To Ravens defensive end Anthony Pleasant, the 1996 football season has been one, continuous storm.
The rain started pouring in June, after the team's first minicamp, when Pleasant's mother died suddenly of a heart attack. It continued when Pleasant, after an excellent training camp and preseason, nearly broke his right ankle on the first play of the season opener against the visiting Oakland Raiders. The injury kept him on the sideline for over a month, and he has since played with pain that ranges from numbing to excruciating.
The pain Pleasant felt early last month was not physical. Not on the day he was called from a team meeting and told that his 1-year-old daughter, Hannah, had been burned on the face, neck and shoulder by scalding hot water in a freak accident at home and was headed to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
Hannah is now home with Anthony and his wife, Renita, a month after receiving a successful skin graft at the Hopkins burn unit. And Pleasant was counting his blessings as he rode an exercise bike on a recent day off at the Ravens' Owings Mills complex, where he summarized the most harrowing season of his seven-year career.
"So many things have happened this year it's sort of like being in a storm, and you don't know when it's going to pass or what's going to blow toward you next," he said. "Keeping my focus on Christ has helped me through all of the trials. And with the blessings I have, I know I've got to help people who aren't as fortunate as I am."
Pleasant, who has been generous with charities throughout his NFL career, was at it again this week. He organized a visit by a handful of players to the same burn unit where his daughter spent two weeks. The players, who included teammates Steve Everitt, Mike Croel, Brian Kinchen and Dan Footman, cheered up the children by painting a mural of jungle animals on the wall.
"A.P. always wants to do what's best and do it to the best of his ability, whether it's on or off the field," fellow defensive lineman Rick Lyle said. "He's gone through a lot this season. He doesn't say much, but he sets a great example for everybody around here."
Few players are as low-key in the locker room as Pleasant, who is 6 feet 5, 280 pounds. He maintains a sullen, brooding expression often. Then again, few Ravens command as much respect.
Pleasant's teammates see a guy who has long established himself as an NFL presence, having started at right end since the beginning of the 1992 season. And they see a guy who takes nothing for granted. Typically, at the end of practice, reporters wishing to speak with Pleasant must wait an extra 20 minutes as he works with defensive line coach Jacob Burney.
Burney still marvels at the way Pleasant persevered through his injury, which would have put some players on the injured list for much of the season. Pleasant could barely walk for the first two weeks after he got hurt.
He returned Oct. 13 and played through the pain. Only in the past two games has he resembled the player who signed a four-year, $4.2 million contract in 1993, and has flirted with a Pro Bowl selection several times. Pleasant has recorded 25 tackles and four sacks in 11 games -- far below his standards.
"We've had to get him off the practice field this year, to try to save him for the plays on Sunday," Burney said. "Judging from what we saw when Anthony came back, he was not erring on the side of caution. Nobody on this team wants to be on the field more than him. Nobody."
Pleasant's teammates felt the same way, when they endorsed him as the Ravens' recipient of this year's Ed Block Courage Award.
Ravens strength coach Jerry Simmons is a longtime admirer of Pleasant's, and watching Pleasant relentlessly battle his injury only enhanced Simmons' opinion of him.
"There are two kinds of guys to me, guys who have that inner drive to get better, and guys who need you to tell them to work," Simmons said. "Anthony is just a hard-working, dedicated guy who tries to do the right thing, not a guy who is sitting on his laurels. You build a foundation with people like him."
Pleasant's foundation can be traced to Century, Fla., where he was reared by his mother. She worked in the local high school cafeteria and dealt with her share of hardship. Pleasant's father died when he was 2.
"I sometimes wonder what I'd be like if I had a father," Pleasant said.
Pleasant's father figures were his football and basketball coaches in youth leagues and high school. He didn't play football until his sophomore season at Century High, and Pleasant ended up as a star at Tennessee State, the same college that produced such renowned NFL pass rushers as Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Richard Dent. Pleasant recorded 21 sacks over his final two seasons, and was taken in the third round of the 1990 draft by the Cleveland Browns.
Later that year, Pleasant met his future wife. They were married a little over a year later. Renita agrees that Anthony is basically the quiet type, but she quickly adds that he wasted no time revealing a different side of himself to her.
"On our first date, we go to the movies and he said to me, 'Gee, you must be pretty hungry the way you're tearing up that stale popcorn,' " Renita recalled. "He insulted me, but he made me laugh at the same time. Anthony really can be pretty bold.
"He appears to be quiet, but he's one of the funniest guys I've met, and he's a leader. He doesn't just go along with the crowd. He doesn't mind being alone. Guys usually have a problem with peer pressure. That's never been a problem with him."
Pleasant has never been the outgoing type, but several years ago he sensed a void in his life and decided to fill it through religion. He and Renita, who has a Master's degree in Christian education, probably will enter the ministry after his NFL career ends.
"In the last three years, I've really made a commitment to and dedicated my life to Christ," Pleasant said. "I grew up in a Christian home, but I never really had that type of relationship where I really knew him. You can be one kind of man on the field, but what kind of man are you out on the street?"
Pleasant enjoys talking to children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and the power of a strong work ethic. And he wonders if he'll be delivering that message on the streets of Baltimore next year.
Pleasant can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He would like to remain with his original organization.
"I want to be here, but you also want to know the direction the team is going in," he said. "Are they going to do the necessary things to help this team get to the playoffs and the Super Bowl?"
Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda wants Pleasant around as the team attempts to dig out of the cellar of the AFC Central.
"He is a tremendous example to the younger players, because he plays the game with passion, he plays with pain and he plays hard on every play," Marchibroda said. "He's a quality player who is really a fine man. I want him back."
Said Burney: "You're looking for guys who are good citizens and good players. You want to come into training camp with guys like [Pleasant]. Every coach in America wants guys like him."
Pub Date: 12/20/96