Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney first crossed paths more than a decade ago when the former was a standout receiver at Tennessee and the latter was the same at Southeastern Conference rival Florida.
This month, Stallworth and Gaffney, each of whom will turn 31 this fall, are teammates for the first time. However, their successive acquisitions by the Washington Redskins late last month weren’t the first developments to bring them together. Unfortunately, Stallworth and Gaffney have each been scarred by tragedy in recent years.
On March 14, 2009, Stallworth, who had been drinking, hit and killed a pedestrian while driving his Bentley in Miami Beach. Stallworth pled guilty to second degree manslaughter and DUI charges and was sentenced to 30 days jail, 1,000 hours of community service, two years of house arrest and eight years probation. He reached an out-of-court civil settlement with his victim’s family. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also suspended Stallworth for the 2009 season.
“That’s something that won’t ever go away,” Stallworth said about the accident. “I want to help people understand (the possible ramifications) of being behind the wheel once you’ve had some drinks. That’s something that will be with me for the rest of my life. It’s something I’m going to have tell my children whenever I have kids. I try to learn from it, try to better myself, try to help people not make the same mistake.”
The speedy Stallworth, who had career-highs of 70 catches and 945 yards as well as seven touchdowns for New Orleans in 2004, had just two catches in eight games for the Ravens last year after returning from a broken foot suffered in preseason. But he was still thrilled to be back doing what he does best.
“You have a greater appreciation for things when something’s taken away from you,” Stallworth said. I’ve always loved football. “Sitting back and having to be a cheerleader wasn’t fun at all. I wanted to take advantage of everything from there on out. I felt like I have a newfound love of the game. I want to make the most of the opportunities that I get. I’m excited to be in this offense and hopefully I can help this team out a lot.”
While Stallworth was beginning his comeback with Baltimore last summer, Gaffney was dealing with a death for which he was indirectly responsible. On Sept. 20, Denver receiver Kenny McKinley killed himself with a gun he had bought from a Broncos teammate: Gaffney.
“Kenny was a good friend,” Gaffney said. “I keep him in my heart. A friend called me and said something was going on over there (at McKinley’s home) and I should go check it out. I went over there. It was tough. Life and death. Life and death.”
Gaffney said he doesn’t “regularly” think about his role in McKinley’s death, believing that his buddy would’ve found a way to kill himself even if their gun purchase hadn’t happened. And Gaffney, more of a possession receiver than Stallworth, rose above the tragedy to set career-highs with 65 catches and 875 yards. So he didn’t expect to be traded to Washington.
“I was really shocked,” Gaffney said. “But then I talked to (Washington coach Mike Shanahan). It’s good to be wanted. I always think I’m going to be the guy. I don’t look at being the other guy (to longtime Redskins No. 1 receiver Santana Moss). I try to be the guy.”
And with Stallworth also on hand, Gaffney isn’t the only guy on his team who’ll be forever touched by tragedy.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.