ROSENHAUS - The scouts are shaking their heads in amazement at what you just did today.

SCHAAP - The next day McGahee flies to New York to promote the X-box game system and himself.

Ready, early, and willing.

MCGAHEE - Yes, man.

You guys are great, man.

SCHAAP - On one hour's sleep, McGahee tells his story again on live TV.

MCGAHEE - I am beginning to get a feeling I am somebody that's extraordinary, you know. Some -- you know, you don't come across too many people like me every morning.

ROSENHAUS: Interview number two at 8:16 in the morning.

SCHAAP - Getting sick of talking about the injury?

MCGAHEE - No.

SCHAAP - No?

SECRETARY - Welcome to the Willis McGahee conference call.

REPORTER - Hey, what are you looking forward to more, Saturday's draft or your first NFL game?

MCGAHEE - First NFL game.

REPORTER - How come?

MCGAHEE - Because it's my very first one.

REPORTER - How are you doing?

MCGAHEE - Real good. How are you doing?

SCHAAP - A different McGahee emerges at Madison Square Boys and Girls Club where he even shows off his scar.

MCGAHEE - You want to touch it?

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CHILDREN - No!

SCHAAP - McGahee opens up for the first time all day about his knee injury.

MCGAHEE - I just thought everything was over for me. It was like everything was silent. The crowd was silent. I just heard the doctor saying, it's over, it's over.

SCHAAP - The kids seemed to really make you light up. More fun to talk to than reporters?

MCGAHEE - Yes, yes. Yes, you know. They think I'm a god. A story, a topic.

SCHAAP - McGahee won't answer the one question he's most frequently asked. Just how did he cope mentally with his injury?

SCHAAP - These reporters are asking you what the secret is, what you're keeping to yourself, what's it all about?

MCGAHEE - You know, they try and get a piece of my mojo.

SCHAAP - Your mojo?

MCGAHEE - My mojo.

SCHAAP - What is your mojo?

MCGAHEE - I can't tell you my mojo.

SCHAAP - Without telling me what it is, explain to me what it does for you?

MCGAHEE - It gets me going, it gets me to where I need to be.

SCHAAP - Now it's time for another interview. This time at a restaurant in Times Square.

MCGAHEE - I don't care who it is -- Oakland, Philadelphia, Giants, Jets -- it really doesn't matter.

SCHAAP - A few minutes later McGahee bumps into ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper.

MEL KIPER, ESPN - I think it's a good shot at being late in the first round. I really felt like that when it started to move up, Oakland at 31 and 32, at worst second round, but I'd say now you talk about the second round when it was the fifth or sixth round when the injury occurred. That's amazing.

SCHAAP - His Manhattan marathon finally over, McGahee is back in Miami on Friday, at physical therapy, Rosenhaus gives him an update.

ROSENHAUS - Once we get to the 14th pick, that's when I'm really going to be intense about where we might go. And you'll see a lot of trades. Now if we start to see Houston or Dallas trading down in the middle of the first, that could be for us.

SCHAAP - With the draft now fewer than 24 hours away, McGahee appears unfazed.

SCHAAP - Are you nervous?

MCGAHEE - No, I am not nervous. It's like a football game. I performed in front of thousands of people. It's going to be something similar like that. People are going to be watching me, all eyes on me like it was during the football season. Nothing's changed.

ROSENHAUS - There he is. How are you doing? Did you just wake up?

SCHAAP - Draft day at the Rosenhaus residence.

ROSENHAUS - Right now, I couldn't be more confident. Do I look nervous? Not really -- I am really...

SCHAAP - You look more like the shark behind you.

ROSENHAUS - That's right. I'm ready to take a bite out of that team that selects him. I've got goosebumps right now knowing that in a matter of hours he's about to pull off a miracle. We are a part of history.

SCHAAP - As the draft begins, McGahee appears anxious, doodling, biting his nails, shooting pool. At 15, the Eagles draft Jerome McDougall, another Rosenhaus client and McGahee's Miami teammate. As the draft continues, the question remains, when will McGahee go?

MCGAHEE - I'm not nervous right now. I'm still calm. Everything's OK.

MICHAEL WILBON, PARDON THE INTERRUPTION - Drew Rosenhaus sat there and virtually guaranteed to everybody -- and I know it's his job to sell his client -- yes, he did.

TONY KORNHEISER, PARDON THE INTERRUPTION - Like he was selling Air Jordan's.

ROSENHAUS - This is great. Every time they talk about you, it excites another team. This is huge. This is exactly what we want.

SCHAAP - Just after Cleveland makes the 21st pick, McGahee's cell phone rings. It's Rosenhaus who is sitting right next to him.

ROSENHAUS - I wanted everyone to feel that things were going well. I wanted the teams to see him on the phone, maybe think he might be on the phone with another team and, uh-oh, we'd better make this pick. Then just after the Bears make the 22nd pick, McGahee's phone rings again. This time it's not Rosenhaus. It's the Buffalo Bills.

ROSENHAUS - Tell me what they say.

MCGAHEE - They have me on hold.

PAUL TAGLIABUE, NFL COMMISSIONER - With the 23rd selection in the 2003 NFL draft, the Buffalo Bills select Willis McGahee.

ROSENHAUS - Yes!

SCHAAP - In an instant, McGahee's vindicated.

MCGAHEE - I felt like I won the lotto, to tell you the truth. It felt real good.

ROSENHAUS - To blow your knee out and go in the first round and be the first running back picked, that's a miracle.

SCHAAP - Have you ever been in Buffalo in December?

MCGAHEE - Nope. I'm not worried about it. I don't care how cold it is. I will be there.

LEY - And to consider the immediate future for Willis McGahee, we say good morning to two men who understand his situation very well. Olandis Gary is a running back who has just signed with the Buffalo Bills after four years playing in Denver. His rookie season, 1999, he was an 1,100-yard rusher for the Broncos. The next year he missed virtually the entire season with a knee injury, one of two severe injuries he has suffered. Now he's a teammate competing against Willis McGahee.

Melvin Bratton, like Willis McGahee, was expected to come out of Miami and be an early first round pick. Melvin blew out his knee in the 1988 Orange Bowl. Sat out a year after college and eventually played two years with the Broncos playing in Super Bowl XXIV.

Gentlemen, Good morning.

MELVIN BRATTON, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI RUNNING BACK, 1984-1988 - Good morning, Bob.

OLANDIS GARY, BUFFALO BILLS RUNNING BACK - How's it going? Thanks for having us.

LEY - Glad to have you with us. Melvin, let me begin with you. You know Willis. In the flush of that injury, your opinion was -- and you had the ability to take insurance money as well back in 1988 as did Willis, $2.5 million. Your opinion immediately was Willis should take the insurance money. Why did you feel that way?

BRATTON - Well, at the time, going off technology at the time when I played, I think that it will take a full season, a year and a half to come back. Willis is a freak of nature. Like you said earlier, I wish I had some of his mojo and Drew Rosenhaus was my agent back then. I think I would have been promoted a little bit higher than today. But I tell you, I don't want to see the kid rush to get back on the field because you get one shot to sustain and be out there. But if he injures his knee again, it's hard to come back the third time on the same knee.

LEY - Olandis, divorce yourself. An objective assessment, because you're going to be playing against this guy for playing time perhaps if he plays this year. What do you think he should be doing?

GARY - I think, like you guys said, he should take it slow to come back. I think it is going to be tough for him. He has a long road ahead of him. He just don't have knee, he has like four or five other running backs as well, in the stable. But right now, I like what I saw in the piece with his injury and that sort of thing. And I think he's doing great on the rehab. So that is a positive thing.

LEY - Let's try to put a number on what this tragedy can cost somebody. He went from -- we said $10 million possibly at the top of the show for him. Your injury having just come in as a low draft pick and had a marvelous rookie season, Olandis, and possibly be in a position to get a good contract, then you blew out your knee, what do you think that cost you?

GARY - You know, you never know because after I had my great rookie season and coming back the next year, I had -- I was doing well against the St. Louis Rams as well. You never want to look at the money lost. All you want to just think about the money you can make in the league.

It's a short time. I think Willis, he made the right decision, looking in retrospect. I figure it's going to be great playing with him. I don't think we're going to be competing. I think I'll complement him very well.

LEY - Well, Melvin, you had 15 years, I guess, to make this calculation. What do you think your injury cost you?

BRATTON - Speculation before the game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when they took Paul Gruber as the fourth pick, then was Robert Fellew, who was with my agent at the time, who passed, Payne Stewart. At the time Robert was negotiating and talking with Tampa. So at the time the money wasn't -- I wish my mother would have had me later on so that I would have been reaching the $10 million or better. I think at the time it was like $6 million over four or five-year deal at the time.

LEY - A $6 million injury?

BRATTON - Yes, $6 million for me. Olandis, it seems like the Miami Hurricane guys were hunting you. Last year you had Clinton Portis coming towards you over at Denver, and now all of a sudden you have Willis McGahee following behind you here.

LEY - Let's talk ...

GARY - May I just -- hey ...

LEY - Let's talk about the fact that they are hunting guys on the field not just for playing time but also defenders. A stat that I mentioned also earlier, Melvin, two and a half years, the average career. When you run the ball, do you think about how fragile things are and how short a career can be?

BRATTON - No. As a competitor and running back you have 11 guys coming at you at all times, and Olandis can relate to that. The game has changed right now and they're faster and stronger as opposed to when I played in the Super Bowl in '89. But right now, I mean, the mentality part of a running back like Willis is very competitive. He's a good kid. He wants to win. But, like I said, I don't want to see actually him make that next step and try to come back too soon. Like I said, you get one shot. The Lord blessed him to be able to go in the first round.

He went 23rd pick. And it will be interesting. The cold weather in Buffalo and also the turf is a question. Olandis had an opportunity to play in Denver like myself. We had the cold weather there, but the grass was a key intricate to be able to -- as far as the softness with the cutting ability and your vision. Right now with the turf in Buffalo -- it snowed there last week. I have a friend up there who is a pro director. He almost had a heart attack when it snowed last week.

LEY - Olandis, take me inside your head when you had to come back after your first catastrophic knee injury and you hadn't really taken the first hit. What's your mindset? What are the doubts that you have?

GARY - I think first you just want to prove everybody wrong, that two years and that sort of thing that it takes to come back off the knee, and I'm not a supporter of that. I think you can actually come back in six to eight months. I think that will just be right where Willis will be come training camp. So I think he'll be ready come during the season, and like Melvin said, the turf and that sort of thing will take its toll in the winter and the air as well. I think he'll be ready come training camp, definitely.

LEY - But do you have that little bit of doubt in your mind. You've been working, you have been rehabbing, but you haven't been out there -- hit by another player?

GARY - Yes, definitely at the beginning, at first. That's what you want to do. You kind of just want to go and hit somebody and let somebody hit you. It all will come and work itself out in time.

LEY - In one sentence from each of you. Melvin, what do you guys know about rookie camp and that first few weeks in the league that Willis is going to have to learn for himself?

BRATTON - Olandis first?

LEY - Go ahead, Melvin.

BRATTON - Well, I'm sorry, you said rookie camp?

LEY - Yes, the rookie camp, first time coming into camp.

BRATTON - Well, coming into camp, I mean, all eyes are going to be on him so, therefore, he must, first of all, be relaxed in his atmosphere. I mean, he's been doing this since he was a kid as far as playing ball so the mentality, he's going to arouse as far as seeing the media. He's going to be a kid that will be followed. So, therefore, in the Buffalo family, which is a football town, it's basically a collegiate town as far as pro football. He will be a man under a microscope. Willis is the type of kid, that I know personally, that is a hard worker. He will overcome that. As far as cat wise, now the money part is over with now, so he -- 23rd pick. He fell down a lot as opposed to being healthy, but still at 23rd and you're not 100 percent and still get drafted, hey, that's a blessing for him.

LEY - Olandis Gary, Melvin Bratton, thanks, guys, so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

GARY - Thank you.

LEY - Next up I'll talk with Redskins' owner Daniel Snyder. So busy before this draft, signing all those checks. Talk about that in a minute.

SNYDER - I think I've taken some hits. I think I had a bit of a hazing period. You start off that way and I'm a young, successful business person and I make for a pretty good target.

SNYDER - Wow. It's been an unbelievable journey.

LEY - Four years ago, Daniel Snyder paid more to become an owner, $800 million, than anyone in American sports history. For his near billion, Snyder's Redskins have one playoff appearance. At one point, Snyder employed four different head coaches in a 13-month stretch. Steve Spurrier's hiring set an NFL coaching gold standard at $5 million a year and yielded a 7-9 season. So Snyder essentially held a private draft last month signing four New York Jets free agents. First, guard Randy Thomas, then kicker John Hall, then Snyder's coach, Steve Spurrier, reportedly had an angry public confrontation with the Jets' assistant coach, saying he was about to take two more Jets' free agents. Soon thereafter Snyder signed receiver Laveranues Coles with an eye-popping $13 million bonus and return specialist Chad Morton.

That's the way Daniel Snyder is known to do business. Big dollars, big decisions. So far what's missing are big results. Earlier this week I spoke with the owner of the Redskins, a man who grew up fanatically devoted to this team and now owns it. And with that, the pressure of ownership.

LEY - Looking at the Redskins and the time you have owned them, give yourself a grade as an owner. Grade yourself?

SNYDER - I guess we've just done average so far.

LEY - A gentleman's C?

SNYDER - Yes, because we just have not gotten it going yet. Sort of a couple of years of stumbling and getting it going and then finally with Steve Spurrier in the system and now getting the right players and formulating things, I think it's now coming together pretty good.

LEY - What do you know now that you didn't know when you spent $800 million?

SNYDER - I know it's a little bit more difficult than I thought it would be originally.

LEY - What's more difficult?

SNYDER - Really the passion and winning and understanding that when you lose, hey, it comes with the territory to an extent, but just be persistent, stay with it and eventually you will win.

LEY - You spent $30 million in bonuses and salary just this year. Steve Spurrier now has players that you believe he can win with.

SNYDER - That he believes. I think we all believe.

LEY - What's the concrete goal? What must happen this year?

SNYDER - I think that what we've got to do, and it's not really as much as it's one of our goals, but we're real flexible. We understand we can put this team together now and keep it together for three years, four years, and that's really what we formulated. It's a three- or four-year plan. We obviously want to make the playoffs this year, get us going in the right direction, have a winning record. And that's what our first goal is.

LEY - How is this three- or four-year plan different than whatever might have been in your head in 1999 when you bought the team?

SNYDER - Well, in 1999, you know, I inherited the coaching staff. I inherited sort of the players, and everything back then was what it was before I bought the team on July 14, 1999, when I took over. So we didn't have as much time to make a -- to take a stand to make the changes and do everything. And now we've sort of built some things going in the right direction.

LEY - You said a winning record to 9-7 is a good year. That is a goal?

SNYDER - I think it's really not as much as just saying, hey, this is the record we're shooting for. Because obviously what we're shooting for is to win a Super Bowl. We're shooting for that every year and we're never going to change that. But we want to start getting into the playoffs and be competitive this year. It is very important to us.

LEY - You said keep the team together for three years. You're going to have to pay the piper at some point with all of this money you've laid out.

SNYDER - Well, I'm not sure. I think what you've got to do is build a plan that's based on three- and four-year models. That's what we've done with this team and this free agent off-season. And we said, OK, we can put this together and keep this team, this nucleus together.

Obviously a player here, a player there, adding and deleting, et cetera, making fine changes we're always going to do. But we can put together a team, a nucleus, and have a good run.

LEY - Can you buy success?

SNYDER - I think -- obviously in 2000, I tried to buy the finishing touch, to say, hey, we're in the playoffs. We won the division in 1999. Let's buy the finishing touch and make it very quickly. We took our shot.

It didn't work. Obviously I'm responsible. No doubt. But all mistakes are not going to be right. I made some wrong decisions and some right decisions. I think we've now made some very, very clear and simple strategic decisions and we're going in the right direction.

LEY - You say you can't overspend. What will the Jets say? They say you offered Laveranues Coles $3 million more for the bonus than he was even asking for.

SNYDER - That's not true. And that's real good spin.

But we're fortunate. We're very, very lucky to have great players like Laveranues and Chad as Redskins now. So it wasn't personal. It wasn't about the Jets. It was about just getting good players for our team.

LEY - How do you think you're perceived?

SNYDER - I don't know. You tell me.

LEY - How do you think the media treats you?

SNYDER - I think I've taken some hits. I think I had a bit of a hazing period. You start off that way and I'm a young, successful business person and I make for a pretty good target. I'm also hands-on. I'm involved and I'm not shy to say I'm involved. I'm not hiding behind the curtain and pulling triggers and doing some things that maybe the media would like.

I do what I think is in the best interest of the Redskins and the organization and winning.

LEY - What have you learned about dealing with the media?

SNYDER - Time is on my side.

LEY - In what regard?

SNYDER - Over time people figure out that what you see is what you get. I want to win. I'm not afraid to go get the players signed. I'm not afraid to make the moves. I'm not afraid to make decisions that I think are in the best interest of the Redskins' organization.

LEY - When we continue, your e-mails on last week's story. A youngster with his last shot to make something of his life and the coach helping to make that happen.

LEY - Last Sunday our story was of a teenager with what is euphemistically called a troubled past and a basketball coach trying to help the young man with his last shot to avoid a life of crime and prison.

From our e-mails, from Charleston, South Carolina - "As a 25-year-old teacher and varsity basketball coach, I see just how much Darwin Carr cares about his kids. He was correct in saying that 90 percent of coaching is NOT about diagramming a last second shot, but about getting kids to believe in themselves and each other."

And from Indianapolis - "I thought today's show was terrific. I don't think I have ever thought of basketball as a metaphor for gaining life skills. But this story changed my mind."

If you missed last week's show, transcription's online. Keyword otlweekly, and our e-mail address for your thoughts on Willis McGahee and Daniel Snyder, otlweekly@espn.com.



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