Through the haze of his troubled past, Josh Gordon still sees a bright future.
Only he can save it.
Declaring himself “clean and sober” and committed to reviving his NFL career, Gordon embarked on yet another new start with the Cleveland Browns, a team he has teased with his immense talent and deeply disappointed.
One week after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell conditionally reinstated the oft-suspended former Pro Bowl wide receiver, Gordon, who hasn’t played since the end of the 2014 season, said his long-term professional goal hasn’t changed from making an indelible mark on the game.
“Ultimately my goal is to be the best wide receiver of all time,” he said in his first media session since returning to the Browns. “For me, that’s always been my goal, and it’s just been re-affirmed for me time and time again and now being back in the situation to do it, I plan on seeing it through.”
But before he can get back on the field, Gordon has to prove he can maintain his sobriety while earning the trust of new teammates who only know him through highlight tapes.
His body hardened by a renewed commitment to training, the 26-year-old Gordon remained mostly guarded during two interview sessions on Wednesday.
His first had to be cut short because Gordon had to be at a team meeting, so he was later brought into the facility’s media center where Gordon answered questions while standing next to black-and-white photos of Hall of Famers Otto Graham, Marion Motely and Dante Lavelli.
Once a budding superstar, Gordon has become better known for blowing his chances along with millions of dollars in the process.
But following a nearly three-year absence from the field and a recent rehab stay of more than 100 days, Gordon feels he’s finally on the right path.
“I’m in a good spot,” he said. “I know I have the support in place outside and inside the building. My life is just in a conducive space of where I need to be for me psychologically, physically. It’s all come together. Right now at this point in my life I’m feeling well. I’m feeling great.”
After reporting to the Browns on Tuesday, Gordon met with coach Hue Jackson, who outlined his expectations for the receiver.
“I was really impressed sitting across from Josh and talking to him,” said Jackson, who had Gordon in training camp last year before he checked into rehab. “It was different than the time a year ago. I saw a young man who was a lot more mature, who understood exactly where he is and what he was trying to accomplish and do. We touched several different subjects, and I will keep that between me and him. I was very pleased with where Josh was.
“He looks in tremendous shape, and there is a different look in his eye. I am excited that he is here.”
Gordon is only permitted to attend team meetings and work out on his own until Nov. 20, when he can begin practicing with the Browns. As long as there are no setbacks, and Gordon remains clean, he’ll be eligible to play on Dec. 3 on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers.
In the meantime, the Browns intend to help Gordon in any way they can. Jackson said he will be monitored, but not like a child.
“It starts with him,” Jackson said. “He is a grown man and so we are going to treat him that way, but we are going to do everything we can to support him. He knows my phone is on 24-7, and that is not just with him but with all of our players. I just think that is one of the huge keys. If you know that somebody is going to be there for you and going to help you through whatever, you have a chance of making it.
“We wish the best for him, and we want him to make it. Obviously, I think he does too this time.”
Gordon was on a trajectory to fame and fortune when he caught 87 passes for a league-leading 1,646 yards in 2013. His blend of size and speed separated Gordon from his peers and there seemed to be no limits to his potential.
Gordon, though, couldn’t escape the allure of alcohol and drugs that first seduced him in his early teens and a cycle of suspensions, rehab stays and appeals for forgiveness followed. He has broken promises, betrayed trusts and risked his life to get high.
Earlier this week, Gordon revealed in an interview with GQ magazine that he either drank or smoked marijuana before every game of his career in college and the pros. Gordon, who has been suspended for 51 of Cleveland’s past 56 games, refused to detail any of his prior abuse and said all that matters is how he feels presently.
“I know I’m clean and sober,” Gordon said. “I’m looking forward to that. I think the ceiling is very high.”