Said I want to run like the lions
Released from their cages...
Released from the rages
*Burning in my soul tonight. *
— Steve Van Zandt, "I Am a Patriot"
Bart Scott is Detroit's lion.
And on Sunday in Michigan, you can bet that the Jets' 30-year-old linebacker will leave everything he has out on the football field. A product of the Motor City, he plays like a runaway car searching for collisions but he has avoided devastating wrecks away from the gridiron. While many where he was raised just hope for survival, he has thrived and remained a genuine item along the way.
The Native Son
"I'm on a ride right now. I never could have written this story," Scott told me this week on "Four Quarters." "I'm just excited that I get to go back and play in front of my fanbase. It may be the Detroit Lions, but I'm the native son and you have three more native sons [Braylon Edwards, David Harris and Vernon Gholston] coming back. I think there will be more people cheering for us than that team because we've planted seeds in there and they've grown."
It would have been understandable for a child to have lost hope when bullets, bloodshed and brutality were just part of everyday life.
"I remember I had a middle school classmate get shot nine times. Who's shooting a 12-year-old? But that was life in Detroit. You just tried to stay positive, work hard and find your way out," he said. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't grow up that way. It hardened me, it prepared me for life and how cold life is even now in the business world. I can't fear anyone on the field if I made it out of what I made it out of. This is nothing to me — this is a vacation to me."
Detroit was anything but a vacation when young Bart grew up in the Eighties and Nineties, decades that he referred to as the "boom" of the crack era. He would walk to school, wonder where some of his peers were, and then often have to fight for survival on the way home.
"I grew up in a gang neighborhood, gang territory, and there were opposing gangs on the way to school. I never knew why I was in school and the rest of the knuckleheads were out of school fighting each other over drug territory, a basketball game, a dice game or gambling," he said. "So I'd come home and I'd have no idea what's going on. The rest of them didn't go to school, so I would have to protect myself on the way back. I did OK — I'm not Sugar Shane [Mosley], but I'm still undefeated. The chin has been tested and it's hard as a rock, and I throw haymakers."
Raised by a Village
Scott had a strong foundation at home with his mother, Dorita, and older sisters, Cutrice and Dawnyell, looking after the baby of the family. And while his dad, Bartholomew Capers, didn't live in the same house, he remained a part of his son's life.
"Here I am a third-grader having to read about Hannibal and how he was able to construct his army, how he took Rome down. That's the kind of father I had," he said. "My mother was the heart — that's my rock, that's somebody I can always lean on. I was raised by a village, I was protected. In that crazy world, it was like I was sheltered from a lot of things."
At Southeastern High School, Scott played basketball, baseball and tennis and lined up at RB and LB for the football team. He was a star recruit who accepted a scholarship to Michigan State and was set to play for Nick Saban's Spartans before they pulled the offer off the table after a low SAT score his senior year. Scott eventually got the score he needed on the SATs and Michigan State came calling again about an hour after Scott committed to Southern Illinois — a school he never visited or knew anything about.
"I was angry — I'm still angry now. When you're at D-1AA, the big thing for you is coming home and hoping that they even show your score on the ticker. I didn't even know there was such a thing as Division 1AA. I thought there were D-1 and D-2. I had never heard of D-1AA in my life. I never received a recruiting letter from Division 1AA — I was a blue-chip All-American, so coming out I could have gone anywhere I wanted to, but I was set on the Detroit mentality, never leaving the city, never leaving the state.
"But the greatest thing for me was to leave and grow up and it forced me to be a man early because I was all by myself."
"Not Easily Broken, Not Easily Deterred"
It was at Southern Illinois where Scott, a three-year starter at LB and S who totaled 352 career tackles and was an All-Gateway first-team performer his senior year, started to think he could play on the next level. Adrian White, the current Buffalo Bills defensive quality control coach who served as the Salukis' DBs coach in 1999-2000 and played 71 games in the NFL, thought the man donning the No. 9 jersey had what it takes.
"Adrian White first planted the seed that he thought I could play in the NFL. No one else really believed," Scott said. "I didn't win that many games — I probably won six games in college — but he told me he knew what the NFL was looking for and I had it, and that was the first time anybody told me I had a shot. That was the first time I believed I could make it to the NFL."
Slowed by a five-game suspension his junior season after getting into an argument with his then-defensive coordinator for reportedly eating during a meeting, Scott experienced a rebirth his season campaign.
"The greatest blessing was the hiring of Jerry Kill, who is now at Northern Illinois. I was with him for one year and he gave me an opportunity, let me back onto the football team, and that's why I always give other people second opportunities and chances," Scott said. "I got suspended for an argument and that almost cost me my career. The greatest thing that ever happened to me was going to Southern Illinois, traveling the road I traveled. It built character, it made me hard on the outside. Not easily broken, not easily deterred."
"Love Can Overcome Hate"
But Detroit is home and Scott has never forgotten his roots. He purchased a plot of land near his grandmother's house to turn into a neighborhood playground, provided uniforms, cleats and gloves for Southeastern High in 2005, and most recently replaced stolen bleachers at his alma mater and helped ensure students had a homecoming.
"I asked them what they needed from me and we were able to get the bleachers and have a homecoming game. I was able to help them get whatever they need for a homecoming dance because I felt like that's part of the high school experience and they should be entitled to that, that should be a given," he said. "They go to school, they work hard, they play football, and they should have a homecoming game and a homecoming dance. It made me feel good to be able to help, to be in position to help, just to show the people that took the bleachers that we're not easily broken. With all the hate that they had — love can overcome hate all the time."
There is a fascinating dichotomy within Bart Scott. He is full of rage and full of joy, a man who's experienced great ups and turbulent downs. He'll have a party of 90 cheering him on at Ford Field and he says his mom made sure all paid for their tickets back in July. The Lions might call Detroit home, but Scott says they just play there.
"It's going to be hell to pay. That's my house — they're just occupying it," he said. "Detroit is my house, my city, my fans, my people, so I have to always put a show on for my people. And I'm sure David Harris, Braylon Edwards and Vernon Gholston will be right behind me, so I won't go there empty-handed and I have my goons and my squad behind me as well because they know how important it is for me.
"So Detroit, sorry, but I got to do it."