7-7-01, 1:00 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Ty Douthard hadn't been out of jail 48 hours when the very thought of football pulled him down to the river and the Paul Brown Stadium goal posts Thursday afternoon.
Maybe see his old running backs coach, Jim Anderson. Maybe bump into a teammate from that 1997 stint on the Bengals' practice said. Maybe catch a glimpse of the new field he saw on the TV last fall from Ohio's London Correctional Institution.
"It's beautiful. Just how it looked on TV," said Douthard, fittingly standing in the end zone after a year of broken field running.
"It doesn't look any different."
Of course, it's all different now for Douthard, a Cincinnati prep product and former Bengals running back released after the 1998 pre-season opener following his year on the practice squad. This past Tuesday he made the cut when an appeals court reversed his conviction on marijuana possession charges and released him from the minimum security prison after serving about a year of a three-year sentence.
So the stat sheet now says Douthard was never convicted. Never went to jail. That he had nothing to do with the 2.5 pounds of pot found in the refrigerator of the Evanston home he shared with a boyhood pal.
"Yeah, I made some bad decisions," said Douthard Friday, breaking his long silence. "I shouldn't have put myself in that situation. But it wasn't mine. I didn't sell and I didn't use."
But he did pay with more than a year in jail. And for a football player still harboring a professional dream at age 28, the price is steep.
With the Bengals' teeming stable of running backs, the club just doesn't see a Douthard return in the cards. But everyone likes a good comeback story.
Shortly before Douthard was charged in the spring of 1999, he returned to Cincinnati as a last cut of
NFL Europe's Frankfurt Galaxy after failing to hook on in the NFL in '98.
But a whiff of the end zone and a talk with old teammate Corey Dillon in the PBS locker room had Douthard energized.
During his jail stint, Douthard had support in court from former employers and guidance counselors, as well as some of his coaches at LaSalle High School and Illinois. Douthard knows he could have made better decisions. But he also insists he was clean and wonders if his status as an ex-Bengal helped doom him.
"I'm of the mind that everything happens for the best," Douthard said. "Maybe this saved me from something that could have gone very bad.
"And I'm getting out at 28 years old instead of 31. In three years, there would have been no chance of playing. Now I still have a shot."
Douthard and one of his many loyalists, agent Richard Katz, know the shot is as long as it gets. The dream is to get back into shape the next two to three months, hook on with a team in mid-season, and get allocated to NFL Europe next spring.
If not, what about Canada, where another Katz-represented running back in Deland McCullough played for two seasons?
"I've always believed in him," said Katz, the Cincinnati-based agent who has known Douthard since his LaSalle days. "He's a very determined kid and is very focused right now. I don't think he's going to take anything for granted. Ever since he's been back, he's had a smile on his face. Even when he had to take the bus down to my office. He walked in and said he enjoyed that bus."
Douthard would love to ride again for the hometown Bengals. Probably his most indelible memory in the pros is sharing a locker room with Boomer Esiason during that 1997 season. The same Esiason that Douthard had met 10 years before in the same locker room when he was a kid and his friend snuck him in after games.
But when it comes to running backs and fullbacks, the Bengals are going to end up cutting at least one veteran back, probably two, and maybe three.
The Bengals admired Douthard's college career, but in the end they thought he was the classic tweener who wasn't big enough to block or fast enough to make enough runs at the next level.
Yet Katz knows there are 31 other teams out there and the 221-pound Douthard is a versatile sort who has played both back-field spots.
"The key will be getting his legs back underneath him," Katz said. "He can do a lot of things. He can catch the ball and block. We'll see how it goes. It's not fair to put him out there now with just two weeks to get ready. Teams already have enough players. But maybe in three months."
After a year, Douthard is still amazed at how much he missed the little things. When the phone rings at his mother's home, he's allowed to answer it, and that is more than a little thrilling. Katz had him over the house Thursday to grill salmon, his first home-cooked, sit-down meal. Someone opens the door for him and he can let someone else go first.
And he can sit in the locker next to Dillon and talk to his fellow '97 rookie instead of watching him on TV.
"I watched Corey and took a lot of inspiration from him," Douthard said of his friend's record season as seen from the other side.
"I felt like I was really close to it. That I had some small part of it," Douthard said. "Corey is also a guy who's been through a lot and look how he has been able to turn it around. I can tell by just looking at how much he's changed since I last saw him a couple of years ago."
Douthard won't waste any time. Katz wants to set him up right away in a job in a deli while Douthard plans to work out daily in a downtown fitness facility.
It's going to be quite a switch. He spent a lot of time reading in London, where one of the books outlined the similar circumstances of his case that included a mistrial.
The book's name is "Double Jeopardy."
Now Douthard would like a second chance in the league.
"When I was watching those games on TV, I thought to myself, 'What a missed opportunity I had,'" Douthard said. "After all this, I just think I would make the most of everything no matter where it is."