Posted: 6:25 p.m.
Dick LeBeau's anguished cry 10 openers ago still pierces through Louie Cioffi's headset.
"Where the hell is Chuck?"
At the moment, with the NFL Draft three weeks away, Charles "Chuck" Fisher is where he is more than 200 days a year as the Northeast scout for the Seattle Seahawks:
On the road.
Back then, he was also on the road playing in his first NFL quarter as the Bengals promising rookie left cornerback on Opening Day 1999. LeBeau, his defensive coordinator, had lost sight of Fisher because his knee had blown up in the far portion of the end zone at Tennessee's brand new Adelphia Stadium as he broke on a Steve McNair pass headed to Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson.
As the wide-open Dyson caught the 13-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone on the last snap of the first quarter to give Tennessee a 14-7 lead, the ground just seemed to swallow up Fisher.
"It was something like his sixth snap; I remember that," says Cioffi, the Bengals assistant secondary coach who was also on that staff. "He was breaking on the ball and he was in position and he went down like he was shot."
Safety Myron Bell was the first one to reach him and when he leaned down said, "C'mon, Fish, get up," Fisher could only shake his head.
"No," he recalls saying, "this one is different. Get the cart."
"They ran an inside-outside route and McNair was pulling up (to throw)," says Fisher, recalling how McNair threatened to run out of the pocket. "I jumped the route. I knew it was coming to the outside. I'm thinking, 'My first NFL interception and it's going to be my first NFL touchdown.' I never felt so much pain. I broke real hard on my pivot foot. The doctor said the muscle was just so strong."
The anterior cruciate ligament. The medial collateral ligament. The posterior cruciate ligament. The entire knee popped like the weasel. The first quarter turned out to be the last.
"Tough decision, but it was the right thing to do. I didn't want to stop playing, but it was the right thing for my body. I want to have kids eventually and I want to be able to play with them. How do you do that if you're on crutches or you're in a wheel chair?"
Now he's 33 and still has no kids and that's because he uses the common sense his best friend John Thornton admires.
"If you're always on the road, that's not fair to your wife," Fisher says. "But I love what I'm doing. I love football and love to travel. And you better like them in this business."
Shhh. Don't tell Fisher this is work.
He's been studying players and making pronouncements since he was going to high school in football-rich Aliquippa, Pa. As a kid he'd watch guys like Ty Law and Sean Gilbert and wondered what made them so special that they became national names.
Ralph Cindrich, Fisher's Pittsburgh-based agent, found out early that he had a client that could tell him about sleepers. "He had the eye even then. He's natural at it," says Cindrich, a guy that fields hundreds of e-mails a year asking him how to get into the business.
"Hey, you've got to have talent and you've got to have the work ethic and Chuck has both," Cindrich says. "A lot of guys think they can do it just because they played, but they can't."
Talk about being stripped naked out there on the corner. Try this job interview.
Late 2002, early 2003. Fisher is just off an internship in the Packers personnel department and finds himself in the Green Bay-Seattle-Mike Holmgren pipeline walking into a room in the Seahawks facility with 10 or so other candidates to grade tape of Seattle personnel.
Then in front of a panel that included Holmgren, the club's head coach, and personnel officials Ted Thompson (now the Packers GM), Lake Dawson (now the Titans director of pro personnel) and Will Lewis (now the Seahawks director of pro personnel), Fisher "got a grilling" about his reports.
"I got hired and I got what they call the Midlands region," Fisher says. "Missouri. Nebraska. The Dakotas. If I did well, they said I'd get the East."
And so he did and is, but since he decided to settle in Cincinnati (Florence, Ky.), he also makes forays close to home. At the Ohio State pro day a few weeks ago, for instance, he spent much of the workout with LeBeau, now the Steelers defensive coordinator.
"It's not a job for Chuck. I don't think he considers it work because he just loves watching games," says his boss, Ruston Webster, Seattle's vice president of player personnel. "Any kind of game. He loves going to high school games. He likes watching film. That makes him a very easy guy to work with."
When Fisher enrolled at West Virginia, he met another kid who was doing the exact same thing across the state in Philadelphia. Thornton, the big D-tackle from the Scotland School.
"We met at the Big 33 game and we found out we were both going to West Virginia," Thornton says. "We just kind of clicked right away. You hang out with who you're comfortable with. We were roommates pretty much all the way through. We'd get all the preseason magazines. We just knew who was doing what where. We always played the noon games, so we'd hurry back to the apartment where our families were grilling out and we'd watch the rest of the games before going out at night."
They always hosted the most popular and sophisticated draft party on campus, except when they were in it in '99. Thornton went to a hotel with his family while Fisher held down the fort and that's where he got the call from the Bengals at the top of the second round at No. 33.
"We were very excited about him," Cioffi says. "About his speed, his athleticism. And his character, just tremendous. A good all-around football player. Just a shame."
Thornton could have gone as early as the first round to the Vikings, but that went out the window with Dimitrius Underwood at No. 29. The Titans took him in the second round, 19 picks after the Bengals grabbed Fisher. That meant they made their NFL debuts against each other.
"That was a tough day," says Thornton of the Titans last-second victory that would launch them to the Super Bowl. "His family came down and was staying with me, and it was just hard."
When Cindrich told him, "If it was my own son, I'd want him to stop playing," he started to think it was the right way to go. Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of football operations who has grown close to Fisher through the years, told him basically the same thing when he informed him they were cutting him just before the '01 season.
"Given his strengths as a player and what he did, it was the worst of injuries," Cindrich says. "The doctors basically came back and said he shouldn't play anymore."
Fisher says it took him six months to get over being away from the game. "It wasn't the money," he says, "it was the competition," and that's the only thing that really gnaws at him now.
"The one thing I wanted to do was compare myself to the top guys and see if I had the same kind of ability; that's what hurt the most," Fisher says. "To see where I was at. Dick LeBeau always said, 'You can be better than the guys that were drafted ahead of you,' and that would drive me."
Fisher is convinced he'd be playing now into his 11th season and Cioffi and Lippincott agree. After perennial Pro Bowler Champ Bailey was taken No. 7 by the Redskins, Chris McAlister went No. 10 to Baltimore, Antoine Winfield No. 23 to Buffalo, Antwan Edwards No. 25 to Green Bay and Fernando Bryant No. 26 to Jacksonville. Then Dre Bly went No. 41 to St, Louis, eight slots after Fisher.
"That was a good class of corners," Fisher says. "Yeah, I was better than a lot of those guys ... but you can't think about that stuff or it will kill you."
The scout Fisher on the 6-0, 185-pound 23-year-old Fisher:
"Prototypical size for a corner. Good speed. Good cover ability. Physical at times. Strengths are coverage, knowing defense and understanding the game. Well coached. (One of his college coaches, Jerry Holmes, played on the NFL corner for 10 years.) Not a lot of experience as a starter after playing a lot of wide receiver in college."
Besides writing reports on his area, Fisher also cross checks all the DBs, but don't ask him to compare himself to anybody coming out of this draft.
"Can't think of one," says Fisher, which may indicate that this isn't exactly going to be 1999 when it comes to corners. "Physically, I guess it would be the kid from Ohio State."
Malcolm Jenkins is going to be the first cornerback taken, but a lot of people think he's going to end up playing safety. That, says Fisher, is the toughest part of scouting.
"The biggest thing is character and I think we dig into character more than the other teams," Fisher says. "If a guy is a bad guy in college, you pretty much know he's going to be a bad guy in the NFL. But projecting how a guy is going to do on the field is a lot tougher."
Fisher notes one guy in his area, Hofstra wide receiver Marques Colston, went in the seventh round to the Saints in 2006 and became a Pro Bowl force. But he wonders how Colston would have done in Seattle's West Coast offense.
"Yeah, I probably missed on his talent a little bit," Fisher says. "But he would have come here and been a practice squad player. He was a better fit in New Orleans' offense."
Just like back in the day arguing over All-East players with Thornton, Webster says Fisher has no problem voicing his opinions. Particularly on cornerbacks.
Also, it appears, on character.
"Its way more important than even when I first started (scouting)," Fisher says. "Now, it can get you beat. With (NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell, you can lose players for several games."
Fisher points to the guy the Bengals selected ahead of him with the third pick in the draft, Oregon quarterback Akili Smith, a guy that ended up completing 46 percent of his 461 passes. Maybe more jarring is Smith didn't have the maturity or leadership skills to be a franchise quarterback.
"Yeah, they missed on Akili, but I don't think we'll ever know if he was a bust or if there was nothing around him," Fisher says. "Rookie receivers. A guard playing left tackle. And he got beat up. He never should have played that first year after holding out for 23 days in training camp. They did the right thing with Carson (Palmer) and let him sit that first year. We would have won a lot of games with Jeff Blake that year if they let him sit."
Fisher doesn't pound the Bengals. "Everyone has some misses," he says and the Vikes can tell you that after taking Underwood instead of Thornton at No. 29.
Sometimes Fisher will text Thornton after a pick asking, "What are you guys doing?" But he'll also send a bouquet like he did when the Bengals picked linebacker Keith Rivers last year at No. 9.
"He told me before the draft that was the pick," Thornton says. "He likes Keith. Chuck has common sense. You can get wrapped up in a lot of this stuff. He looks at it with common sense."
Fisher considers himself a Bengal and still keeps in touch with ex-teammates like Adrian Ross and Corey Dillon, and he's got a good friend in Lippincott, a guy that went out of his way to help him with everything from travel tips to tips in evaluation.
Lippincott got a taste of Fisher's perseverance when he saw him at Ohio State looking like he'd driven through a car wash with the windows open. He couldn't get his car windows to close and was making the round trip in frigid conditions.
"I reminded him," Lippincott says, "that he's always welcome to share a ride."
Fisher nearly moved when he got the job in Seattle, but when Thornton signed with the Bengals two months later he decided to stay in Florence.
"He was here. I liked my house on the golf course. It's peaceful," he says, "and Cincinnati is pretty centrally located."
Which means it is easy to get to the places he knows like Triple A. Places like Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Michigan.
"He's very well connected," Webster says. "He knows people everywhere and it's a huge help for us. He's well known in those places."
Webster is one of the guys that is in the Seattle draft room. So is general manager Tim Ruskell, Lewis, Jim Mora, the new head coach, and the scouts. The rest of the coaches go in and out. Fisher figures he spends a total of three months in Seattle during the year, the bulk of it in the next two months.
In the next week or so, the Seahawks start their draft meetings, and each scout gives an oral report on each of his prospects. On Draft Day, with the pick about four teams away, Fisher could be called on for a refresher on a guy, or just a quick reinforcement.
"At that point," he says, "it's almost always about character and what kind of guy he is."
Fisher still doesn't want to compare himself to a corner that has come out of the draft the last decade. Lippincott wonders, how about a combination of the Bengals current corners, the speed and athleticism of Johnathan Joseph and the heady fundamentals of Leon Hall?
Both first-round corners.
"I'll take that," Fisher says. "For some reason, the year Joseph was drafted ('06) he was the only corner that wasn't on my cross-check list. I saw Leon play and I like his game. He's a smart player."
Where is Chuck these days? Getting ready to go in the draft room.
"What's a good draft for me?" he is asked. "Anytime you walked out of there knowing you helped make the team better than it was before."