Cowboys defensive end Anthony Hargrove truly knows what it’s like to be without a home. And that’s why he didn’t panic when his NFL career appeared to be on the rocks in the aftermath of the Saints’ bounty scandal.
Hargrove spent his childhood bouncing between shelters and foster homes after his family’s home in Brooklyn, N.Y., burned when he was 6. His mother, Rosa, died three years later of AIDS and he was finally adopted by an aunt in 1993. He’s missed an entire NFL season because of a third violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy, so it wasn’t the first time he’d been away from the game.
But the Cowboys believe the 29-year-old Hargrove still has something to offer. He played a key role on the Saints’ 2009 Super Bowl team, and he’s regarded as a remarkably versatile player. When I visited with him at Valley Ranch recently, he was wearing a T-shirt with the words “Amazing at multiple positions” on the front.
“He probably slipped through the cracks a little bit,” said Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. “We’re lucky to add him to our roster. We’ve competed against him through the years, and he’s a darn good football player.”
Hargrove was suspended for eight games for his alleged role in the Saints’ scandal, but it was eventually reduced to two. Still, the Packers released him before the 2012 season and no one else showed any interest. And he made it clear that he believes NFL commissioner Roger Goodell played a major role in the lack of phone calls.
“If he would have just looked at the tape, it spoke for itself,” Hargrove said of Goodell. “It was hard enough as it is. The way it all came out and happened, it was hard. I wish people would have treated it differently. I’m putting it behind me.
“Sitting out for a year, you don’t know where life is heading. I understand how this game works, and when you don’t have a year of film, people are less inclined to bring you in because they don’t have enough film to evaluate you on. It put me at a disadvantage.”
For a man who spent 10 months in rehab after being suspended for the ’08 season, idle time can be the enemy. But Hargrove actually made the most of his down time and went to work at a group home for adults with disabilities in Richmond, Va., called Acclaimed Care. After all he’d been through in life, Hargrove thought it was a natural fit.
“Monday through Friday, we worked at a day support center where you came in and tried to teach them basic motor skills, life skills, telling time, math and stuff like that,” Hargrove said. “And on weekends, I was a house aid cooking, cleaning for them, we went on field trips, and just really got away from football and got back into life.”
Hargrove said it was impossible to feel sorry for himself while helping folks make it through the day. And the longer he went without hearing from NFL teams, the more he thought about his future without the game.
Hargrove said he was on the verge of buying a food truck to start selling grouper tacos, but he put that plan on hold when he heard from the Cowboys.
“I’ve done plenty of experimenting,” he said. “I’ll know where to pick up when I’m through with football.”
For now, Hargrove’s just trying to make it through practice. And that didn’t work out Wednesday, when he had to leave because of dehydration.
But it didn’t take Hargrove long to recover. He’s had a lifetime experience with that.