FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Dan Reeves was right about Tommy Maddox after all.
Of course, it took about a decade longer than either of them expected for things to work out.
Reeves and Maddox, who once seemed interminably linked, will be reunited Sunday - albeit on opposite sides of the field - when the Atlanta Falcons take on the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
"Really and truly, I don't take any credit for where Tommy is right now," Reeves, the Falcons coach, said Wednesday. "I'm glad to see he got an opportunity to show that he's a player."
Maddox has rejuvenated his career in Pittsburgh, leading the Steelers to a 4-1 mark since replacing Kordell Stewart as the starting quarterback. This is sort of what Reeves had in mind when, as coach of the Denver Broncos, he made Maddox a first-round pick in 1992.
"He's shown and I think now knows that he can play in this league," Reeves said. "There wasn't any question in my mind when we drafted him that was the case. But you've got to be in the right place at the right time."
Reeves and Maddox kept trying to find the right place - three teams in all - but it never worked out.
Maddox left UCLA after his sophomore season at age 20 and entered the draft, where he was projected as a second- or third-round pick. Surprisingly, the Broncos took him No. 25 overall, with Reeves surmising that he had landed a franchise-type quarterback and the eventual successor to John Elway.
As it turned out, the coach was fired after Maddox's rookie season, and his protege made it through only two seasons in Denver before he was given the boot.
In 1995, Reeves and Maddox hooked up again with the New York Giants. Maddox played sparingly in his only season with the Giants, getting released the following year in training camp.
By 1997, Reeves had moved on to the Falcons. Maddox was out of work, so his old coach came through with one more chance in training camp. At this point, their relationship was viewed as something of a joke - a coach who just wouldn't give up on one of his favorite players.
"All of a sudden, I was looked at as his guy," Maddox said Wednesday. "You hear people talking, the things they're saying. You want to go out and prove him right for taking you. You start getting wrapped up in all those things, and you're not playing for the right reasons. You should be playing for the love of the game."
In Atlanta, Maddox didn't even make it to the opening game. He was released in camp, having given little indication he could play in the NFL.
"He didn't even know how to throw an out route," remembered Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan. "He couldn't even get the plays down. Sometimes, you need a wake-up call."
For Maddox, the wake-up call lasted six years - the amount of time he went between regular-season snaps. He sold insurance, played in the Arena Football League and was MVP of the short-lived XFL.
Last year, he landed in Pittsburgh, surprisingly making the team as one of Stewart's backups. Maddox played in only three games, but his career was back on track.
No one was happier than Reeves, who had kept touch with his former quarterback through phone calls and letters.
"You see the things you felt like you saw when you drafted the guy," Reeves said. "He's got the charisma and so forth that you look for in a quarterback. He's always had that."
On Sunday, Reeves and Maddox will face each other for the first time as opponents, in a game matching two of the NFL's hottest teams.
Both the Falcons and the Steelers are 5-3, having rebounded from 0-2 starts to win four of their last five games.
Maddox is looking forward to visiting with Reeves before the game.
"It will be exciting to see him and talk with him a little bit," the quarterback said. "Our paths have crossed every now and then. Something will happen in my life and I'll get a letter from him, or vice versa. I don't get to talk to him as much as I'd like to."
Maddox occasionally wonders how things might have turned out if Reeves had not been fired in Denver. The plan was to give Maddox several years to develop, then hand him the starting job when Elway retired.
"There's a lot of things in my career that could have turned out different," Maddox said. "It's all about timing. You've got to be in the right situation at the right time. Unfortunately, it never happened with Dan."
Reeves doesn't dwell on the past.
"I'm just glad he got an opportunity," he said. "I'm glad to see he's doing well. I just don't wish him a lot of luck this week."
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