The lights dimmed, the VCR hummed and David Boston waited. It
was the first day of training camp in July, and the Arizona
Cardinals had gathered in a conference room to be informed by
NFL game officials of recent rules changes and to watch a
videotape of plays from the previous season that included things
that would henceforth constitute infractions. The officials said
they would cover topics like pass interference, illegal blocking
and taunting. As soon as Boston heard that last subject, he knew
what was coming.
Sure enough, the second play on the tape featured Boston,
scoring on a 70-yard pass play against the Philadelphia Eagles.
As he raced into the end zone with the Cardinals trailing by 17
points, Boston could be seen on the tape pointing and shouting
at a couple of Eagles defensive backs he'd beaten on the play.
Some teammates in the conference room chuckled and a few
applauded as Boston thought, Damn, that was a pretty athletic
play. But following the meeting Boston had what for him was an
unusual feeling: regret. "I was embarrassed by the taunting," he
says. "I didn't want to be known as the kind of guy who did that."
In an abrupt about-face, the 23-year-old Boston isn't
embarrassing himself anymore. After racking up $20,000 in fines
for unsportsmanlike conduct--all of it taunting--in the previous
two seasons, he has refrained from trying to humiliate
opponents. After he scores, he tosses the ball to an official,
and while he's still not above some competitive jawing, he
mostly lets his play do his talking.
Keyshawn Johnson, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Rod Smith may
generate the biggest headlines, but no receiver has been hotter
than Boston. He leads the NFL in receiving yards (1,387) and
100-yard games (eight) while displaying his prowess as a
downfield blocker and convincingly running decoy routes, the
latter two skills not having been among his strong suits before
this year. "I came into this season knowing I had to start making
plays that would change games," Boston said recently while
sitting at a long oak table in the living room of his house in
suburban Phoenix. "My first two years in the league I made a lot
of plays on my athletic ability, but I realized I could do more.
All I had to do was concentrate."
It's hard to find a receiver better equipped physically than
Boston. At 6'2" and a ripped 238 pounds, he looks more like an
outside linebacker, and his sub-4.4 speed demoralizes defenders.
Late in a 34-31 overtime win over the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 2,
he turned a short catch into a 50-yard touchdown by pulling away
from defensive backs Eric Allen, Anthony Dorsett and Charles
Woodson. "You won't find a more explosive guy than David Boston,"
says Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who watched Boston catch six
passes for 106 yards that day. "He makes [the 6'3", 230-pound]
Owens look small, and he's out of his mind right now in terms of
Not only is Boston more civil to opponents on the field these
days, but he's also more knowledgeable about the game.
Capitalizing on an increase in deep passes thrown his way, he has
used his understanding of positioning against defenders to draw
his share of pass-interference calls. What's more, he's shown
more patience when facing double coverage and rarely sulks if his
number isn't called for stretches. "In the past David did
whatever David wanted to do," says fellow Arizona wide receiver
Rob Moore, a 12-year veteran. "He was the kind of guy who could
run a 4.3 on any given day, but he'd run a 4.5 sometimes because
that's what he felt like. Now he's making better choices. He
knows this is his time."
Boston seemed well grounded when, at 20, he was selected eighth
in the 1999 draft. He had grown up in Humble, Texas, one of two
sons of Byron, a tax consultant and an NFL line judge, and
Caroline, a retired teacher. David's older sister, Alicia, is a
corporate attorney and one of his agents. After setting Ohio
State career records in receptions (191), yards (2,855) and
touchdown catches (34), he wrote a letter to Buckeyes fans
explaining why he had decided to leave school following his
junior year, saying he thought it was the perfect time to pursue
his dream of playing in the NFL. "David was quiet and humble [off
the field in college], but he had a different attitude on the
field," says Kansas City Chiefs reserve quarterback Joe Germaine,
a former Ohio State teammate. "You need confidence to play this
game, and he had that."
Still, Boston's transition to the pros was not smooth. During his
rookie year he was frustrated as the Cardinals' third receiver,
behind Moore and Frank Sanders. Teammates occasionally had to
phone him at home to make sure he got to meetings on time. After
Moore suffered a season-ending knee injury in August 2000, Boston
stepped in and became Arizona's leader in receiving yards (1,156)
and touchdowns (seven).
However, when Sanders advised him to cut out the taunting, Boston
said the fines he was drawing didn't bother him. Boston was
preoccupied with acting like a star instead of playing like one.
Moore pulled up to practice in his 1968 Firebird, only to receive
a reproving look from Boston. "He said, 'You've been in the
league all this time and that's what you're driving?'" Moore
says. "I told him the only thing you're judged on at this level
is how you perform."
Boston probably would have taken longer to grasp that truth had
he not been involved in a serious car accident in March 2000. He
and Green Bay Packers linebacker Na'il Diggs, another former
Buckeye, were driving north on Interstate 71 in Columbus at
around 2:15 a.m. when a Ford Escort that was being chased at high
speed by police crashed into the left side of Boston's Hummer.
Both vehicles were totaled. Danielle Carfagna, the 21-year-old
driver of the Escort, died in the collision. Boston and Diggs
walked away apparently unscathed but spooked. Boston dreamed
about police sirens and flashing lights for days.
Then late last season Boston discovered that the accident had
resulted in minor nerve damage in his right leg, which made it
increasingly difficult for him to flex his foot. In the
off-season he stayed in Phoenix for physical therapy and weight
training instead of working out in South Florida with Moss and
Moss's fellow Minnesota Vikings wideout, Cris Carter, as he had
done previously. Boston worked with Cardinals trainer Charles
Poliquin, who helped strengthen Boston's lower back for increased
speed and explosiveness and put him on a lifting regimen that
helped him put on 30 pounds.
Boston also trained with Arizona's new receivers coach, Jerry
Sullivan, three times a week, sometimes in 110[degree] heat. He
studied tape of other wideouts, and on the field he ran the same
route as many as 15 times in a row to satisfy Sullivan, a
perfectionist whose candor and sincerity appealed to Boston. "I
think a lot of people kissed David's ass to get him to play,"
Sullivan says. "I wasn't going to beg him to be the best. He had
to want it for himself."
"Jerry hammered me," Boston says. "He taught me to make all
patterns look alike at the start and to stare down defensive
backs when I was setting them up. What I liked most was that he
prepared me for every situation I face. When I'm on the field, I
always feel comfortable."
Many coaches in the Cardinals' organization noticed that Boston
was maturing over the summer. He even listened to his father's
advice to cut out the showboating. David had started talking
trash in college because, he says, "my respect for my opponents
wasn't very high, and I thought the game was only about my
winning the battle with the guy across from me." By the start of
the 2001 season he understood that the NFL "is about opinions,
and once people make up their minds about you, it's hard to
change them. I didn't want people to think I didn't have class."
This season Boston has had only one slipup, during a Dec. 9 game
against the Washington Redskins. After making a tackle,
linebacker LaVar Arrington shoved Boston, who responded by
flipping the ball at the defender. Each player drew a personal
foul and a $5,000 fine.
"He's definitely not getting into as many spats as he used to,"
says Eagles safety Brian Dawkins. "Before, his temper would take
him out of the game, and he would start getting into verbal
sparring matches all over the field. We played him twice this
year, and he never got into that."
Adds Byron, speaking for himself and his wife, "We always try to
make sure he knows the right thing to do. We stressed to him that
the most important decisions he'll make will come early in his
career, because those are the ones he'll be remembered for."
Although David is excelling, he still takes plays off and, in the
eyes of Cardinals general manager Bob Ferguson, needs to start
catching every pass in practice. "That's what players like Jerry
Rice do," Ferguson says.
When he returned home after the Raiders game a few weeks ago and
watched highlights of his touchdown on SportsCenter, Boston
laughed upon seeing footage of himself as an Ohio State sophomore
scoring against Michigan and taunting Woodson on his way to the
end zone. When he scored against Woodson this time, however,
Boston was shown simply dropping the ball before shouting into
the air and embracing his teammates. "Last year I would've done
something to rub it in," he says, "but when I saw myself beating
someone as good as Woodson, I knew I was making a statement. I'm
starting to show people what I'm really capable of."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER READ MILLER On fire No receiver has been hotter over the last two months than Boston, who has seven 100-yard games in his last nine.
COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Defensive nightmare Boston, who is 6'2", 238 pounds, has the size to punish cornerbacks, and he can run from them too.
"You won't find a more explosive guy than David Boston," says
Raiders coach Jon Gruden.