LaVar Arrington’s past and present collided on the night of Feb. 3.
Arrington stood in his just-opened sports bar, The Sideline, in the shadow of FedEx Field and watched the Super Bowl unfold across two dozen television screens.
Arrington was a three-time Pro Bowl linebacker, once one of the most dynamic players in the NFL. And now here he was, not even 30 years old, out of football and standing in a bar among all the average Joes, watching as his former team, the New York Giants, stunned the New England Patriots to win the championship he never won.
“It was kind of bittersweet,” Arrington says as he sits inside his mansion outside of Annapolis. “I only had one time in my career in the NFL where I could choose where I went. I chose that team and, jeez, they win the Super Bowl a year later after I’m gone.”
Arrington no longer plays for the Giants, but not because of any discord of the kind that prompted the Washington Redskins to cut him in February 2006. Arrington was out of football because his once-indestructible body betrayed him.
Injuries hampered Arrington in his final two seasons in Washington, and his brief tenure in New York ended in October 2006 with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Eight months later, Arrington defied death in a motorcycle accident on Route 50 that ended any thoughts of a comeback.
So now here he is, out of football but still younger than half the players starting for the Redskins this season. Arrington has moved on - though he has yet to file his official retirement papers with the NFL.
“I knew that was it,” Arrington says of the Achilles injury he suffered at Texas Stadium. “I was like, ‘Damn, I ended [former Cowboys quarterback] Troy Aikman’s career on this field [with a concussion-causing tackle], and how crazy is it that this is going to be my last game?’ But my heart wasn’t into it the way it should have been. When they did what they did to me my last year here, I had kind of already moved on from the game of football.”
Arrington never was a typical football player.
He thrived under coach Marty Schottenheimer, a disciplinarian whose drill-sergeant routine didn’t sit well with most of the Redskins’ players.
But he didn’t mesh well at Penn State with Joe Paterno or with former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, two beloved Hall of Fame coaches whom Arrington still speaks of with disdain.
Arrington was grief-stricken by Sean Taylor’s murder last November and has kept in touch with several former teammates since. Still, he often was regarded as an island of outspokenness in the Redskins’ locker room.
“I always said football was merely my springboard,” says Arrington, clad in shorts, flip-flops and a long-sleeved workout shirt that covers the scar on his right forearm from his head-on collision with a guardrail on Route 50 in June 2007. “I had to focus on how it could get me to where I ultimately wanted to be: to lead a productive life, start a family, lengthen my earning capacity. I never accepted being [just] a football player. I don’t accept someone addressing me as a football player.”
But Arrington’s home is testament to how much that part of his life still matters: The lower level is decorated with souvenirs - framed jerseys and magazine covers - of his NFL days, and trophies and articles documenting his stardom at North Hills (Pa.) High School and Penn State fill a room upstairs.
His sports bar is revealing, too.