Denny's prodigal son

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:31 AM ET

Like millions of football fans worldwide, Denny Creehan will stretch out on the couch Sunday, mesmerized by the Super Bowl extravaganza, beer and potato chips stationed at arm's length.

Yet unlike most pigskin pundits, the Calgary Stampeders defensive co-ordinator will derive more pleasure from the game knowing he played a role in helping one player climb to football's pinnacle.

Creehan coached New England Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham at South Dakota -- contribution enough. But more importantly, he helped counsel the dejected kid to stay in school when he was determined to stomp home to Iowa, throwing away his football future and a full scholarship.

"When he was a true freshman in his first training camp, after a couple of days he decided he was going to go home and give up football," recalls Creehan, head coach at South Dakota for five seasons (1992-96).

"His dad had a fit. He was just sick over it because he was giving up a full ride.

"I said, 'Listen Matt, lots of freshman go through doubts and it's typical when that happens, so just go home and take a couple of days off and think about it. If you decide to come back, just give me a call.'

"His dad called me not too long after and said the kid had made a real mistake and he brought him back himself and we all sat in my office. Matt realized himself he'd made a real mistake. We obviously didn't want to lose a great kid and a great player, so we welcomed him back.

"I'm sure it was hard for him to eat crow like that but he did and went on to start for us ... travelled, played, lettered with us. It's hard for a kid to come back like that and he did it and made a great career for himself."

Chatham played receiver and safety in high school but Creehan brought him in with designs on beefing him up for a linebacker spot. Almost from the first day on the field, Chatham was perfectly suited for his new role.

"When he got to South Dakota his nickname from the other players was 'Psycho,' " Creehan says with a chuckle. "He loved to hit and I loved that about him. He was a tall, skinny kid in high school and we knew, if he dedicated himself in the weight room, he'd fill out because he was a big kid. We knew he'd come up and knock the crap out of people."

Chatham, 27, originally signed with St. Louis in 1999 as a rookie free agent. He was claimed off waivers by the Pats the following year and has earned two Super Bowl rings. He could be fitted with a third Sunday night.

Although seeing duty mostly on special teams, the 6-ft. 4-in., 250-pounder started four games at outside linebacker in 2003.

"He must be good enough to make a contribution because they've kept him around a long time on a real good defence," Creehan says.

Although Creehan says he and Chatham haven't talked for a few years, he'll be tuning into the Super Bowl with added interest because he played a role in a career that almost ended before it began.

"You always take pride in helping get a kid started like that," notes Creehan, who coached Chatham two years before moving to Arkansas State as defensive co-ordinator in '97.

"I didn't get to see Matt grow all the way but I knew he was going to be a good one. It's a great thrill to watch one of your former players have so much success. The fact that he came back and finished school, got his degree and graduated is satisfaction enough but the fact he went on to play in the NFL and has all these Super Bowl rings..."


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