Special teams play right up Madison's avenue
By Scott Brown
Monday, November 8, 2010
There is a reason why he covers every kickoff as if it might be his last one, a reason why he races downfield after every punt as if a runaway blocking sled is nipping at his cleats.
And it goes beyond the fact that cornerback Anthony Madison went undrafted in 2006 despite starting 37 consecutive games at a storied program such as Alabama, beyond the fact that he is actually 5-foot-8 1/2 and asked the Steelers to round up his height for their roster.
His one-speed-fits-all approach is rooted in the fact that Madison knows only one way after a series of tragedies early in his life taught him that nothing is promised beyond the moment.
And it has allowed Madison to make it to the NFL the hard way and carve out a niche as a special teams standout.
The five-year veteran who teammates call "Bama" will try to help the Steelers win the battle in that critical phase of the game tonight when they visit the Bengals.
The Bengals outplayed the Steelers on special teams the last time the AFC North rivals met. And Cincinnati's 18-12 win at Heinz Field last November touched off a disastrous five-game losing streak for the Steelers.
Special teams became such an issue for the Steelers last season that at the beginning of December, Madison, who had just been waived by the Colts, received a phone call from director of football operations Kevin Colbert.
"Welcome home," Colbert told Madison. "We just claimed you."
In bringing back Madison, 29, for another tour of duty, the Steelers corrected an oversight they had made near the end of preseason in 2009.
They cut Madison, who rarely plays on defense, even though he had led them in special teams tackles (25) the previous season.
They did not make the same mistake when they put together their 53-man roster in early September, and the Steelers' kick coverage units have been considerably better through the first seven games of the season.
"I love Anthony Madison," said Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, who made his mark on special teams early in his career. "He doesn't get enough credit. We know 'Foxy' (Keyaron Fox) is our (special teams) captain, but he could easily be there with Fox."
Madison, who has been credited with five tackles on special teams, is there with anybody on the Steelers when it comes to overcoming adversity.
He was cut or waived three times in 2009 before finishing the season with the Steelers. He endured something much more trying prior to those releases.
His father, Robert, died in August, causing Madison to temporarily leave training camp at St. Vincent College -- and anguish over when to return even though the Steelers had told him to take as much time as he needed.
"The last time I did see him (in June 2009) I told him that I loved him," Madison said of his father. "And I had a feeling that if it was the last time, at least I told him everything I had to tell him."
Madison had learned that life lesson the hard way -- and before the Thomasville, Ala., native had reached his teens.
Within the span of a year when he was 11, Madison lost a brother, who was 24, to a heart attack, his twin sister to lupus and his best friend to a throat illness.
"Cherish every moment you have and just enjoy life, because at any moment it can all be taken away from you, whether it's football or family or friends," Madison said. "It's so cliched, but the things we do have control over is our attitude and how we respond to different situations that come about in our life."
Madison is usually one of the first players down the field on kickoffs and punts, and the Steelers seem to feed off the energy that he supplies.
"He's extremely valuable to what he's doing, and not just in special teams but everything that he does," Steelers special teams coordinator Al Everest said. "He's old school in that he gives you everything he's got every time he's on the field."
That is because, Madison said, he never knows when his next time on the field will also be his last.
Scott Brown can be reached at email@example.com
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