Defining Moment

IRVING, Texas - The night of Jan. 13, 2003 started out no different than many others in the life of Dwayne Goodrich.

He went out with friends. Went to eat, then to a few clubs and partied until closing time. For Goodrich, still a member of the Cowboys, he had to get up early the next day, which likely included an offseason workout at the team's Valley Ranch complex.

Little did Goodrich know he wouldn't be returning to the Cowboys' headquarters for more than nine years.

That hiatus ended last month as Goodrich spoke to the current Cowboys' rookie club, sharing his story, which included an important lesson. For Goodrich, the team's top pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, his message was short, albeit a powerful one: Seize the Moment.

Now the moment for these guys is simple. They've recently joined the most recognizable franchise in all of sports and have their entire football careers ahead of them.

But Goodrich wants them all to realize how quickly it can end. His moment on the field was fading fast on Jan. 13 as he had yet to come close to reaching the high expectations placed upon him during his three years in the NFL. But by Jan. 14, his career, his good name and his freedom suddenly vanished – all because of how Goodrich handled ... *his moment. *

By now, the story isn't new. It's been told several times, but rarely by Goodrich, who was released last October after spending more than six years in prison following a fatal hit-and-run accident that didn't just cost Goodrich his football career, but two lives as well.

Those two people, Damont Matthews and Joseph Wood, were two of the three good Samaritans trying to rescue an unconscious driver in a stalled car that was in flames on the highway that night. Goodrich tried to swerve past the car and slammed into all three victims, killing Matthews instantly. Wood died on the way to the hospital and Shuki Josef was left with a shattered leg.

To make matters worse, Goodrich panicked and fled the scene, driving home. He would turn himself into the police the next day, but by then, investigators had already found a side mirror from his BMW Sedan that remained at the accident and had identified Goodrich's car as being involved.

Nine years later, it's not an easy story for Goodrich to tell. But, he's certainly trying.

"It's definitely hard when you know you took the lives of two people. I don't think it will ever get easy to talk about," said the 33-year-old Goodrich, who spent six years at the Wallace Unit in Colorado City, Texas. "I can't explain it. It's something I don't enjoy talking about, but I know people need to hear it. The first time I told the story, I literally balled for 20 minutes. I'm talking about snot coming out of my nose. But I want people to hear my story and I want people to be able to go out there and not make those silly mistakes."

While Goodrich isn't selective in who hears his story, he's especially interested in telling his experience to young athletes, particularly the ones who share his background.

That's why returning to Valley Ranch on May 24 was a special moment for Goodrich, and not just because it was his first trip back to his former workplace.

"It's a blessing to be able to walk back in and still feel some of the love from some of the guys that I saw when I was playing," Goodrich said. "It's definitely a humbling experience. It still looked the same. They've got a bunch of different pictures now of the current guys and the current team. It looks a little bit different, but still pretty much the same."

Obviously nothing is really "the same" in Goodrich's life these days. And it all changed in one moment. That's the point he tried to share with the Cowboys' current rookies.

"Every choice you make has consequences, whether it's good or bad," Goodrich said in his message. "And just seize the moment. That's really what I'm on. Whether you're Morris Claiborne, the sixth overall pick, or Isaac Madison, an undrafted free agent, seize the moment. There's no reason why you can't be the next Romo or no reason you can't be the next Miles Austin and make a few Pro Bowls as an undrafted rookie.

"So, that's really what I want the guys to experience and just take them through the ups and downs of my life, whether it's being a national champion at Tennessee to MVP of the national championship game to the first pick of the Cowboys to going to prison. I want to take them on that rollercoaster ride, so hopefully they understand that every choice you make has a consequence. And when you wear that star on your helmet and you have that NFL logo, it's a privilege to be here, not a right."

Goodrich said he follows the Cowboys closely, and was well aware of both Claiborne and Madison, a rookie free agent from Arkansas. With his Tennessee ties, Goodrich said he keeps a close eye on the SEC, but especially Claiborne, whose defensive backs coach at LSU, John Chavis, coached Goodrich at Tennessee. LSU's current head coach, Les Miles, was tight ends coach for the Cowboys during Goodrich's rookie season in 2000.

"It was very interesting," Claiborne said of the speech. "I know he talked to us for about 45 minutes and a lot of guys had a lot of questions. You could tell they were all into it and paying attention."

Goodrich was in Claiborne's shoes some 12 years ago. OK, so maybe the stakes aren't as high, considering Goodrich was just a second-round pick, the 49th overall selection, while Claiborne went sixth overall.

But the pressure to perform isn't much different.

"I was still the top pick of the Cowboys so it felt like I was still a first-round pick, so to speak, being that I was the first pick of the team that year," Goodrich said. "For me, just the excitement of being there was enough to me."

And that was part of the problem. Goodrich admits he didn't seize his moment. He was too excited about being in the NFL and everything that came with it that he didn't take the extra steps needed to take his game to another level.

That's the message he's trying to relay. Trying to tell Claiborne not to expect great thing because he is the No. 6 overall pick. And trying to tell players like Madison and the 20 some other undrafted rookies not to think the journey is overwhelming because of the starting point.

And Goodrich knows firsthand that players aren't always welcoming to stories like his, especially when they don't see a direct connection. Goodrich said he remembered former Vikings and Eagles receiver Cris Carter speaking to his team at Tennessee, but didn't remember the message hitting home, like it should have.

"Cris came and told us his story about getting suspended out of Ohio State and not being able to play, going into the draft and getting picked up by the Eagles (and) his cocaine addiction," Goodrich said. "But that literally went in one ear and out the other because at that time, I didn't have any addictions. I didn't do cocaine. I'm thinking, this doesn't apply to me. It's completely over my head.

Now, Goodrich is on the other side of the storytelling and realizes what Carter was saying was more of an example.

"It doesn't have to be cocaine. It doesn't have to be alcohol. It could be girls. It could be family members. It could be anything that gets you off focus," Goodrich said. "Anything that gets you to not focus on your goals – any type of outside influence whether it's family, friends, girls, drugs, alcohol. Any one of those things can you get off focus, so I want to touch on all of those things."

PLAYING DAYS

In the spring of 2000, the Cowboys parted ways with one of the greatest football players in NFL history. The release of Deion Sanders signaled a changing of the guard on the team's defense.

They needed to get younger and better in the secondary and despite not having a first-round pick because of a trade that sent two first-rounders in 2000 and 2001 to Seattle for Joey Galloway, it was clear that cornerback was going to be addressed.

The Cowboys would take three corners out of five draft picks in 2000, starting with Goodrich, a stocky cornerback who was remembered most for his stellar junior season in 1998. He not only starred on Tennessee's national championship team, but he was the MVP of the BCS national championship game, when he shut down Florida State standout Peter Warrick and had the game-clinching interception return for a touchdown.

Jason Witten was being heavily recruited by Tennessee at that time and remembers the "legend" status Goodrich had in Knoxville.

"Everyone always talked about him and having the right approach and working hard every day," Witten said. "He was a guy that everyone viewed as a leader on and off the field."

Although his senior season in 1999 was more injury plagued, Goodrich was still drafted No. 49 overall.

"I thought I would play for 10 or 12 years, get to a few Pro Bowls, obviously hopefully win a couple of Super Bowls with the Cowboys and stuff like that," said Goodrich, who signed a four-year, $2.4 million contract. "Definitely that's what I thought initially."

But even then it didn't sound like the Cowboys were completely convinced about his services. Current DallasCowboys.com football analyst Bryan Broaddus, a former pro scout who spent six seasons with the Cowboys from 1999-2005, said drafting Goodrich was a poor example of the overall scouting process.

"It's about trusting the scouts and trusting their view," Broaddus said. "We had scouts that had some questions about his competitiveness and how tough he really was. But ultimately, we listened to his college coach. He had more weight than the scouts. Our scouts had him pegged cold. It just shows you how far the process has really come."

It was also believed the Cowboys nearly drafted Florida State's Mario Edwards with the second-round selection, but instead opted for Goodrich. Edwards would eventually go to Dallas in the sixth round.

So Goodrich arrived with question marks internally and didn't do much of anything to answer them. Even his new teammates didn't seem that convinced.

"When I first saw Dwayne Goodrich, I thought he looked like a safety," said Pro Bowl safety Darren Woodson. "He just didn't look like a cornerback. And he didn't really play like one. He wasn't all that fast. But he was really smart player. I think he would've been a great safety if he had played there the entire time."

Instead he was trying to find his way at cornerback. Needless to say, Goodrich never found it.

Goodrich was nothing but a role player as a rookie in 2000. Instead he sat by and watched the team's other draft picks perform. Kareem Larrimore, a fourth-rounder, started four games as a rookie, and then Edwards started later in the season before eventually becoming a regular on the first team.

But Goodrich had little impact as a rookie and then suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in training camp of 2001. While he battled back to make the 53-man roster in 2002, he was still a reserve player who didn't contribute much on the field. In three seasons, Goodrich started only one game and had no interceptions for his career.

So it begs the question: Were the Cowboys simply wrong about Goodrich or did he not put forth enough effort to succeed?

Goodrich leans toward the latter.

"For me, I didn't set goals when I got here," Goodrich said. "When I was playing in high school and college, I actually set goals. When I got to Dallas, I felt like I already accomplished my goal of getting to the NFL. When I didn't set goals, it allowed a lot of outside influences to get me off track."

Woodson said Goodrich was too worried about other things in his life to be a great player.

"He was just young and dumb with money in his pocket," Woodson said. "He went out all the time, and he wasn't as focused as he needed to be. Just never consistent. One day he'd be pretty good in practice where you think he might be getting it. The next day he'd fall asleep in a meeting."

During a prison interview in 2009 for ESPN's E:60 series, Goodrich described his career rather bluntly. "It was a bust. I really didn't accomplish anything I set out to do."

JAN. 13, 2003

The night would change Goodrich's life forever and tragically end the lives of two others. Over the years, there have been different stories and reports about the accident, which occurred in Dallas on I-35.

No place has it been replayed more than in the head of Goodrich, who has had nothing but time to relive the moment. So it's only fitting to let him recall the entire evening that altered his life so dramatically.

*"OK, obviously it was Jan. 13, 2003. It was about two weeks after the season. I was at the house with two cousins. We were sitting around the house, playing PlayStation. We decided to head to a few restaurants and a few clubs after that. *

  • "So I went out, it was a typical night – about 9 or 10 of us going out. I had about two drinks that night. At about midnight, I decided to stop drinking because I knew I had to go home. So about 2:30, I'm heading up I-35 and another accident took place in front of me. And I was following behind an SUV and when she swerved to the right, I slammed on my breaks and that's when I finally first saw the car that was stalled in the road. And I couldn't go to the right because there was an 18-wheeler still coming by so I went to the left. *
  • "It was lane four and five and the car was titled sideways in lane four and five. And then when I went there and that's where the three gentlemen were – Demont Matthews, Joseph Wood and Shuki Josef. And Shuki Josef actually had his leg leaning out the car. And I struck all three of them. Demont Matthews died instantly. Joseph Wood (died) on the way to the hospital and Shuki Josef broke a leg. ... And I just left the scene. *
  • "Leaving the scene, I just panicked. Obviously, I made a selfish decision. I saw everything that I had worked for just flash in my face. I had all these thoughts in my head about 'just get to a safe place' and just not knowing how to handle the situation." *

When Goodrich got home, he said he was in a daze and couldn't grasp what had happened. His next call was to his closest friend.

"I called my mom. At this point it was about 3 in the morning and I told my mom and she said, 'Son have you been drinking?' I said, 'Yes, ma'am, I had a few drinks.' And that's when she said we have to start the process of getting you a lawyer and turning yourself in."

Initially, Goodrich told the police he thought he had only struck debris with his BMW Sudan. But deep down, he knew it was much worse.

"I think that at the time I didn't want to realize what had happened," Goodrich recalled. "I don't want to say downplay what happened, but in my mind I couldn't just bring my mind to say I knew that I actually hit somebody, so that's what I tried to tell myself, 'Nah, it wasn't that,' so when I initially talked to the police I told them it was debris or something like that. Just not knowing how to deal with that."

With Goodrich not turning himself in until the next day, it could never be proven if he was legally drunk

He was eventually sentenced to seven years in prison for criminally negligent homicide with a weapon – his car. During the sentence, five more years were added for failure to render aid.

He said the time before his prison sentence was the hardest moments. He was released by the Cowboys soon after the accident and his football career was over. Not only dealing with the uncertainty of his fate, and the constant guilt for the accident, but Goodrich also suffered his own family loss when his brother, Walter, was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2004.

To make it worse, two weeks after he was sentenced to prison, his second child, Dylan, was born.

Once a football star who had his entire future in front of him, Goodrich's world was crashing down like a ton of bricks.

"From the time I was 13 years old, you hear how good you are," Goodrich said. "Nobody tells you anything negative. You feel like you can get out of every situation. You think you're physically strong enough to get out of everything."

But there was no escaping this time.

PRISON LIFE:

No matter where you go, especially in Texas, there are plenty of Cowboys fans. Prison is no exception to the rule – something Goodrich found out quickly.

"You've got people who will never have the opportunity to make it. So in a sense, they felt like I had made it and I blew that opportunity," Goodrich said. "As far as getting tested, no. I came in there ... I'm a respectful individual so I didn't do anything to disrespect anybody. I did my time in order to get home. I didn't have to worry about that too much."

While some inmates take to different jobs in prison, Goodrich served as a janitor at the chapel, something that allowed him stay indoors and get some time to himself.

Goodrich said he earned respect from the other inmates, and possibly the guards and officers with his daily mentality.

"When I was in prison and I looked at a lot of guys, they obviously looked up to me because I played football, but then they watched how I carried myself around there," Goodrich said. "At this time I'm 27, 28 years old and when I see an officer I'm like 'Yes, sir. No, sir.' And you've got guys from South Dallas, Oak Cliff, they're looking at me like, 'Whoa, here goes this guy who's made a few million dollars and here he is respecting people.' So they watched how I carried myself and I think I earned a lot of respect by that. I mean, I got up and went to work every day and didn't feel like ... I didn't go in there, I'm some athlete so you've got to treat me different. I put on my shoes and my clothes the same way everybody else did and I did my time the way everybody else does."

TURNING POINT:

The parents of the victims sought for a harsher sentence and successfully got their wish when Goodrich was sentenced to five more years for failure to render aid at the scene. But it was during that trial where one of the more powerful moments of Goodrich's life occurred.

Still hurting from the broken leg injury and walking slowly with a cane, Josef approached Goodrich at the bench. An emotional scene included Josef saying "I forgive you ... I'm sorry for you," followed by a forceful hug that led to a tearful breakdown by Goodrich.

"I mean, that was powerful," said Goodrich, who admitted that moment helped him get over his own bitterness toward his friends and family who had stopped writing and visiting while he was incarcerated. "I'm sitting there getting mad at people. When he said that it opened my eyes to a lot of things and I said, 'How can I hold grudges and not forgive people for not being as supportive as I'd like, but here I am asking these victims' families to forgive me and this victim to forgive me for taking two lives and critically injuring another?' So it kind of put things in perspective for me so when he did that, that helped me out a lot."

With no incidents during his prison time, Goodrich was able to get out of prison on parole in October of 2011.

Greeted by his mother as he walked out to freedom, Goodrich called it one of the happiest days of his life.

NOW WHAT?

Initially after the accident, Goodrich said he was so embarrassed by the events, he could barely show his face to anyone, causing him to isolate himself as much as possible.

Now, he's had plenty of isolation and Goodrich is ready to share his story and experiences with as many people as possible, especially younger athletes.

Goodrich has a cousin, Xavier Avery, who recently was called up to the Major Leagues by the Baltimore Orioles.

"I call him about once a week and just let him know you're a young rookie and you need to be the first one in and the last one to leave," Goodrich said. "Just the things that I didn't do. I felt like I arrived. I just want to give those kids a different perspective."

Goodrich is working with another cousin in The Colony, a nearby suburb of Dallas, working on speed and agility training. He also meets with them individually about life lessons where he can also share his experiences.

Goodrich said there is a long-term goal in the works.

"Yeah, definitely. I'm working on a non-profit organization right now, the Dwayne Goodrich Foundation," he said. "We're going to go out and obviously tell my story to kids, do football camps and obviously get into college freshmen orientations and talk about the dangers of drinking on college campuses, drinking and driving, things like that. Just get out there and inform people to make the right choices."

And just like he was some 11 years earlier, Darren Woodson still serves as a mentor for Goodrich. Woodson said he's spoken to Goodrich about five times since he's been out of prison and is "willing to help him with anything he needs."

In talking to Goodrich lately, Woodson said he saw something he had never seen over the three years as his teammate.

"The first thing I noticed about Goody when he got out and I saw him for the first time ... was that he finally looked me in the eyes," Woodson said. "That's the first time I can remember that. He wasn't a confident person at all. But now he's grown up. It's sad what had to happen to get there. But after all he's been through, I think he gets the big picture. He's accepted what he's been through. It's not going to be easy, but he needs to figure it out to find his way back in life."

Goodrich knows he will never forget what happened on Jan. 13, 2003. More importantly, he doesn't want to.

"I carry it with me. I know a lot of people tell me: 'You should forget that night.' I carry it with me because it keeps me focused," Goodrich said. "It keeps me focused on going out there and making a difference and going out there to be the best positive role model and turning a negative situation into a positive."

"Not that many people get the opportunity to play for the Dallas Cowboys. Not that many people get the chance to play in the NFL and to jeopardize it, to lose your opportunity the way that I did ... it hurts. But it makes it a little easier and when I go out there and tell my story and I can see the feedback, that gives me (a feeling) like everything didn't happen in vain. Those two young men didn't lose their life for no reason."

Dwayne Goodrich failed to seize his moment. It cost him his career, and more importantly, the lives of two precious people he never knew.

But now he's making sure his friends, family and anyone else willing to listen won't let their moment come and go like he did nearly a decade ago.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.
Advertising