- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2001

CARLISLE, Pa. Dave Szott's toughest negotiations weren't with Washington Redskins officials. The hardest talks came beforehand, with his wife.
The veteran guard signed with the Redskins yesterday only after first convincing his wife, Andrea, that the family could endure his regular absences from home during football season.
The couple's 6-year-old son, Shane, has cerebral palsy and attends a special school in Morristown, N.J. The family moved there last year from Kansas City, where Szott played for the Chiefs for 11 seasons, because the school system didn't provide specialized care.
With family members from both sides as well as a physical therapist nearby, Andrea felt there was enough close support to brave the next five months with her husband constantly away.
Szott didn't get his wife's blessing until last week. Once she shook hands on the deal, Szott called Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer, who needed no persuading to sign the guard to a one-year, $477,000 contract.
"I would have signed in March if the situation was better at home. It was a matter of making sure she was fine while I was here," Szott said. "Playing was on my mind every day, [but] I was not going to sacrifice the needs of my family for what I wanted.
"If I had to put it to rest, I had to put it to rest. Some decisions you make in life are easier than others. But she finally said, 'If you want to do it, go ahead.' "
Szott worked with both starters and reserves during his first practice yesterday, but the only question is whether he'll play on the left or right side of the offensive line. Szott spent only his rookie year on the right, where the Redskins most need him. Matt Campbell is more entrenched on the left. However, Campbell subbed for injured left tackle Chris Samuels, where he may play against the Cleveland Browns on Friday, so Szott can fill either role.
"I really wanted to have another chance to play. I have every intention of starting," he said. "The best way to do it [is] just jump in. You're going to make mistakes and get beat."
Schottenheimer wouldn't instantly make Szott a starter, but he said Szott's knowledge of the offense will allow him to quickly acclimate to his new team.
"Things are moving a lot faster for him than they have in awhile," Schottenheimer said. "I don't know if he'll be in the starting lineup, but he will create competition."
Szott didn't seem exhausted after his first practice in nearly a year.
"The terminology and plays are there," he said. "My footwork is a little behind. A lot of stuff is coming back. I just need reps."
Szott missed 15 games last season because of a torn biceps muscle, the same injury that also cost him 15 games in 1998. Otherwise, he was a regular in the Chiefs lineup. Szott now wears protective sleeves on both arms to avoid injuries that he believes were caused by years of weightlifting and playing.
Szott continued to work out and coached high school football before resolving to return to the NFL. He talked with New York Giants coach Jim Fassel last week, partly because the Giants are only 30 minutes from his home. However, Szott didn't want to wait for an opening, so he drove three hours to the Redskins' training camp on Sunday. For now, retirement is at least a year away.
"I was swallowing that bitter pill," Szott said of retirement. "I didn't like the thought of it, but if it wasn't going to work I was going to walk away. Maybe I took it for granted that you think every year you're going to be out here."
That was the only thing Schottenheimer wanted to know during a brief Sunday meeting: Did Szott really want to play? Szott's ability and character were never in doubt.
"Dave's as fine a human being as I've ever known," Schottenheimer said. "Everything he's achieved is because of his hard work and tenacity. You like to have people like that around because they bring out the best in the people on the football team."
Szott will commute four hours during the season to spend two days a week with his family. Hyperbaric chamber treatment, which increases oxygen to the brain, has helped Shane speak nearly 10 words. Szott has become a tireless fund-raiser for cerebral palsy after dealing with the conflicting emotions of having a child with special needs.
"You get to a point where you go through the whole range of emotions," Szott said. " 'Why him?' He's not going to experience things my other [son Joshua] will. It's opened my eyes to a whole sector of society I wasn't familiar with people with disabilities."


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