Fine line between stardom and failure for Clarett

Updated: January 5, 2006, 4:33 AM ET
Associated Press

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It was barely noon, and the outdoor cafe on Scottsdale Avenue was already bustling with Ohio State fans enjoying plenty of sunshine, margaritas and fresh memories of a big win.

Back home, the running back who led the Buckeyes to a national championship at the Fiesta Bowl just three years ago was in handcuffs, facing a robbery charge and ponying up $50,000 bond so he could walk free for the time being.

Nobody at the Salty Senorita, though, was talking about Maurice Clarett.

You couldn't blame them. They were there to celebrate a victory the night before over Notre Dame.

Besides, Clarett was old news.

How about Troy Smith, though? Wasn't he something?

There's a fine line between stardom and failure, and to most OSU fans, Clarett crossed it long before he allegedly tried to rob two people behind a bar that's across the street, of all things, from the very courtroom in Columbus where he was arraigned.

To them, Clarett didn't just leave the Ohio State football team.

He disgraced it.

He lied to police, lied to university investigators and sullied the university's reputation when he said coaches and boosters arranged for him to get passing grades, cars and thousands of dollars as a freshman.

Small wonder there wasn't a replica Clarett jersey in sight at the Fiesta Bowl. There likely won't be much of a market, either, for reproductions of the tan top he wore to court Tuesday.

Clarett's story was a sad one even before the bizarre early morning altercation outside the Opium Lounge that may send him to prison for quite some time. Even sadder: He still feels so connected to the program that he waited until after some of his former teammates ended their college careers with a win over the Irish before finally turning himself in.

His arraignment came exactly three years after his biggest triumph, when the freshman sensation ran 5 yards for the winning touchdown in overtime to beat Miami and give Ohio State its first national championship in 34 years.

The first indication to the outside world that all was not well with Clarett also came that week, when he complained bitterly that Ohio State wouldn't pay for him to fly home to the funeral of a friend who had been shot to death.

"I guess football's more important than a person's life to them," Clarett said at the time.

That might be stretching it some, but not much. Columbus doesn't need an NFL team because, in some ways, it already has one in the Buckeyes.

The Columbus Dispatch reported this week that an analysis of federal figures showed the university's athletic program brought in more money than any other school in the country last year. Most of it was from football, which generated $51.8 million in revenue and turned a nice profit of $26.1 million.

It's big business disguised as amateur athletics, where the only ones not getting paychecks are the athletes themselves. Sure, they get a college education and exposure to NFL scouts, but there are no financial guarantees other than what a generous booster might pass along.

Clarett was his own worst enemy in his brief stint at OSU, but put an 18-year-old into the cesspool of big college athletics where everyone wants a piece of your time and a hand in your future pocket and bad things can happen.

That's no excuse, of course, for Clarett doing what police allege he did early Sunday morning outside a downtown Columbus bar.

It wasn't exactly a well-planned crime. In fact, it seems almost comical if you can get past the fact that the two victims were probably scared to death they might be shot.

According to police, the man confronted the two victims, showed them what appeared to be a gun in his waistband and told them to empty their pockets. When the bar owner happened to come out back at that moment, she recognized Clarett, squealed his first name and gave him a hug before he ran to a nearby SUV and fled.

Not quite the way they draw it up in Back-Alley Robbery 101.

Clarett's future was cloudy even before his arrest, though there had been speculation he would go play in Europe to try and make his way into the NFL. He now faces up to 26 years in prison, and even if he's not convicted it's unlikely any team would take a chance on him.

The last time Clarett touched a football for real he won a national championship for Ohio State.

Who could have guessed then that it would likely be the last carry of his career?


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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