Minnesota Vikings running back Leroy Hoard has always been good for some tough yards and a lot of laughs.
Two years ago, he was the Ravens starting running back walking around Baltimore and being identified as a Canadian Football League player. Since then he has bounced around to two teams, traded in a red Lamborghini for a black one and leased three different apartments at the same time in Cleveland, Baltimore and Minneapolis.
Hoard's career has come full circle, this time playing in Baltimore against the Ravens instead of for them. The Ravens (5-8) face the Vikings (12-1) tomorrow at 4: 15 p.m. at Ravens stadium in Camden Yards, and Hoard will be the starting running back, filling in for the injured Robert Smith.
When he was released by the Ravens during their inaugural 1996 season, Hoard said the Ravens never explained his role or why he was cut. Hoard has 347 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on 74 carries this season.
"Baltimore was a great city, and I enjoyed the time I spent there," said Hoard. "We were just getting used to the place. I remember one night Carwell Gardner [former Ravens fullback] and I went out and people thought we still played in the CFL. It was unlike Cleveland where everyone knew you.
"I was always told that the grass wasn't always greener on the other side of the fence. Art [owner Art Modell] moved his team to Baltimore and we had to follow our paychecks. But the coaches there never asked me to do anything and they didn't tell me nothing. I always thought I could play but didn't get a chance. They never said anything to me why I was cut. They didn't show me any loyalty. This is going to be fun Sunday."
Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda declined to comment on Hoard's situation in Baltimore, but the Ravens cut him for strictly financial reasons and replaced him with Bam Morris. After missing substantial practice time in training camp because of migraine headaches, Hoard, 5 feet 11 and 223 pounds, rushed for 61 yards on 15 carries in two games before the Ravens cut him. Hoard was scheduled to make $1.5 million that season, and the Ravens didn't want to pay that much money to a player headed for the bench.
"When I first got into the league, I saw players like Ozzie Newsome and Clay Matthews play for the same team 10 or 11 years," said Hoard. "I never believed success was based on millions of dollars, but playing for the same organization for a long period of time. I never said one negative thing about the LTC organization or my situation, but I probably ended up screwing myself out of several million dollars."
Hoard was eventually signed by the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 1, 1996. He was released 21 days later after three games. There is speculation that Hoard was let go after he parked his red Lamborghini in the spot of the owner's son, and then yelled at him when he told Hoard to move it.
"Ah, that didn't happen," said Hoard, chuckling with an indication that it occurred. "Anthony Johnson was the starter and having a good season and had three solid games. That's it."
Hoard had had enough, too. He headed back home to Florida.
"I had three apartments under lease," said Hoard. "I went home to get a job just to break even. I just wanted to relax, but on the following Monday I got a call from my agent. Minnesota needed another back. I was just going to wait until next season, but my agent advised me that I might not get back if I didn't play the rest of the season."
Hoard had an immediate impact with the Vikings, gaining 108 yards in his first game. He now has a defined role with Minnesota, and the Vikings cater to his strength. Smith is the breakaway threat. Hoard is a short-yardage specialist whose touchdown total is second on the team to receiver Randy Moss' 14.
He has found a home in Minnesota, which is the NFC favorite to advance to the Super Bowl. Hoard said the difference between the Ravens and Minnesota is attitude.
"I can honestly say I never thought football was like this until I got to Carolina and Minnesota," said Hoard. "Here, I've seen guys get cut because they were late for a team meeting or late getting to the weight room. It was different in Baltimore and Cleveland. Winning eases a whole bunch of pains. When you start losing, guys who are probable become doubtful."
Hoard would like to inflict some pain tomorrow. The Ravens still have some of his old defensive teammates from his days in Cleveland. Rob Burnett still starts at defensive end. Stevon Moore is the starting strong safety.
"Leroy is a physical runner who brings a certain nastiness to a team," said Moore. "He is a hard worker, a force when he gets outside. He runs so hard, sometimes he forgets he has the ball in his hands. I'm sure we'll look each other up Sunday."
Hoard said: "They have an excellent defense, a lot of guys flying around doing what it takes. But I want to make sure it hurts you as much as it hurts me when someone comes to tackle me."
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Minnesota Vikings
Site: Ravens stadium
When: Tomorrow, 4:15 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Tickets: Sold out
Line: Vikings by 10
Pub Date: 12/12/98