METAIRIE, La. – Taped inside Anthony Hargrove’s locker below pictures of his girlfriend and son and a positive note from his son’s school resides a regular sheet of white printer paper.
What’s written on it, however, is nothing regular.
It’s a relic from the moment Hargrove could begin moving on from the mistakes of his past.
It’s a letter dated Feb. 12, 2009 from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, reinstating the defensive tackle back into the league after a year suspension for substance abuse.
In part, it reads, “It’s important when I emphasize that your reinstatement is the beginning of the road back to a productive career in the league. I’m counting on you to continue to demonstrate that you can conduct yourself in a reasonable manner. You should understand that this is your opportunity to prove that you belong in the NFL.”
"It's a reminder of what I'm supposed to do,” Hargrove said. “A lot of guys, if they get kicked out of the league, they don't make it back. ... It's not even just in football, but around professionals. Guys who fall off, it's so hard to get back because there aren't that many people doing it, so if anything, I want to be an inspiration.”
Eight games and months into his reinstatement, Hargrove has been more than an inspiration.
Teammates are effusive in their praise of him. Coaches glow when talking about him. And his game is beginning to come into form – he earned the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Week honor for his four tackle, two fumble recovery game against Carolina on Sunday.
But Hargrove, who still goes to group meetings three times a week, won’t take any of the credit. Instead, the 26-year-old praises the Saints organization for giving him his chance to make right what he made wrong a few years ago.
“It feels good,” Hargrove said. “If it wasn’t for this organization, Mickey (Loomis), Coach (Sean) Payton, Gregg Williams, Bill Johnson, Joe Vitt, my teammates for giving me the chance to come here, none of this is happening.”
And the Saints know what they’ve done for him. He openly talks about his past with his teammates, alerting them to what can happen when things begin spiraling out of control.
“If you don’t know anybody that has been through anything, you wouldn’t know the outcome of it,” fellow Saints defensive lineman Bobby McCray said. “But being around him, we know what he has been through and it kind of helps us.”
Said safety Roman Harper, “He’ll openly talk to you about anything that’s going on in his life. He has told me some stuff that blew my mind away. If you ask him about it, he’ll tell you about it.
“He’s definitely not shy about things in his past. I think he has learned a lot from it. I think because of that, he has been able to bounce back so much.”
Of all weeks, though, this week might mean more to Hargrove than any other. His Saints are playing the St. Louis Rams, the organization that drafted him out of college.
After two and a half seasons, however, Hargrove’s act became too much for the Rams to handle. His production was down and he went missing for days. St. Louis traded Hargrove to Buffalo.
“I’m trying to treat it as just another business trip you know,” Hargrove said. “That’s where I started, where I was drafted to. I just got to make amends with the city, apologize for letting them down and not being the player they wanted me to be and just hopefully, they’re happy I’m doing well right now.”
He added, “The organization was good to me, I just wasn’t appropriate to them.”
Now with the Saints, Hargrove is finding success on a defensive unit that is 16th in the league in total defense. He has 35 total tackles, including three sacks. He has started the past two games in place of Sedrick Ellis, who is out with a sprained knee.
Against Carolina, he came through with one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries, the second one which he returned for a touchdown that all but put the game away and kept the Saints undefeated.
After home games, he runs and jumps into the stands, celebrating with the fans, the people who have taken him in and loved him for who he is.
“You can tell he’s probably the happiest guy to be here,” Harper said. “He understands what it’s like to be taken away and now that he’s back, he’s taking full advantage of it and having a great time doing it.”
Most of all, though, he’s inspiring those around him to be better people.
“He’s a great, inspiring story right now,” McCray said. “A lot of guys, we’re inspired by him and we just wish him all the best.”