McPherson finally at home with Storm

Here in the shadowlands, the field is short. It is only the journey that is long.

For a decade, Adrian McPherson has chased a season such as this one. From league to league, from team to team, across the border and back, McPherson kept chasing football one end zone at a time. He went from scandal and headlines to the fringes of the game, watching, waiting for his opportunity.

Finally, when the world was prepared to forget his name, McPherson has caught up to the potential.

And it's about time, you might say.

He has been fireworks and laser beams, McPherson. Forget that it has been while playing for the Tampa Bay Storm. Excellence is excellence, and McPherson, as they say, has lit it up.

Halfway through the Arena Football League season, and McPherson has 40 touchdown passes and a franchise-record 24 touchdown runs. He has two games where he accounted for 10 touchdowns, two more where he had eight, two more where he had seven. In all, he has accounted for 95.3 percent of the Storm's yardage.

No, it isn't the big time. But it is his time.

At last.

"I'm very happy," McPherson said. "It's been a long journey, with a lot of ups and downs. I've learned a lot of things along the way. But it's not finished.

"I strongly believe I have a story to tell about not giving up, about believing in yourself and doing the right things. I told my dad once, I believe I'm still playing the game of football to tell as many people as possible my story. Whether it's football or life, they're going to tell you things you can't do. But if you believe in yourself, if you just keep plugging, something will work out for you."

There is white hair sprouting along the neck of McPherson, now 30. His eyes have some age to them. He has been enough places, and seen enough things, to have learned along the way.

Once, when he was a young quarterback at Florida State, he made a mistake. Probably, you heard about it. He lifted a check and a friend cashed it, and McPherson was dismissed from the team immediately. It was a quick and stern punishment in the coach Bobby Bowden days of players running stadium steps, and so the suspicion was McPherson had done something worse. Gambling, perhaps.

"I never gambled," McPherson said firmly. "I don't know where that came from. It was, 'He was trying to throw games.' I played quarterback. I threw one interception.

"People are going to say what they want. I tell people all the time: I made a mistake with the check. I admit to that. I don't admit to anything else, because there wasn't anything else. I've said that from Day 1."

Still, the check, and the ensuing court case, was enough for McPherson to be dismissed from FSU. He ended up with Indiana of the Arena Football League in 2004, and after two quarterbacks were hurt, he threw for 61 touchdowns with only five interceptions. He won the league's rookie of the year award.

The NFL was intrigued. The Saints spent a fifth-round draft pick on him the next year but he spent the first season inactive. Then the Saints hired Sean Payton as coach and traded for quarterback Drew Brees. Payton, who once suggested that McPherson might be the best athlete on the team, seemed more interested in using him as a wide receiver and punt returner in the preseason.

"I wasn't comfortable with that," McPherson said. "I wanted to play quarterback."

It all became moot in a preseason game against Tennessee, when the Titans' mascot, T-Rac, ran over McPherson with his golf cart at the end of halftime, injuring the bursa sac in McPherson's knee. The next week, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The week after, the Saints cut McPherson.

He worked out for a couple of other NFL teams, but the knee kept him from passing a physical.

And so it was back to the AFL and the chase for success. The Austin Wranglers were interested, and after nine games McPherson had 42 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. Strangely, the Wranglers, 3-6, cut him. He then went to Grand Rapids and backed up Chad Salisbury for two seasons. All together now: Chad Salisbury?

From there, his map zigs to Montreal of the Canadian Football League, where he sat for five years behind Anthony Calvillo, a star. McPherson was released in February.

That's a lot of games as a backup, a lot of moments of a guy hanging onto his confidence when his teams seemed to have none in him.

"I stayed because I can play this game," McPherson said. "When you think about the years I've played, and the years I've started, it doesn't happen. You don't hang around pro football for 10 years and only start for two."

McPherson kept coming back, he said, because of his love for the game. And because of an innate stubbornness. "I've never been a guy to let others tell me what to do," he said.

And so he believes, still, that his shot at the NFL will still come. Yes, he thinks he can play.

"One hundred percent," he said. "No doubt about it. I can throw the ball with anyone.

"There are a lot of quarterbacks who are 30 years old. I wouldn't say the NFL isn't looking for 30-year-old quarterbacks. Any league is looking for a quarterback who can play. It doesn't matter if you're 40."

As for now, he toils in the Arena League. Across town, the big-money quarterbacks are competing for the big headlines. It doesn't matter to McPherson.

"It was never about fame to me," said the former Bradenton Southeast standout and the only player in Florida high school history to win both Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball. "I love the game. I could care less about people applauding me. It's not about money. If I wanted money, I could have gone back to Canada as a backup. But I'm not a backup. This was the best place for me to showcase my skills."

How did this happen? How does a guy go from being a seven-year backup to being a star?

"I can explain that," McPherson said, grinning. "Back then, I was nowhere near the quarterback I am today. I'm five times better than I was. I'm 5-10 times better than I was when I won rookie of the year. When I went to Canada, I didn't know about studying film. I barely watched it. I'm night-and-day better now."

Also, and this should count for something, McPherson is happy. He owns a huddle. He commands a team. Football feels the way it is supposed to feel.

"I wouldn't say I'm there yet," he said. "But it's great to come out and play on a daily basis. What's even better is my teammates believe in me. That's big for me. Coach (Marc) Trestman (now the Bears coach) used to say this: 'Your quarterback has to give your team hope. When you have a quarterback that can give our team hope, that the team and coaches believe in, they always feel they have a chance.'

"I can see that in my teammates. They're counting on me to produce on a daily basis."

And so the journey continues. McPherson has been a prospect, and a suspect, and a backup. He has survived, and he has struggled, and he has been a success.

For now, he is closing in on another end zone.

Nice neighborhood, don't you think?

McPherson by the numbers

40 Passing touchdowns this season.

24 Rushing touchdowns, a franchise record; also an Arena League record for a QB.

7.1 Touchdowns per game.

3 Interceptions, tied for fewest in league among QBs who have played in more than four games.

95.3 Percent of Storm's yardage this season.

6 Pro teams in his career: NFL, Saints (2005); Arena League, Indiana Firebirds (2004), Austin Wranglers (2006), Grand Rapids Rampage (2007-08), Storm (2013); CFL, Montreal Alouettes (2008-12).

McPherson finally at home with Storm 05/22/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 11:50pm]

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