- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 25, 2004

LaVar Arrington walked into a Washington-area hospital Tuesday upset he was undergoing yet another MRI on his injured right knee. By the time the Redskins linebacker walked out of the building, having spent time with a young boy who was critically ill, his sore knee suddenly didn’t seem important anymore.

“Seven years old, had to get his leg amputated,” Arrington said yesterday, a tear streaming down his cheek as he retold the story. “If you can’t accept that and really look at life and be thankful for the things you have and not the things that you don’t have … it really touched me. A 7-year-old, fighting for his life, and I’m sitting here talking about trying to make it back from a knee injury.”

This is an emotional Thanksgiving for Arrington. In addition to Tuesday’s encounter with the sick child, he’s still coping with the loss of a close cousin to cancer earlier this year. As he sat on Joseph Arrington’s deathbed, LaVar Arrington vowed to honor his cousin’s memory and “tear this league up” once he returned to the field.

Nine weeks later, he’s still watching from the sideline, helpless to do anything to stop his teammates from free-falling to the depths of the NFL standings.

It’s only going to get tougher this weekend. The Redskins are making a rare trip to Pittsburgh, Arrington’s hometown, but the pride of North Hills High School won’t be there. He plans to stay home and continue his rehab.

“That’s where it all started for me,” said Arrington, who admits he’s still a Steelers fan. “They’re going to my hometown, man, without me. … It’s the worst feeling.”

It wasn’t suppose to happen this way, not after Arrington signed an eight-year, $68 million contract extension to stay in Washington last December. And certainly not after the Redskins went out and hired Joe Gibbs as coach and Gregg Williams as his top defensive assistant a few weeks later.

After four seasons of coaching changes, roster changes and disappointment after disappointment, Arrington never was happier to be a Redskin. He arrived for training camp in July and immediately swore he would no longer tolerate anything less than his and his teammates’ best.

“This is not going to be a waste of their time, and it’s not going to be a waste of my time,” Arrington said during the first week of camp.

What a difference four months make.

“It’s a wasted season for me, there’s really no other way to cut it,” Arrington admitted yesterday. “I’ve been trying to keep my hopes up, keep my spirits up, but it’s tough at times. What do you do? What do you do?”

The past eight weeks have been difficult enough for Arrington, but this Sunday might represent his toughest challenge to date. Though he wears his burgundy Redskins jersey with pride, Arrington always has been — and always will be — a boy from Pittsburgh at heart.

He grew up idolizing the famed Steelers teams of the 1970s, even if he was too young to remember their Super Bowl victories. A neighbor of ex-Steeler defensive end Dwight White, Arrington became nationally known for his dominance as a running back/linebacker in high school, and at age 15, he got an opportunity to travel with the Steelers to Barcelona for a preseason game.

It was during that trip to Spain that Arrington first met Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher. The two have remained close since, so much so that Cowher made a point to visit Joseph Arrington shortly before his death this fall.

“One of the things my cousin really loved was the Steelers,” Arrington said. “So I called [Cowher] up and asked if he could do that for him. Bill Cowher’s a phenomenal man. I’ll always be a true Bill Cowher fan.”

Cowher, who at one time had visions of drafting Arrington out of Penn State, remains one of the linebacker’s biggest fans.

“He’s what’s right about the National Football League, when you talk about players and their love for the game and what they give back,” Cowher said. “I can’t say enough good things about LaVar Arrington. He’s a class act in every sense of the word.”

Though he won’t be in uniform Sunday at Heinz Field, Arrington has played an NFL game in Pittsburgh before. On Dec. 16, 2000, the Redskins played in the final game ever at Three Rivers Stadium, and though they lost 24-3, Arrington has fond memories of that day.

He was astonished when his name was included among the greatest players to set foot in the stadium.

“That was unbelievable,” Arrington said. “It was one of the most humbling things for me to hear them saying ‘Franco Harris, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Terry Bradshaw’ … the names go on for days. And to hear them say ‘LaVar Arrington’ while I’m standing there watching all these great players walk onto the field, it was unbelievable.”

Arrington does not know when he will be allowed to return to the playing field this season. The club originally projected two-to-four weeks after Arrington initially hurt himself Sept. 20 against the Giants, but after he aggravated the injury while attempting to practice, all projections were off.

The Redskins may have a clearer picture this weekend once orthopedic specialist James Andrews examines Arrington’s latest MRI.

“I’m just waiting for them to give me the green light,” Arrington said. “I’m not going to say anything else. It seems like not only am I disappointing the fans [by prematurely projecting a return], I’m disappointing myself. So I’m just going to wait until they clear me to go.”

Until then, Arrington will continue to count his blessings. He may not be contributing on the football field these days, but as he learned from a 7-year-old boy Tuesday, there are other ways to contribute to society.

“That’s something I’m thankful for: To be able to make a difference in people’s lives,” Arrington said. “I mean, he’s dying, for god’s sake, and his last wish is to see me? I’m thankful. Maybe God has put me in a situation where I’m doing something right, having an impact on people’s lives.”

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