The decisiveness. The agility. The speed. They all came to a head for Steve Breaston on one 73-yard punt return against Pittsburgh last Sunday, and it was everything the Cardinals sought this offseason.
Arizona was ready to take Devin Hester late in the 2006 NFL draft, but Chicago took the return specialist 15 picks earlier, and the Bears reaped the rewards.
Breaston graduated from Michigan as the Big Ten’s all-time leading kickoff returner (1,993 yards) and tied a school record with four punt returns for touchdowns, so the Cardinals spent their fifth-round pick in the hopes of finding someone of similar mold.
His touchdown return was the Cardinals’ first since 1993, and he was named the NFL special teams player of the week.
Thursday, he referred to his Sunday run as “a kind of poetry.”
The clichè made him smile. Breaston spoke truth.
Steve wasn’t supposed to be born. After three boys, Charlene Breaston had tubal ligation surgery to prevent her eggs from entering the uterus.
When she kept throwing up and two pregnancy tests both came back positive, she cried endlessly. Even after birth, there was initial disappointment Steve wasn’t a girl, but he was quickly accepted into his older brothers’ baseball and football games in North Braddock, Pa.
Meanwhile, his second-oldest brother, David, used to write. Fueled by his brother’s hobby, a love of comic books and a never-ending imagination, the prose has flowed through Steve since middle school.
He was the quietest of the Breaston brothers but quickly found his means of communication with himself and others.
He filled notebooks with thoughts, feelings, emotions, jottings, lines and rhymes, then threw them away.
It wasn’t until high school that Steve kept what he crafted.
“I used to be the same way,” David Breaston said. “I wished I could go back and see what I was doing at the time.”
Steve loves football, but talk to him about rhymes, rhythms and cadences, and his eyes bulge while words flow endlessly from his mouth.
Steve continues to write about everything good, bad, uplifting or somber; Every aspect of him and his surrounding world.
“I don’t write about football,” he said. “I write about the rest of life.”
David knew about Steve’s passion for putting words on paper. No one else was privvy.
Finally in 10th grade, Charlene discovered her son’s proficiency with the pen.
“You didn’t think he would be thinking those things because he doesn’t show emotions and how he’s feeling,” she said. “So when I read some of it I was very enlightened. It put me in a different light with him.”
In high school, he wore Superman shirts beneath his football uniform on game days. He’d daydream in class and turn classes and spiral notebooks into free-form scrawl sessions.
He hasn’t stopped. His computer, Sidekick, and boxes of notebooks are filled with Langston Hughes-inspired cadences. Many are finished works. Many more aren’t.
He wrote “The Alley Kids” as a Michigan sophomore about the neighborhood boys playing baseball, basketball and football to temporarily escape the streets until the jolt of reality returns when the bat and balls are put down and normal life returns.
When his childhood friend, Riard, was shot and killed in the old neighborhood during his senior season, he penned, “Just Standing,” about people’s enjoyment of violence in entertainment and subsequent numbness to it in the real world.
He breaks down authors and poets, dissecting their works down to each line’s structure, flow and verbiage.
“Someone who truly likes to write is rare, and he’s expressive with it,” David Breaston said.
“He’ll share with people truly interested in writing. He’s kind of different like that. He’s passionate about it.”
Teased early on by his teammates in college, Steve shrugged off the playful mocking and instead went to poetry readings around campus and open mic nights.
Though he’d like to have his works published someday — or, at least, put into bound volumes — he’s concentrating on getting upfield and fair catches until season’s end.
“It’s his gift,” said Cardinals defensive tackle and former Michigan teammate Alan Branch. “We all have something. His is creating.”