MIAMI -- What should be the time of Terance Mathis' life has instead become a time for introspection and revelation.
The Atlanta Falcons receiver has chosen the Super Bowl stage to announce that he has been battling a drinking problem and that he has been deeply troubled by the lack of recognition for his accomplishments.
He also confessed that he considered retiring after the 1996 season because he was upset that the team charter nearly left without him for the final game at Jacksonville.
"It's been chewing at me for a long time," Mathis said Tuesday of the fact he has hidden a drinking problem. "This was one of the obstacles I've overcome to reach this week. If I can overcome that, a lot of teen-age boys or girls can overcome that, also. We are human. We are role models. We have to take responsibility for the youth."
Mathis said he decided to come clean during Super Bowl week because he felt guilty about receiving publicity for his charity work in Atlanta and other cities. His T.L.C. Foundation provides food, clothing and shelter to disadvantaged children.
After admitting in a newspaper interview that he has checked into a motel on some nights in recent years because he was too impaired to drive home, Mathis said Tuesday that he turned to the bottle because he was under-appreciated for his 111-catch season in 1994.
He said he realized his drinking was out of control because of several near-misses while behind the wheel of his car.
"My responsibility to the youth is to try to be the best I can be, not only on the field but off the field," he said. "If I'm going to talk to you about not doing drugs and drinking and driving, I've got to live that way."
Asked if he has quit drinking, Mathis said he has the problem under control, although he hasn't given it up completely.
"I've had a beer or two in the last couple of days," he said. "But (Monday) was a very, very good day for me. I did not have a drink or have a desire to have a drink. I don't think I'm going to have that craving anymore."
Speaking with surprising candor to large group of media types, Mathis said he nearly retired after the Falcons went 3-13 in 1996. He was angry not only about the plane nearly leaving without him, but also not catching a pass in a 19-17 loss to the Jaguars.
"I was a couple of minutes late and I could see them closing the doors, about to leave without me," he said. "I couldn't believe that. Then we get to the game and I didn't catch a ball. I was a little hurt. Maybe I took it too personal, but I was hurt."
Of course, Mathis did stay on when Dan Reeves took over as coach in 1997. Despite skeptics' projections that he would never fit in with Reeves' run-oriented offense, Mathis had a productive '97 season and an exceptional '98 season in which he 64 passes for 1,136 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He added five catches for 71 yards in the divisional playoff win over San Francisco, and six for 73 and two touchdowns in the NFC championship game victory over Minnesota.
"This is the first opportunity in my career where I can speak about Terance Mathis and not be asked about Jamal Anderson or Chris Chandler or the defense or Dan Reeves," Mathis said. "I had an opportunity ... to speak about Terance."
The first indication that Mathis was troubled coming to the Super Bowl came last Sunday, when he complained about Reeves allowing Pro Bowl players and 10-year veterans to exit the plane first. The fact that he has not been selected to the Pro Bowl has been a sore spot with Mathis.
"I'm not going to apologize for it because it wasn't an attempt to separate myself from the team or my teammates to separate themselves from me," Mathis said Tuesday. "We're mature enough to let that be and go on with the rest of the week."
Mathis' wife of 18 months, Arnedia, recently had a baby girl, and the added responsibility has weighed heavily on Terance.
"Ever since my wife has come into my life, I have been truly blessed," he said. "If I'm going to grow in my faith, I'm going to have to let some of those demons out of the closet to clear my heart. I have done that. I feel very good about that. I'm at peace today."
NOTES -- The Falcons did not practice Tuesday, but they had meetings, and the players were given the full Super Bowl game plan for the first time. ... Offensive tackle Bob Whitfield was added to the Pro Bowl squad because Willie Roaf of the New Orleans Saints will not be able to participate. Whitfield, who was a first alternate, becomes the sixth Falcon who'll be headed to Hawaii next week. ... Defensive end Lester Archambeau said the sprained ankle that has kept him out of practice since the NFC championship game feels better and that he expects to start in the Super Bowl. .. The coaches experimented with rookie guard Bob Hallen at fullback in Monday's practice at the University of Miami. Hallen, a second-round pick, has played as a third tight end in goal-line situations in recent weeks.
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