White gives himself shot at redemption
Too good to quit now

Thursday, April 23, 1998

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

In reversing his field on retirement, Reggie White revealed that he is still on speaking terms with God. It would also appear he has learned to listen.

The great Green Bay lineman, whose last major appearance before a microphone was a paean to prejudice, ended his two-day retirement from pro football Wednesday because his maker reminded him a deal's a deal.

"God spoke to me and said, "You made a promise,' " White said. "You promised you would play two years and I want you to fulfill your commitment."

Lest we think White any loonier than he looked before the Wisconsin legislature last month, the Baptist minister who chases quarterbacks for the Packers explained that he had heard no audible voice and seen no supernatural visitors. He produced no Heavenly handwriting to substantiate his claim.

"I just heard something in my mind that gave me extreme peace," he said.

Too good to quit now

Whatever its source, White was wise to heed the message. He has played too well in pro football, and performed too much good away from it, to leave the limelight remembered for his racism. Another season in the spotlight gives White a chance to atone, to rephrase his remarks, and to remind us of his enduring greatness.

He can polish his image, or he can continue to imitate Marge Schott. It should not be a difficult choice.

White's initial inclination to put away his shoulder pads was motivated by persistent back problems and the concessions they caused in his ability to rush the passer.

Though he finished last season with 11 sacks -- raising his National Football League record to 176 1/2 and reaching an unprecedented 12th Pro Bowl -- White was reduced to part-time play and irregular practice. He was plenty good enough to get by, but he was proud enough that he wanted to leave at his peak.

He was like a lot of athletes of advancing age: awash in riches, aware of decline, awaiting the perfect time to pack it in.

When Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander first heard White was retiring, his feelings were curiously mixed.

Spared the necessity of blocking the best defensive end of the day, Alexander sensed the Bengals' chances to beat Green Bay on Sept. 20 would have been greatly enhanced. Yet Alexander has also been bracing tackle Willie Anderson for his ultimate test for two years. Part of him wanted to see how it would play out.

"For a couple of years, Willie and I have talked about Reggie White," Alexander said. "I've kind of kidded him: "You think you're pretty good. Wait till we play Green Bay and we'll see if you are or not.' He was kind of looking forward to it."

Probably, Willie Anderson does not know what he's getting himself into.

Stock up on aspirin Bruce Smith gets to the quarterback more quickly than any of his contemporary linemen. The Buffalo end is a sprinter with the body of a battering ram. But no pass rusher applies as much punishment en route to the target as does Reggie White.

"When we got ready to play Buffalo," Alexander recalled, "I told Willie, "Don't worry, Bruce doesn't want to hurt you. He wants to hurt the quarterback.' Reggie is going to hurt the tackle on the way to hurting the quarterback."

His trademark move is a ferocious forearm that is wielded like a club. Play after play after play. A Sunday afternoon spent across from Reggie White is a recipe for migraines.

"It was probably the most feared technique in the league," Alexander said. "He'd take his arm and swat a guy like a tennis racket hitting a tennis ball. He could literally project 320-pound tackles into the air. He was the only guy who could do that."

By agreeing to play another season, Reggie White allows the focus on his career to return to the field.

God willing, he will be remembered for his brilliance instead of his ignorance.

NFL coverage from Associated Press
SULLIVAN ARCHIVE