New-born desire

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

Vinny Sutherland doesn't need to make the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to overcome any demons.

That chapter of his life has been completed.

The 27-year-old receiver, who had a standout rookie season with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers in 2001, wants to get back in the game for his new son.

"That decided this," Sutherland said of Vinny Jr.'s birth 17 months ago. "I wanted to do it one more time. Seeing him ... I knew I could do it."

Four years ago, Sutherland didn't have the inspiration of a newborn. He was fresh out of Purdue University and found himself as the 49ers starting kick returner.

Sutherland's family didn't have a lot of money when he was growing up in West Palm Beach, Fla., but now he had plenty of cash. That and the relative fame of being a pro athlete took him down faster than any special teams tackler could.

ON THE HOUSE

He blew past lineups at bars. Sometimes drinks would be on the house. The prime booths were reserved.

"All that stupid s--t, because that's what it is. It's stupid," Sutherland said. "You think you're a somebody, but you're ... I was being a big loser."

He didn't drink every day, but he went hard when he did.

"When I drank, it wasn't for the taste. It wasn't to talk to girls. It wasn't to hang out," he said. "It was to get drunk.

"I guess at that time drunk was good. ... After games I was usually s--t-faced. That's the way I remember it."

Sutherland should have been having the time of his life, but it wasn't happening.

"Things were going well on the field," he said, "but every time we had down time, it just seemed like I would get in ruts, and I had a couple buddies out there that felt the same way I did.

"We would just go out, and it led to nothing but tragedies for me."

Sutherland was charged with driving under the influence and reckless driving on Sept. 14, 2001, but the DUI charge was dropped. He was given two years probation.

Then, on May 18, 2002, Sutherland drove his car into two light posts and a tree. He fled the scene and was eventually found in some bushes a mile away.

This time, however, there were going to be repercussions, because he had blown off the alcohol rehabilitation program he was required to attend after the first incident. There was a warrant for his arrest.

He pleaded no contest to the DUI and hit-and-run charges. He spent 20 days in prison.

"I did the rehab, and let's put it this way: I never want to do another one. That was rough," said Sutherland, who was a favourite target of Drew Brees at Purdue. "I've seen people that have just ruined their lives. I'd like to think that my circumstance for being there was different, but who would've said in another 10 years I wouldn't have been where they were?

"I never took drugs. Never. Ever. Mine was just drinking and 'What the hell, I'll drive.' That kind of stuff. I almost killed myself."

The 49ers released him on Aug. 26, 2002. He then joined the Chicago Bears but dressed for only eight games.

Sutherland didn't play football in 2003 and joined the Arena Football League's New York Dragons in January 2004. That stint lasted only two games because he missed his son too much.

Now Vinny Jr. has guided him north to the CFL, where he would love nothing more than to earn a job.

"I'm definitely dependable," the 5-foot-9, 190-pound speedster said. "And I feel that once I have the ball I'm pretty dangerous."


Photos