Originally created 11/30/03

Tech's A.J. Suggs ends career



ATLANTA - Three hundred thirty-three days.

It's a long time to feel worthless - 333 days. It's a long time to be forgotten - 333 days.

It's a long time between snaps. It's a long time between boos.

After 333 days, Georgia Tech's A.J. Suggs returned from Siberia to rewrite the ending to his football career. He stepped out of the land of misfit quarterbacks on Saturday, and for the briefest of moments felt like he fit again.

No, Suggs didn't do anything particularly heroic. He didn't even make a dent in the 17-point deficit he inherited. Georgia Tech lost to Georgia, 34-17. They would have lost to Georgia with or without him.

But just a week shy of his 23rd birthday and facing a lifetime of applying his management degree, Suggs got to play again. Sure, he got booed on his second snap when he threw a bullet pass incomplete. But at least they were booing him. At least they knew he was alive.

"Considering the circumstances, I'm proud," Suggs said. "Not pleased, but proud."

For 333 days, Suggs has swallowed his pride. He has lived with the notion that his denouement had been prematurely archived. On Dec. 31, 2002, Suggs threw potentially his last pass with 26 seconds remaining in the first half of the Silicon Valley Bowl. It went into the scoring summary as a 48-yard touchdown - for Fresno State.

"Don't remind me," he said of the interception.

Suggs was benched immediately by Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey, replaced after 13 starts by a player who would throw four second-half interceptions to seal the Yellow Jackets' bowl defeat. Eight months later Suggs was exiled, forced out of a job by a true freshman who would be revered as a hero and savior while winning fewer games than Suggs as a starter.

Then after 333 days, Suggs was summoned from his personal Elba when that hero, Reggie Ball, left the game with an apparent concussion.

"That's a tough position to put a guy in," said Gailey, the man who put him there. "He did some good and his did some bad."

Even after 333 days, fans booed Suggs' first incomplete pass. Welcome back from purgatory, kid.

"I've learned ... I don't play this game for fans," he said. "I play it for myself and for my team and for my family. Fans are fans. Some love you, some hate you."

Suggs' family was there Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. His parents, Mike and Judy, escorted him onto the field before the game with all the other senior players and parents. They heard the tepid applause for their son and figured that would be the last of it.

But a funny thing happened on the way to being a former football player. Ball got hurt. Suggs got one last chance.

"I think they'll be pleased that I was able to get on the football field one last time," he said of his parents after throwing two interceptions and two perfect touchdown passes.

Suggs knows all about the adversity-makes-you-stronger spiel. He was the starter at the most high-profile position in football for a full season, and then he was nothing. Forgotten. Lost so far down the bench he seemed completely detached from all the other guys wearing the same uniform. He wasn't even deemed worthy of a token garbage-time snap.

Suggs was relegated to the where-are-they-now file while still on the active roster. He was harder to find on the Yellow Jackets bench than Eric Rudolph in the North Carolina mountains.

As disenchanted as he had to be, Suggs didn't sulk. He didn't lash out at his persecution. He didn't undermine his team. He didn't second guess his decision to transfer from Tennessee so he could play for Georgia Tech.

"You can't do that," he said. "When I made my decision to come here, at the time it was for the right reasons. You can't predict anything. You take it as it goes."

Suggs now shrugs at his lot in football. If Ball resumes his starting job in the bowl game and Suggs never plays again, he can live with that.

Suggs at least got to write another ending. It wasn't perfect by any means. But it was better.

"I'm definitely glad I got a chance to play," he said. "I'm definitely going to take some good away. My last throw was a touchdown."

For Georgia Tech. Small consolation, but for one man it can last a lifetime.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.