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Rebuilding a wasted life

Once the future of the Colts, former quarterback Schlichter tries to live each day without gambling

February 04, 2007|Tim Dahlberg | Associated Press

MIAMI — Art Schlichter's career stats are memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Ten years behind bars. Twenty some convictions. Forty-four different prisons.

One life wasted.

"I served my time," Schlichter said. "I got an enormous amount of time for what I did."

He was once the quarterback of the future for the Indianapolis Colts, the Peyton Manning of his time. He was always the ultimate con man, a smooth talker who could separate people from their money faster than he could zip a football downfield.

Gambling was his addiction. Greed proved to be his downfall.

There was always one more score to make, one last bet to win back. He stole from friends and family alike, and there wasn't a credit card he didn't try to lift.

Twice he even conned his lawyer into smuggling a phone into prison so he could place bets from his cell.

His wife left with their two young daughters, but the urge to gamble was stronger than the urge to be a husband and father. He had issues with his father, but was in prison when he committed suicide.

"I don't know how to tell you how much pain we've had," his mother said a few years ago.

He's a free man now, living with his mother in Indiana and reporting to his probation officer on a regular basis.

He wants you to believe he has changed. Five months of therapy have helped, and he says he understands now the roots of the demons that drove him to swindle loved ones and strangers with an equal lack of remorse.

The Super Bowl is today and he doesn't have a bet down. Not only that, he's organized a group to help compulsive gamblers like himself.

You want to believe him, but then you wonder. Is it all another act?

This is a guy, after all, who was once sent back to prison for betting on the Super Bowl and going to the racetrack at the same time he was getting treatment at the Compulsive Gambling Center in Baltimore.

"I'm not a bad guy," Schlichter insisted on the phone the other day. "I just made some bad decisions."

You want to believe he's a changed man. But try telling that to the Indiana man living on military disability who lost $2,700 to Schlichter in a scam involving phony Final Four tickets.

Try telling that to the former doctor who was conned out of $145,000 after meeting Schlichter in a program for people with addictive behavior. She thought she was going to get paid back, but the checks Schlichter gave her had been stolen from his father.

Try telling that to hundreds of others who fell victim to the handsome, personable former quarterback and his bagful of scams.

There are so many marks, so many stories, that even Schlichter is weary of talking about them.

"Just look up the old stuff," he said. "It's all there."

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Schlichter was a star at Ohio State, a dashing quarterback who finished fifth in the Heisman voting his senior year before being selected by the then-Baltimore Colts with the fourth pick of the 1982 draft.

He got a $350,000 signing bonus, but the racetrack beckoned and there were games to bet. He made the mistake of chasing bad bets with good money, and soon was so deep in debt with Baltimore bookies that he was forced to confess to the NFL to avoid getting hurt.

His bookie would later testify that Schlichter bet on almost every NFL team but his own. The only reason he didn't, the bookie said, was that the Colts were a lousy team at the time.

He had played in only 13 games by the time the NFL banned him for good in 1987. That same year he lost $20,000 the week after the players went on strike and was $800,000 in debt by the time the strike ended.

"Gambling was like a high to me, just like drugs or alcohol are to others," Schlichter said. "The rush of winning is part of it, but it's also a distraction from pain or problems you're having in your life."

Schlichter is 46 now. Had his life gone another way, he might be at the Super Bowl schmoozing with old friends and being wined and dined as an honored member of the Colts family.

Instead, he's just getting used to the idea of not living behind bars after spending 10 of the last 12 years in various prisons. He swears he finally gets it this time, and that he wants nothing more out of life now than to help others who have the same addiction.

"There comes a point you either want to live or die and I wanted to live," Schlichter said. "For me, one thing I couldn't do was gamble. I had to learn to live with that idea in my head."

Schlichter was saying all this the other day as he was driving to Indianapolis to watch his daughters play basketball. He seemed earnest.

He knows he wasted his talent, understands he nearly wasted his life.

"I'd be lying if I said I never thought about what might have been," he said.

You want to believe him, want him to make something of the rest of his life.

But then you remember that he's conned people before.

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