Stallworth: I Didn’t Want Balloon Accident To End My Career
Not many people could be electrocuted and say they’ve been though worse, but receiver Donte Stallworth qualifies.
Stallworth, who is expected to re-sign with the Redskins this week after trying out for them yesterday, was back working out a month after being badly burned on the left forearm and the rear end when the hot air balloon he was riding in struck a power line on Mar. 16 in Homestead, Fla. His then-girlfriend, who was burned even more seriously, and the pilot also survived the accident.
However, four years and two days earlier, Stallworth hit and killed a pedestrian while driving under the influence in the early morning of March 14 in Miami Beach. Stallworth was charged with manslaughter, served 30 days and was sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service and eight years probation. He was suspended by the NFL for the 2009 season.
“My accident four years ago definitely changed my life, and then after this recent one, you literally cherish every second that you’re able to breathe,” Stallworth said. “It was a setback, but I didn’t want it to end my career. I still felt like I could play and play at a high level and that’s what I’m trying to prove out here now.”
Stallworth wasn’t trying to prove anything when he went high in the sky. He was just surprising his then-girlfriend for her birthday.
“It started off as a quiet morning,” he recalled. “We were up there about two hours. Once we were getting ready to land, the pilot wanted to land in this field that had some power lines around it. The basket hit a power line and that’s when we got electrocuted. Literally, my butt caught on fire. She was on fire as well. … I wanted to keep her calm. But I couldn’t move from the electrical shock.”
When Stallworth was being lifted on a stretcher, he started laughing.
“Everyone’s looking at me like, ‘You almost died. What’s wrong with you?’ “ he recalled. “I said, ‘Ten years of playing professional football and I’ve never been carted off the field. I’ve never even been helped off the field. If I had any injuries, I was able to get up and walk off on my own. And I go in a hot air balloon, something that seems very peaceful, and I’m getting airlifted to a hospital.’ “
The horrible accidents four years apart in South Florida followed what has become a vagabond football life for the 32-year-old Stallworth, who was selected 13th overall in the 2002 draft by New Orleans. The 6-foot, 183-pound Tennessee product hauled in eight touchdowns his rookie year and averaged 19.4 yards in his second season. Two years later, he caught 70 passes.
However since then, Stallworth has bounced from New Orleans to Philadelphia to New England to Cleveland [prior to the auto accident] to Baltimore to Washington, and then back to New England. Over the last three years, Stallworth caught just 25 passes for 453 yards and three touchdowns, with all but three of those catches, 145 of the yards and one of the touchdowns coming with the Redskins in 2011. He was cut by the Patriots last summer and after being re-signed in December, he played in just one game before sidelined with a high ankle sprain.
“I didn’t want to lose Donte a year ago,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “I did call him up and I told him I thought he made a mistake [by signing with] New England. I thought he would have been better being with us just because I liked what he did, what he brought to the table. I was hoping that we could get him back. He impressed me today. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to sign him in the next couple days.”
Stallworth would still be a long shot to win a spot on the 53-man regular season roster with Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss and Leonard Hankerson returning as the top four receivers. Speedy Aldrick Robinson and Dezmon Briscoe are also back from last season and it would be surprising if Washington kept six receivers again.
“I have a lot of rust, a lot of kinks to work out, but it felt great being out here,” Stallworth said. “There was some carryover from when I was here last. I was able to remember some of the plays on the fly. I was a little surprised at that, but pleasantly surprised. I still have a lot of friends on this team. Last year, they had a great season and they’ve been trying to build on that. Hopefully I can be a part of that this season. It’s really special for me to be able to have this opportunity. Now I’m just trying to make the most of it.”
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin