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Alberta Connell waiting for second chance in the NFL


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Monday, June 9

Updated: June 11, 10:43 AM ET

Connell waiting for second chance in the NFL

By Marc Connolly

For ESPN.com

While NFL teams are shelling out major dough to hot-shot rookie receivers and looking to find the next defense-stretching gems in minicamps, there happens to be a 29-year-old pass-catcher looking for an NFL job less than three years removed from being considered one of the most-feared receivers in the game.

He's finally found work, but not in the United States or in the league where he wants to play. And certainly not for anything approaching the eight figures he commanded the last time he signed a deal in 2001. Yet he's currently at peace with himself as he makes the lonely and long drive -- literally and figuratively -- from his home in south Florida all the way to northwest Canada to begin his new life.

His name is Albert Connell.

Yes, the Albert Connell that recently signed a deal with the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL. But that's not how you know him. Instead, he's the guy you remember for breaking "the code" by taking over $4,000 out of Deuce McAllister's locker and car in December of 2001 when they were teammates on the New Orleans Saints. The same one who claimed it was a simple prank being played on a rookie back then when it all came out, and remains just as strong in his explanation of the incident today. He's also the Albert Connell who was never convicted of any wrongdoing, yet was released from the Saints and forced to kiss $12 million of the five-year, $14 million-dollar contract he signed in the previous offseason goodbye.

Go ahead and call him a thief. Label him a clubhouse "cancer." He's heard and read it all. And it severely affected him.

"It was a prank," he says, for close to the millionth time. "(The Saints organization) told me about it. They came to me and said they had information because of a videotape that had me committing an act, which was fine. After they told me I was suspended, I told them it was a prank and asked why they were taking it this far. They just felt it was something they had to do at the time. And I accepted it as something they had to do.

"I was told it was going to be investigated. I didn't think it would be something that they would come out with it (to the public) and try to defame me. They settled with me with my signing bonus. They came at me first with 'conduct detrimental to the team,' which meant I'd have to give all of my signing bonus back. If I was guilty, I don't think they'd have paid me anything. But they released me and we settled.

"I never talked to anybody about it. The thing that bothered me was that I had to go through secretaries and all that to find out anything. Papers were being sent down from upstairs, and no one would talk to me face-to-face like a man. There was my big contract and all that, but I never pressured them. I never said anything bad about the Saints. I just could never really get an explanation."

At the heart of the matter was McAllister, who, according to Connell, wanted nothing to do with pursuing the case further.

"I've sat down to talk with Deuce after the fact, even at the time when I returned the money to him," says Connell, who claims to be friends with McAllister. "We had an understanding. He wished me nothing but the best."

After his release from the team in January of 2002, Connell fell into a funk that lasted nearly a whole year. He sat around in his Louisiana home feeling constant depression and stress. His marriage suffered because of it, as did his physical state, having lost over 30 pounds. Former teammates made sure to call him and pop-in now and again. Their words and company helped Connell, but not for long. Once they were gone and back to their lives in the NFL -- the glorious life Connell led ever since being drafted by the Washington Redskins in 1997 -- he would fall back into the same shell that they found him in.

Once football season came around, the weekends weren't all that bad. They offered hope. Texas A&M Aggie games offered Connell a few hours of joy each Saturday. Then came the Sundays. Game Day. Like rabid NFL fans, he'd flick around from game to game, partly to watch his friends and his former teammates, and to watch the receivers. He'd also pay extra attention to teams like Chicago, Jacksonville and Dallas, all of which had said that he might be an option.

There was also a time when he'd watch his old team, the Redskins, where he caught 138 balls for 2,483 yards and 14 touchdowns in 50 games (1997-2000), and wonder if Stephen Davis going to bat for him with owner Dan Synder would result in some sort of communication. Despite the revolving door of receivers -- mostly Steve Spurrier's former pupils from the University of Florida -- nothing ever came about.

Week after week, Connell would become angry watching games when he'd see a starting wideout with less talent than he possesses carving up defenses. Yet, he'd also grow angry at himself, because each time an injury would happen, at least for a second, it spelled hope and the possibility that some team would come calling.

But not one call came.

As the 2002 season progressed and his dim hopes of getting "The Call" were all but a dream, he'd sit there alone shaking his head with the same thought going through his mind each time.

"Why am I being done this way?"

It's a question that he's been asking himself for the past 16 months, but he's only now coming public with all of his thoughts. It took a tryout with the Orlando Predators in the Arena League to change his thinking.

"I didn't know anything about that league," says Connell, now living in his hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "There was a tryout going on down the street from where I lived in Louisiana. My wife said, 'Why don't you go out there. It might get you going.' So I went out there for the workout. The coaches were real familiar with me and I was the fastest guy out there. I caught the ball well, so they brought me in. From there, I could swear I had the best camp I've ever had as far as working hard and all that. And when I went to Orlando, I worked hard and was the best receiver out there."

But the Arena League just didn't suit his game. Connell was released shortly after the season began this past winter.

"It was the adjustment of being on a smaller field and the different type of game," he says. "That was a major problem for me. That's what the coaches explained to me. They told me, upon my release, that I was a great player and the best they'd seen around there, but that this game doesn't fit me. I'm more of a stretch-the-field type of guy. It was hard with the size of the field and getting used to the walls. But it was a decent time down there. It helped get me going and back in real shape. I left on good ground and I had good talks with the coaches upon my release.

"They told me that they'd do whatever they could to help me get back in The League (NFL) because I told them that that was my ultimate goal. I really appreciated that opportunity because no one else was really trying to give me and opportunity."

It also convinced him to go after his dreams of playing in the NFL once again.

"I had once thought, maybe my time is up," he says. "I was going to retire, but I decided I'm too young. Why are teams going and getting guys to play receiver at 36 or 37 years old when a much younger guy like me is here looking for another shot? I know I can help a team. And I'm willing to play whatever role."

Before teams in the NFL want to see how his speed is or how his physique looks in Canada, it's his attitude and character that will be questioned. It's the same approach that the Stampeders took before offering him a contract recently, and why the team's Director of Player Personnel Lannie Julius spent day after day on the phone talking to coaches, players, front office staffers, and team personnel directors to get a take on Connell. Somewhat to his surprise, he kept hearing the same comments.

"I've done a tremendous amount of research on him," says Julius, who has been involved in professional football (USFL, NFL, XFL, CFL) for close to 30 years. "Everyone just kept saying what a good kid he was. It was all positive. They all said he's a high-IQ guy, too. You should have heard the guys in Orlando talk about him. They said he was a gem, perfect to be around, warm, gracious and a gentleman."

When Julius would talk to people about Connell, the incident with McAllister would always come up at the end of such conversations.

"They didn't knock it, though, that's the thing," says Julius. "Most of them seemed that they felt the true story was what Albert said it was -- just a practical joke and a prank. There's no rhyme or reason why he'd want that money."

The Stampeders also knew all about the clip that ESPN likes to show of Connell engaging in a war-of-words with assistant coach Terry Robiskie when he was with the Redskins in 2000 -- something that Connell says was the only time he's ever had a problem with a coach. It wasn't something the Stampeders even thought about twice as it pertains to Connell and his attitude.

"I don't know a high-profile star in the NFL that hasn't had some sort of outburst with another coach or player on the sideline," says Julius. "He's a competitive guy. We like that."

Connell says his attitude is what every other athlete's should be like, professional and competitive.

"My attitude is that I want to win," he says. "And sometimes that passion has been confused. Sometimes I got carried away in voicing myself, sure. People who say I'm a cancer or not a good guy to have in the locker room just have it wrong. Guys that know me, teammates of mine, know that I've never been that way. I'm the type of guy that people respected because I'll give my all and I want to win.

"I've been out of the league one year, but it feels like two. I see guys that are picked up in free agency or that come out of retirement that have done all sorts of things. As for me, I wasn't even convicted of anything. It's all about what some people said. It just hurts so much. People were saying to my agent, 'Why are you representing this guy?' I couldn't believe it. It was like I committed a murder or something. It's amazing how words fly.

"My message: Just get to know me."

That's going to happen for Albert Connell, but in Canada first. If it doesn't go well or he can't adapt to the different rules in the CFL, his legacy as a football player will end with those dark few weeks of controversy down in New Orleans rather than on the gridiron in what should be the prime of his once-promising career.

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sorry for the guy, but good ridance as far as i'm concerned. he had a big mouth and couldn't ever back it up. when westbrooke went down in 2000, he wasn't able to pick up ANY of the slack. the guy's got great ability, but has a bad head on his shoulders.

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How about this article on Connell from Pasta Belly:

Monday, June 9

Updated: June 11, 10:39 AM ET

Connell's attitude, lack of respect created bad vibes

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

By Len Pasquarelli

ESPN.com

Long before he became an NFL pariah, reduced to scraping for jobs in the Arena Football League and in the CFL as a result of allegedly pilfering money from at least one former New Orleans Saints teammate in 2001, wide receiver Albert Connell was considered by many peers and coaches to be a pain in the butt.

Connell was, recalled one former Washington Redskins teammate recently, a guy with a chip the size of a granite block on his shoulder, a player who frequently overestimated his abilities and sometimes undermined team chemistry with a poor attitude.

"He could never, even when things were going well, allow himself to be happy," said the former Washington starter. "And when Albert was miserable, he was going to make sure he spread it around, you know?"

The attitude problems, the surly demeanor, a perceived lack of respect, all of that may change for Connell in his latest pro football incarnation, with the five-year NFL veteran having last month signed a contract with the CFL's Calgary Stampeders. The league has proven, as most recently demonstrated by the open-arms policy extended to running back Lawrence Phillips, that it can be a haven for the talented but tainted.

Even when Connell posted good numbers in Washington, some peers weren't fond of the receiver.

That doesn't qualify the CFL, however, as a rehabilitation facility. And what Connell may need to resurrect his career after a full season of inactivity is someone who can work with him for the long-term rather than a short stay in a stopoff for the occasionally wayward.

At this point, based on conversations with about a dozen general managers and personnel directors, the NFL door remains closed to the veteran wide receiver. One's character can survive a lot of hits in the NFL, and even players who are hardly choir boys typically get an encore opportunity, since athletic prowess still usually trumps social skills.

But breaching the trust of the locker room, as Connell did in allegedly stealing from the pants and later the pickup truck of New Orleans tailback Deuce McAllister, is regarded as particularly taboo. The football adage -- "What you see here, what you hear here, let it stay here" -- extends implicitly to personal property as well.

The inherent sophomoric chicanery and petty pranks aside, a locker stall is not considered as common ground, and most veterans seek permission from a teammate even before an act as innocuous as borrowing deodorant or shampoo. Break the unspoken protocol of the locker room, as did Connell by allegedly dipping into McAllister's pants pockets, and the result can be instant ostracism.

Never mind that Connell avoided charges by making restitution. Caught on tape, by the surveillance cameras Saints officials had installed, he was branded as unworthy of trust or of a reprieve. Termed as "just a bad guy" by one New Orleans player, no one seemed too distraught when the Saints suspended Connell for the final month of the 2001 season, and then subsequently released him.

"It just would have been impossible for him to come back," said former Saints offensive tackle Kyle Turley, traded by New Orleans to St. Louis earlier this year. Noted a current New Orleans player: "(Management) here would have had a revolt on its hands had it done anything less than what it did."

Of course, dismissing Connell, and writing him off as an ill-advised investment, might have been more difficult for Saints officials had the wide receiver played better during his short tenure with the team. Signed in the spring of '01 to a five-year, $13 million contract which included a $2.5 million signing bonus, Connell was nearly as big a disappointment on the field as he was off it.

He started just one of the 11 games in which he appeared, caught only 12 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns, never came close to establishing himself as the complement to Joe Horn that the Saints felt he could become when they acquired him. Even before he became a leper off the field, Connell was a liability on it, and his addition certainly was a mistake for a New Orleans franchise that had gambled on some other character risks.

But keeping Connell around, Redskins officials knew long before he departed, was risky business. Coming off what seemed a breakout performance in 1999 -- when he caught 62 passes for 1,132 yards and seven touchdowns in the final season of his original three-year contract -- the Redskins never offered Connell a long-term deal.

Instead, the team was content to sign him to a one-year qualifying offer of $1.027 million as a restricted free agent, fully cognizant he would be eligible to depart as an unrestricted free agent after the '00 campaign. Following that 2000 season, a year marked by reduced numbers and a sideline altercation with receivers coach Terry Robiskie, the Washington brass was content to allow Connell to exit.

"We never really tried to keep him," recalled Washington vice president Vinny Cerrato. "Read into that what you will. Let's just say it was better for both sides to kind of go in opposite directions."

Beyond the sideline contretemps with Robiskie in an Oct. 8, 2000, win at Philadelphia, in which both the player and the assistant had to be restrained, there was one other game that season which graphically illustrated Connell's borderline talent and over-the-edge temper. In a 35-16 victory at Jacksonville just two weeks after the Philadelphia sideline blowup, Connell caught seven passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns.

But these two things were notable about the tour de force performance: Connell posted his gaudy numbers while working all day against rookie cornerback Kiwaukee Thomas, an undrafted college free agent, clearly a kid overmatched. In the aftermath of a career day, with reporters crowded around his locker, Connell celebrated the performance by belittling the media and charging that the press had ignored him much of the year.

The tattooed Connell verbally tattooed reporters, questioned their football intelligence, hinted that he was overdue in becoming the offensive focus that day. But putting that afternoon in perspective, it should be noted that Connell's three touchdowns that day against a callow rookie were the only ones he scored all year.

In fact, as a fourth-round draft pick in 1997, it's reasonable to assert that the '99 season and that one great game in 2000 were the lone NFL hallmarks for the onetime Texas A&M star. In no other season than 1999 did Connell ever catch more than 39 passes, register more than 762 yards, score more than three touchdowns. In no game like that 2000 contest at Alltel Stadium was he ever so dominant.

Team officials with the Orlando Predators, the Arena Football League franchise with which Connell signed last winter, had nothing adverse to say about him. But then again, Connell played in just one preseason game for the Predators, and failed to earn a spot on the regular-season roster.

His defenders might argue that Connell is not the "bad guy" he was portrayed as being by some former teammates. But the numbers seem to suggest he isn't a very good player, either, even with a career average of 17.8 yards per reception.

It is a tough combination to overcome, insufficient statistics and a potentially indelible stigma, and Connell could well find that the trip from Calgary back to the NFL is indeed a rocky road.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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When you deal with as many people as an organization does in a years time, you're bound to get a bad egg or two. I prefer to cut our losses and move on. I don't want an image for my team that the Cowboys have. With all that said, Connell performed well for us and I believe the American way to be second chances. He may have used his up, but if this were Michael "You mean this stuff is illegal" Irvin, Dallas would give him another shot. By no means do I believe that we should look into him, but someone in the NFL will. There is no shame in playing in the CFL. Do you think Doug Flutie regrets it? I doubt it. He made the most of it. Lawrence Phillips did not.

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