Running back Peyton Hillis returns to Cleveland this weekend, a year after the Madden curse impacted him in an unprecedented way.
Hillis wanted a new contract, and his desire to cash in got in the way of his performance.
On Wednesday, Browns left tackle Joe Thomas confirmed what had been long suspected regarding a tumultuous season that included rumors and reports of Hillis using illness and injury as an excuse to demonstrate his displeasure with not getting paid.
“It was a terrible distraction,” Thomas said, via the Associated Press. “He crippled our offense. We were struggling to find anybody who could carry the ball after all the injuries we had. To have Peyton going through a contract dispute and basically refusing to play, it was a big distraction. But more than anything, he was our starting running back that was a good player who was going to help us be a successful offense.
“When he’s not there and you don’t have anybody to turn to, it makes it hard to win. And that’s the distraction, it’s not being successful.”
Hillis became the unexpected workhorse of the Cleveland running game in 2010, after second-round rookie Montarrio Hardesty was injured. Hillis racked up more than 1,100 yards, and he won a popular-vote tournament to become the cover athlete for Madden 12.
“He was everything people knew about him — hard-working, blue-collar, tough, would do anything for anybody on the team,” Thomas said. “All he cared about was winning, and then all of a sudden the next year, all he cared about was trying to get his new contract.”
Thomas specifically pointed to Hillis leaving the team to get married during the season, at a time when he needed treatment for injuries.
“It was kind of one weird thing after another more than anything,” Thomas said. “We have guys getting married during the season and it’s not a big deal. When you’re ‘injured’ [yes, Thomas used air quotes . . . take that, Kuselias] and you should be getting treatment, to go do your own thing repeatedly was just disrespectful more than anything to his teammates.”
Thomas said that players tried to get through to him, to no avail.
“You see a lot of guys in contract disputes, like Matt Forte,” Thomas said. “His solution was, ‘I’m going to go out and prove they have to have me and they can’t play without me.’ The frustrating thing to a lot of teammates was you would try to talk to him and you try to tell him, ‘That’s not the right way to do it if you want to get your big contract.’ He just wouldn’t listen to anybody.
“People who thought they were very close friends with him, he wouldn’t listen to anybody. He thought he knew the right way to do it and it ended up not being the right way and hurting everybody. Not just himself. It was a tough situation.”
Hillis ultimately signed a one-year deal with the Chiefs. Thanks to the comments from Thomas, who admirably went on the record and didn’t hide behind anonymity, it’s safe to say that Hillis will receive a less-than-warm welcome when he re-enters the Factory of Sadness on Sunday.