Banned NFL star Haselrig goes from one cage to another

Starting an MMA career at 42 years old is a bit ridiculous, but former NFL offensive lineman Carlton Haselrig will try anything with his second lease on life. The big man was a winner in a mixed martial arts fight over the weekend in Johnstown, Pa., as he tries out his new sport on the path to overcoming substance abuse that nearly ruined his life.

Haselrig (pictured in the camouflage shorts) was a six-time NCAA wrestling champ and went on to become a Pro Bowl offensive guard with the Pittsburgh Steelers. His rise to becoming an elite NFL player was amazing considering the fact that he had never played college football, but alcohol and drug issues ended his career prematurely.

He was suspended by the NFL for cocaine use in 1994. He was also arrested that year for DUI in an incident where it took nine police officers to subdue him. In 1995, he returned with the New York Jets, but a positive drug test and the subsequent one-year suspension sent him off the deep end.

Haselrig was a great example of what went on too often in the NFL in the 1990s under Paul Tagliabue. It was a league out of control. Teams took chances on guys like Haselrig in spite of the fact that he had several run-ins with the law at Pitt-Johnstown. It didn't change in the NFL:

On Sept. 26, 1992, Haselrig totaled his car while driving to the Pittsburgh Airport, where the Steeler charter was waiting to take the team to Green Bay for a game with the Packers. Fearing that he would be late for the flight, Haselrig had sped the wrong way down a one-way street and had collided head-on with another car. Haselrig's head smashed through the windshield, and his chest broke the steering wheel. After a large gash in his forehead was stitched up, Haselrig caught a commercial flight to Chicago, then passed out at the airport there and missed his connection. He paid $500 for a 200-mile cab ride to Green Bay, arrived after 4 a.m. on Sunday morning and started that afternoon against the Packers. "I was seeing two of everything," he told SI several months later. "And of course my chest was hurting where I broke the steering wheel."

He went AWOL on several occasions. This ordeal was the final straw according to a December 1995 report in this story from the Sports Illustrated Vault:

In the summer of 1994 Haselrig was missing for more than three weeks before police found him alone in a cheap motel room near the Pittsburgh airport. That episode cost Haselrig his job with the Steelers. As of Monday the 6'1", 290-pound lineman remained one of America's fleshiest fugitives. There had not been a confirmed sighting of him for 14 days; he was thought to be in possession of a vehicle that had been reported stolen.

Finished with pro football, he was sent to jail in 1997 for a probation violation. Haselrig was nailed for a DUI while driving his motorcycle with his helmet on backward:

"Going to jail was a wake up I needed," Haselrig told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "You spend a year or so in jail and you have some time to reconsider your choices and think about whether or not you want to continue down that path. I grew up a whole lot through that and knew it was time to pull myself together."

Haselrig, who made his MMA debut last year, is 3-1 after his win over Chris Larkin (6-6-1). Haselrig, now 43, took Larkin down early and pounded him against the cage (video included) with punches and elbows until the referee stepped in at 3:18 of the first.

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