THERE ISN'T much to do in the hotel where he's been living. Look
out the window, watch TV, call somebody on the phone. Sleep.
Sometimes he sits around thinking: What do you want to do after
football? It's a question that just pops into his head. Come on,
Emtman. What do you want?
And then an answer comes.
Maybe, after the season, he could head out to Los Angeles, see
what a place like Hollywood has to offer a guy like him. He
could act. But how do you start? Who do you talk to? You think
you just pick up the Yellow Pages and find producers listed
Yeah, uh, this is, uh ... this is Steve Emtman, defensive tackle
for the Miami Dolphins. I was wondering. You think you could put
me in your next picture?
Maybe if they saw him. He does make an impression. Emtman stands
nearly 6'5" and weighs 284 pounds. He can squat 700 pounds and
bench-press 475, and this power is contained in a form
magnificent enough for action heroes of any stripe. His body fat
runs a measly 7%, remarkable for a man his size. His waist is 38
inches around, not much more than each of his thighs. In a sea
of sharks he would make a great fishing lure, what with his
bright yellow hair and liquid blue eyes, his muscles everywhere.
He even sports a grungy Charles Manson goatee, which might look
good up there on the silver screen: FORMER ALL-AMERICA AND NO. 1
NFL DRAFT PICK STEVE EMTMAN STARRING IN....
It isn't exactly clear yet.
Today after practice Emtman goes back to the hotel, and there's
a bill on his bed. It's at least an inch thick, charges running
on and on, the total about $1,800. "Not bad," he says. "Phone
He has been staying here since he signed with the Dolphins in
July, after the Indianapolis Colts dumped him. It's a two-room
suite with a view of the swimming pool. "See the waterfall?" he
says, pointing out the window. There's lots of tropical
vegetation down there. And black rocks that look like lava. But
no bathing beauties. Emtman has yet to spot a bathing beauty,
and this is supposed to be South Florida, Coppertone City.
Maybe they should just make a movie about him. God knows he's
been through enough. "No," he says, "you'd have everybody
crying, even the men."
After all, what's sadder than a guy who looked like a
world-beater coming out of the University of Washington in 1992,
maybe the best defensive-line prospect ever, but who in his
first three years in the pros suffered three devastating
injuries and never amounted to much? Who bombed, if you listen
to some people?
"Guys make comments about me being a bust," Emtman says.
"They're joking, not really being serious. 'You're overrated'
and all this. I hear it, and it bothers me. I think, I don't
want to leave this game as a bust. I can't leave this game as a
When the Colts made Emtman the first selection of the 1992
draft, they figured they could count on him to do more than
simply anchor their defense. They thought he would be the type
of player to help make them a contender, a team with a Super
Bowl future. Their coach, Ted Marchibroda, said Emtman looked
like another Merlin Olsen, which is to say a Hall of Famer. But
nine games into his rookie season Emtman blew out his left knee.
Then in 1993 he blew out his right knee. After a year of rehab
he returned last October and hurt himself again, this time
suffering a herniated disk in his neck.
The Colts had given Emtman a four-year, $9.1 million deal, but
in three years he played in only 18 of 48 games, making nearly
$400,000 for each appearance and earning an average of almost
$100,000 per tackle. He was set to make $2 million this season,
but in July the Colts gave Emtman an ultimatum: Either accept a
salary of $700,000, with playing incentives, or be waived.
"We were desperately close to going over the salary cap,"
explains Bill Tobin, the Colts' director of football operations.
"And we saw Steve as the logical player to talk with about
taking a cut. It was a very, very difficult decision--the
toughest I've had to be a part of since I've taken this job."
The Colts gave Emtman 48 hours to consider their offer, but he
knew his answer right away. He called his mother in eastern
Washington and asked her to come to Indianapolis and help him
pack. He was leaving, headed for who knows where.
Emtman moves over to the window now and looks down on the pool.
Nobody. No bathing beauties. Not even a bald-headed fat guy with
a sheet of nappy hair on his back.
Sometimes, Emtman says, he looks at pictures of himself in a
Dolphin uniform and does a double take, confused as to why he
isn't dressed as a Colt. Other times he wakes up and for a
moment thinks he's still in Indy, back in the house he bought
from Eric Dickerson when he first came into the league.
"I'm learning a lot from this game that has nothing to do with
this game," he says, speaking toward the glass.
Emtman's been down so long, it's sometimes hard to recall how
his career in the NFL started. In the beginning he was nothing
less than the best rookie playing defense in the league, a Bruce
Smith or Reggie White in the making.
In a 1992 game against Miami, Emtman intercepted a pass and ran
the ball 90 yards for a touchdown, the longest in NFL history by
a defensive lineman. It was the last play of the game, and when
he got to the sideline, the oxygen tanks had already been taken
inside. Not that Emtman needed air. He was such a horse, he
probably could've run back a few more interceptions or played
"He was doing everything," Colt general manager Jim Irsay says.
"He was having a Pro Bowl year, dominating in every game he
played. We couldn't have been happier."
"Let me tell you something about him," Colt strength and
conditioning coach Tom Zupancic says. "Steve Emtman isn't
normal. He is not a normal person. He doesn't play for the
money, like too many others do. He plays because he loves the
game. He plays so that he can come into the weight room first
thing every morning and work himself to exhaustion, and so he
can report to training camp and go through that whole grueling
experience, and so he can run until he vomits and then run some
more until he vomits again. Self-inflicted misery? Hell, Emtman
enjoys it. He really enjoys it!"
In 1991, as a junior at Washington, Emtman was easily the
nation's best college lineman, the recipient of both the Outland
and Lombardi awards. He helped lead the Huskies to a 12-0 record
and a national title. His decision to forgo his senior year and
turn pro surprised no one.
"Not to sound cocky or anything," he says, "but I thought nobody
could block me, nobody could hurt me. I'd never been seriously
injured in my life. And when I walked out on the field, I knew I
was going to win. Forget that I had minimal technique. I could
just bull-rush a guy and beat him."
"He was a great, great player in college," says Tobin. "I was
with the Chicago Bears at the time, and we, too, had him rated
the No. 1 player in the country. I can still remember watching
film of Nebraska playing Washington, and Steve just manhandling
some of those big Nebraska players. Well, nobody manhandled
those Nebraska linemen, but Emtman did."
Not long before the 1992 spring draft Emtman invited
representatives from all the NFL teams to Seattle to watch him
work out. It was their one chance to see him up close and
personal. He had declined to participate in the NFL combine, he
says, because he was already the top-rated prospect, and
anything but a perfect showing might jeopardize his standing. So
they came in droves to witness what promised to be some kind of
show. Emtman greeted everyone with barely a wave. He wasn't
nervous. He was relaxed and cocky, possessed of the exact
temperament they had all hoped to see. In other words, he
carried himself as if certain that he was a complete and utter
stud, the money man, the future.
"I remember he starts running these shuttles in a pair of lowtop
tennis shoes," Zupancic says. "He didn't even have socks on, and
he was faster than hell, athletic. A big guy like that, you
expect him to have on hightops and ankle tape. Not Emtman. He
was pure, man. There wasn't a blemish on the guy."
"That was the greatest individual workout I've ever seen," Irsay
says. "Steve had the explosiveness, the vertical jump, the
strength. He just had everything; it was so impressive. I
remember Al Davis saying, 'I just wish we had a pick that high.'"
On the flight back to Indianapolis, Irsay asked Zupancic for his
honest opinion of Emtman, and the strength coach said, "If he
can stay healthy, Steve Emtman will be one of the most
dominating players ever to play his position."
People like Emtman, you wonder where they come from. And what
genetic goblins conspire to put so much size, speed and strength
into a single human form?
Emtman's forebears on his father's side came from Germany and
homesteaded large tracts of land near Spokane and then near
Cheney, Wash. They farmed wheat and barley, and they raised
cattle. The land--"a few thousand acres," Emtman says--is still in
the family. Steve's father, Jim, is a farmer, and so is Steve's
brother, Russ. Steve, however, never really caught the farm bug.
In the summers of his youth, to avoid doing chores, he trotted
off to whatever sports camp was being held in the area.
Baseball, basketball, football. For a week or two he would be
free of having to haul hay, and this to him was the sweetest gift.
Around the time puberty kicked in, he set up a weight room in
the barn behind his house. He had some pretty decent gear in
there, and his buddies from town would come over and go at it
too, taking turns, urging one another on.
One day Jim Emtman showed up in the barn. Maybe he had heard the
noise the boys were making, or maybe there was something he
aimed to prove. Steve had put 315 pounds on the bar to see what
it looked like. He could bench-press maybe 200 at that point,
but the barbell was really amazingly pretty, all dressed up like
that. It looked like a pair of Christmas trees lying end to end.
"What you got there?" Jim said.
Steve told him, his voice revealing a trace of awe.
Jim wasn't a weightlifter. Knew next to nothing about it, as a
matter of fact. But he weighed about 265, and he was a farmer,
and farmers aren't like everybody else. Farmers can just
automatically do things. So Jim eased himself down on the bench,
under the great straining weight. One hand went up, and then the
other. His face took on an expression of mild discomfort, and
Boom boom boom boom boom boom.
Six times Jim benched the weight.
"Like it was nothing," Steve says. "It was amazing to me that
someone could lift that much, let alone my father."
By the time he graduated from high school, Steve could heft that
weight and more. A number of colleges in his part of the country
were recruiting him, but he didn't attract much interest outside
the Northwest. He weighed 275 pounds and ran a 5-flat 40, and
everyone wanted him to play offensive tackle.
"I got a letter from a Washington State alum saying that if I
signed with Washington, I'd get lost on the depth chart," Emtman
says. "The letter also said it would be the biggest mistake of
my life. I called the recruiter at Washington and told him about
the letter, and he said, 'I tell you what, Emtman. If you're
scared to compete, we don't want you to come to Washington,
either.' I thought about it for a minute and said, 'You know,
you're right.' I committed to Washington the next day."
Emtman had worn number 74 in high school, and he wanted to wear
the same for the Huskies, but the number was given to somebody
else in his freshman class. "This guy was rated higher than me,
and he was a defensive lineman, too," Emtman says. "He came from
a bigger town, and he was just the man coming in. He had
everything I wanted, and I was jealous. Well, I went to the
recruiting coordinator. They'd given me number 90, and I said,
'What's this? You promised me number 74.' He told me it was no
big deal, not to worry about it. But I brooded for an entire
day. And it stayed in the back of my mind and drove me. All I
wanted to do was prove that I was better than the guy they'd
given my number to. It might seem like a small thing now, but
that incident helped get me to where I am today. Thank god it
happened. Without it I never would've been so driven to show
everybody what I could do."
Emtman breezed through college with no serious injuries. As a
freshman he had a calcium buildup in an ankle that required
"doctors to go in and clean it up," he says. And as a junior he
pulled a calf muscle that kept him from practice for a day. But
that was the extent of it. "I was completely undamaged," he
says. "And now you hear people call me Hard Luck and Mr. Rehab.
Sometimes I wonder if that's part of the reason I keep getting
hurt. That stuff sticks in your mind, you know. And I believe in
mind power. If you think you're going to get hurt, you're going
to get hurt. That's the thing I'm working on now: getting back
the feeling I used to have that nothing was going to happen to
me. That I was ... well, I've said this before: invincible."
All three injuries occurred in the second quarter, a fact that
Emtman is loath to contemplate. He hates it when that perplexing
piece of trivia comes up. Does he sit out all future second
quarters, just in case somebody somewhere is driving needles
into a voodoo doll of his likeness? At some point you have to
trust that it was all coincidence or simply stop living your life.
The first injury, a partial tear of the anterior cruciate
ligament (ACL) in his left knee, came on Nov. 8, 1992, in a game
against the Dolphins. Emtman by then had made 49 tackles, twice
as many as any other Colt defensive lineman that season. He had
been playing well enough to build a case for himself as NFL
Defensive Rookie of the Year. He had surgery in December.
"Two months later I'm doing wind sprints," Emtman says. "As
usual, I was pushing too hard. The result was I got a little
tendinitis, and it set me back a couple more months. I didn't
know it, but the ACL was like an ankle sprain compared to what
During training camp the next summer, Emtman wheeled around on
possibly the loudest Harley-Davidson motorcycle ever
manufactured. He had his hair shorn in an odd shape that more or
less resembled a horseshoe, the team symbol. It seemed he was
trying to announce to the world that he had returned. But, alas,
"mentally I wasn't quite where I thought I was," he says. In the
preseason he really didn't feel like himself, not even close to
invincible. He played well but not without a certain hesitation
common to those coming off major injuries. Then came the regular
season. Emtman had every reason to be optimistic in October as
he entered the Dallas game, the fifth of the year. His knee was
holding up, and his bruised psyche had been able to heal. His
life had returned to normal, his course as world-beater
Emtman was trying to spin away from Cowboy tackle Erik Williams
and make a hit on Emmitt Smith, who was cutting back through a
crease in the line, when he felt three distinct pops radiate
through his body. "The pops went right to my heart," he says.
"Crack crack crack. And I knew in that instant that it was over.
I went down on the ground, and I was screaming and I don't know
what else. I was in shock, I suppose. I was looking around, and
everything was a daze. Finally I looked at my leg, and here's my
kneecap sitting in the middle of my quad."
They helped him onto a cart, and as he was being driven across
the field, a wild desperation seized him. He could see the
future, and it wasn't good. His hand went up, and he began to
pummel the side of the cart. He beat it less for the pain he was
experiencing at that moment than for the agony soon to come.
People cheered, offering support, but he didn't hear them.
"They brought me to the training room," he says. "I said, 'How
bad, Doc?' And he said, 'A lot worse than last time, I'm
afraid.' He was very honest with me. I looked at my mom and
dad--they were in the room--and I began to cry. I just cried like
a baby. Never in my life have I hurt like that. It was like
losing your whole family, like everything you ever worked for is
suddenly gone, and there's nothing you can do to bring it back."
Emtman had torn the ACL, the medial collateral ligament (MCL)
and the patella tendon in his right knee. No one in the history
of the game had returned from such an injury. "It was the first
patella tendon tear I'd seen in all my time in the NFL," says
Hunter Smith, who had been the Colts' head trainer for 10 years.
"Occasionally you saw patella tendinitis, but you just didn't
see ruptured patella tendons."
Smith says the injury is more common in basketball players, who
are "constantly jumping and landing on a bent knee. You're
putting strain on the tendon, and also in basketball you have
the repetitive nature of running up and down the court."
"We've seen some patella tendon problems in people who were
abusive steroid users," Smith adds, "but with Emtman you come up
with a zero there. He's clean."
That steroids help damage one's joints was not news to Emtman.
He says he resents those who assume that his knee injuries are
evidence of drug use. "I have never touched the stuff," he says.
"You might be saying to yourself, 'Yeah, right.' And you aren't
alone. I'd say 90 percent of the people on [the Colts] assumed I
took steroids. It's almost a compliment, I guess. And I
shouldn't worry about it. But at the same time it's not fair to
The day after the Dallas game Emtman had surgery to repair his
torn MCL and patella tendon. Doctors placed a cable in the knee
for support. The surgery to reconstruct the ACL wouldn't take
place until three months later, and it would require the doctors
to remove an ACL from a cadaver and attach it to Emtman's
"Mentally and physically, that injury destroyed me," Emtman
says. "I wasn't suicidal, but I was close to it. I went into a
deep depression. People were saying, 'Ah, he's done, he's done.'
And I didn't want to believe them. I tried to put thoughts like
that out of my head. I couldn't understand why it had happened,
and I went through a period of four or five months when I tried
to find the answers. 'Why did this happen?' I'd ask my friends.
'I'm a good person, I work hard. I'm nice to people. I never
hurt anybody.... Why?'"
"He would drive you crazy with it," Zupancic says. "'Why is
this, Zup? Am I too heavy? Is it the turf? Is it the shoes I've
been wearing? What is it?' Finally I got tired of hearing him.
'Forget about the why, all right?' I told him. 'It's over with.
It was bad luck is all. There's no reason, no explanation for
it. Put it behind you now.'"
After the surgery in January, Emtman called Zupancic from his
hospital bed. "Well, how's it going?" Zupancic said.
"O.K.," Emtman replied.
"What do you think? You coming back or what?"
"Damn right I'm coming back. I don't care what anybody says. If
I have to take a year to do it, I'll take it. If I need two,
I'll take two. But I'm coming back, Zup."
Emtman spent months in rehab at an Indianapolis sports-medicine
clinic. His therapist there, Mark DeCarlo, says Emtman was a
determined patient, his resolve to get well never waning.
"As far as Steve's overall strength and agility are concerned,"
DeCarlo says, "I don't think you can say he's the same guy that
he was coming out of college. But is anybody who's been through
what he has?" Asked to rate Emtman's knee strength and agility,
DeCarlo says, "He's probably about 95 percent of what he was
before the injuries."
As soon as Emtman had accomplished all he could in therapy,
Zupancic pulled him aside and gave him some advice. "It's time
to go to the woods," he said. "You've got to get away from all
this NFL crap: the people feeling sorry for you, the ones who
want your autograph. Go find someplace where nobody knows your
Emtman didn't hesitate. He flew to Arizona to stay with Ed
Cunningham of the Cardinals, a college teammate. "I didn't want
people to see me down and weak," Emtman says. "In Arizona I
looked around for a condo. Nobody there knew me, and it was
sunny, a good place to train. But one day I talked to Eric Hohn,
who'd been the assistant strength coach at Washington when I was
there. Eric was living by himself in a three-bedroom house near
Berkeley, California, and he was a trainer at the college. He
said, 'You could always come train out here.' Well, Berkeley
isn't exactly the woods. But it was different."
At Hohn's, Emtman slept on a futon on the floor and reported
regularly to a nutritionist, who taught him, for starters, that
he was a complete idiot when it came to food. Emtman went to a
boxing gym and put on the gloves and had his nose bloodied and
beat on heavy bags and learned that he had pursued the right
sport, after all. Nobody said, "Hey, Steve, how's the knee?"
Nobody kissed his butt. Nobody showed pity.
He spent two months in California and returned to Indiana about
20 pounds lighter. His head was better too. Clearer. He could
laugh again. He could think about the future without getting
emotional. He could dream and make plans. When training camp
opened, he was still far from being ready to play, but every day
he and Zupancic went off by themselves and trained together. The
team would be in one area, and they would be in another. Zup had
all kinds of crazy exercises he'd picked up during his days as a
wrestler, and he had Emtman do them. The two were together
during the six weeks of training camp, working two, often three
times a day.
Emtman trained so hard that sometimes he couldn't lift himself
off the ground after workouts. "I'd see him work, and his
teammates would see him work, and it was uplifting for
everybody," Marchibroda says. "He wanted to give something back.
I think that's one of the things that drove him. He wanted to
give to the team."
At last the time came for Emtman to hit somebody, a big test for
the knee. One morning before the team had filed out for
practice, he and Zupancic suited up and went out to an empty
field, just the two of them. Emtman didn't want to get the hopes
of his teammates up, and he didn't want to alert the media.
EMTMAN RETURNS was the last thing he wanted to read in the next
day's paper. In the event he couldn't cut it, only he and Zup
would know. It was near the end of August, less than a week
before the season opener against Houston.
Their first drill was something called bull-in-the-ring. Emtman
lay flat on his belly at the center of a circle 10 feet in
diameter. Zupancic would cue him with a grunting sound and
immediately start charging, and Emtman would pop up and step
forward to make contact. As soon as the two hit, Emtman would
drive Zupancic out of the ring.
Zupancic is 40 years old. Half a lifetime ago he played football
at small Indiana Central, but nobody there hit him the way
"I held my own," Zupancic says.
"No, you didn't," Emtman says.
"O.K. Maybe I didn't."
"I punished you for all you put me through."
On Aug. 16 Marchibroda added Emtman to the active roster, and
Emtman practiced with the team two weeks later. By early
October, one week shy of the one-year anniversary of the injury,
he was ready for his second comeback, although he pretended to
want to keep the news secret. Asked by a reporter whether it was
true that he might play in the Seattle game, Emtman joked, "I
ain't talking to the media. I can neither confirm nor deny that
That the Colts were playing Seattle was especially significant
to Emtman. He'd been a fan of the Seahawks since he was a kid in
Cheney, and Seattle was his first home away from home, his
college stamping ground. Before the game Emtman was introduced
as the Colts' 12th man on defense, sparking a loud, sustained
roar from the crowd at Indianapolis's RCA Dome. Even his
teammates were moved. "It just ripped my heart out," Zupancic
says. "It ripped everybody else's out, too."
Emtman's role was limited to third-down situations, but even
that was miraculous. Emtman was the first player in the history
of the NFL to return from a torn patella tendon. He went out for
his first play and did exactly as writers of fairy tales would
have had him do, which is to say, he made the tackle. He read
the developing screen pass and swallowed up running back Chris
Warren for a five-yard loss. "I'd never been happier in my
life," Emtman says.
But then, in the inevitable second quarter, as he was chasing a
sweep play across the field, Emtman slammed into teammate Tony
Bennett and jammed his neck. A hard stinger ran down his arms,
and he couldn't close his hands. "That's when I think I ruptured
the disk," he says.
Emtman kept playing, collecting 21 plays in all, three of them
tackles. The Colts won 17-15, and no small celebration awaited
Emtman after the game. In the locker room players and coaches
were so inspired, they could talk about little else. Many of
them moseyed over to shake the big man's hand.
"Joy and exhilaration," Marchibroda says. "We all felt blessed
just to have witnessed it."
The next day Emtman reported to the weight room to work out. "I
couldn't curl a 10-pound weight with my left arm," he says. "I
wanted to say something to the trainers about it, but I didn't
want to be injured--I didn't want to admit to myself that I could
have gotten hurt again." Emtman played in the next three games,
but he couldn't lift his arm above his head to block passes, and
he couldn't grab with his left hand. In effect he was down to
only one arm, but he still somehow performed pretty well. He had
enough strength in his triceps to push blockers away. And his
force of will was as powerful as ever.
"You're not hurt, you're not hurt, you're not hurt, I kept
repeating to myself," he says. "But finally I went to the
doctors, and they said I had to stop playing until I got my
strength back." He took two weeks off, but the problem worsened.
A battery of tests revealed the herniated disk, and in November
he underwent his fourth operation in three years.
A few days afterward Emtman was at his home hearing far too much
of that old noise in his head. Why you? What have you ever done
to deserve this? And so, being inclined to such behavior, he
rose from his bed, got dressed and started walking, headed in
the direction of the Colt complex, about two miles away. It's a
lovely walk, even for somebody with his neck wrapped in bandages.
One of the bigfeet in Colt management happened to look out his
office window and see Emtman's huge, hulking form advancing
through the trees of Eagle Creek Park. The man watched as Emtman
crossed West 56th Street and came walking toward the complex.
Hey, but didn't he just have major surgery? And wasn't it just a
few days ago?
What on earth are you doing here, Emtman?
"Had to get out of the house," came the reply. "Going stir-crazy."
Emtman walked into the building and met the astonished glances
of people in the halls. He made his way back to the training
room and had his bandages changed, then he left and started on
his way home again, never so eager for anything as for 1995. A
new year, a new life.
Well, here it is, and where does Emtman find himself? In a hotel
room in Davie, Fla., about five minutes from the Dolphins'
training facility but half a continent away from where he
thought he would be.
After visiting six different cities in search of a new team,
Emtman signed for five years with the Dolphins. They had a list
of things going in their favor, not the least of which were a
$750,000 signing bonus and a stadium with a grass field, which
Emtman hoped would be easier on his knees than an artificial
surface. He didn't know any Dolphin players or coaches when he
signed, and now, two months later, he still doesn't know any.
"I'm just here working," he says. "I'm not here to make friends.
I don't go out. I stay in this room all the time. I've got a bed
and a couch, and that's all I need. I'm here to play football.
If I'm not a hired gun, then I guess I'm the next best thing:
extra ammo. My role is to keep healthy and be there when I'm
needed. I'm nobody now, but I'm O.K. with that."
Emtman has been playing behind Tim Bowens, a second-year man
from Mississippi who was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in
1994. "I don't like being a backup," Emtman says, "but I guess
it's the best thing for me right now. The less reps I take, the
better off I am, the stronger my legs get. I can't be happy and
be on the bench, though. Hell no."
"We needed a steady backup," Bowens says. "And Steve is a good
backup. I'm glad he's there."
"Backup," Emtman says, thinking hard on the word. He's sitting
on the couch in his hotel room, staring at an ugly drip painting
on the wall. Soon he will move to another hotel. "I'm not really
sure who I am anymore," he says. "It's weird, but I'll be
talking about the Colts to some of the guys on the Dolphins, and
I'll say, 'We're going to have a great defense this year.' And
then I'll catch myself and say, 'What I mean is, they'll have a
damned good defense this year.' What happened hurt. It
embarrassed me, sure, it embarrassed me. I lived and died the
"Nobody in Miami knows what I've been through, so they can't
care. It's kind of what I wanted: to be where nobody knows me or
feels sorry for me, a place where I can't count on my past and
where I have to go out and earn my respect every day. It's been
humbling, to say the least. I keep waiting for my life to feel
normal again. Sometimes I wonder if it ever will."
Which leads him to a question: What do you want to do after
football? Not only after this season, but after all your seasons
have been played out?
"If I go to L.A.," he says, "I don't want to go and be the
stereotypical big-guy actor. I don't have to be a superhero."
But maybe, he says, he could be like Wesley Snipes. That would
be all right. Wesley needs to parachute out of a plane? No
problem. Wesley needs to talk some Japanese? Piece of cake.
Wesley needs to smooth-talk the girl? Look, she's already taking
her clothes off.
It's fantasy. But Emtman, here alone, has plenty of time for that.
"I'm not number 90 anymore," he says. "I'm 94. They gave me that
one when I got here. But numbers have stopped meaning anything
to me. Sometimes I think about what a big thing my number was in
college. It's what drove me, made me want to play hard and prove
myself. A number. It was about respect then. Now? Now it's, just
give me a number--any damn number--and put me in there, let me
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID WALBERG [Steve Emtman doing leg-press]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Emtman was carted off in agony after wrecking his right knee in '93. [Injured Steve Emtman leaving field in cart] COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE In the season opener against the Jets, Emtman showed that he still has enough quickness to elude blockers. [Steve Emtman]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Emtman's pressure on Michigan quarterback Elvis Grbac helped the Huskies win the '92 Rose Bowl. [Steve Emtman]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG Zupancic was Emtman's weight room taskmaster throughout his long, painful rehabs as a Colt. [Tom Zupancic and Steve Emtman]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVE CROSS Under the eye of Miami assistant Joe Greene, Emtman hit the sled on his first day of practice. [Joe Greene and Steve Emtman]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG When Emtman ponders his next move these days, it's about what he'll do after he leaves football. [Steve Emtman sitting at chessboard]
What's sadder than a guy who never amounted to much?
He carried himself as if certain he was a complete and utter stud.
"Why did this happen?" he'd ask. "I'm a good person. Why?"
He was never so eager for anything as for 1995. A new life.