Getting Madden

A McKinney family sues Fox for sacking a young quarterback's dream

Robert Richardson Sr. knew when he brought the suit against Fox and Madden that he would open a whole new can of trouble, which is why he waited almost a year to file it. He says he thought long and hard about reopening his son's wound, which has been slow to heal.

He refers to his son as the innocent victim in all of this. Rob did not ask John Madden to come watch him play. He did not seek out Fox and beg the network to film him. He did not plead to be on television. According to the Richardsons, Fox offered him the world and instead gave him nothing but heartbreak and embarrassment, and all he did was go out there and throw the football like he has ever since he was 8 years old.

"They took the truest thing in his life and trashed it for him to the point that he didn't want to play ball anymore," Robert Sr. says. "For those guys to leave a 14-year-old kid sitting in a football stadium with all these expectations and all these great things that were fixing to happen to him, and not to have the decency to come up there and say anything and leave him sitting there is the coldest, cruelest thing I think you could ever do to anybody."

In an instant, a hopeful kid became a cynical young man, courtesy of the big-money world of pro sports and the billion-dollar industry that fights for the rights to broadcast football to millions of people each week. Rob didn't ask to be famous, and he sure didn't ask to be humiliated. So his father went ahead and filed suit, he says, for one simple reason: Nobody messes with my boy.

Robert Richardson Sr. does not need Fox's money. He has his own, courtesy of his McKinney steel plant and an oil-field equipment business. He lives in McKinney in one of those Texas ranch homes most people only dream about--the kind with a winding driveway that leads from the road to the house, the kind that sits on so many acres you can't walk them all in a day, the kind with horse stables and a wooden back porch that faces a swimming pool and a grand, big-sky vista that exists in fiction. He has a boat in Florida, a deer lease, and several shiny new pickup trucks sitting in that long driveway.

Robert Sr. says this lawsuit is not about greed, it's about revenge: He doesn't necessarily want Fox's money; he just wants the network's attention. That said, he also wants Fox to literally pay for the emotional distress inflicted on his son. A kid can only take being called a liar for so long. Eventually, it takes its toll.

Rob Richardson looks like the kind of kid born to play quarterback. His room, filled with balls signed by Aikman and Dan Marino and Joe Montana and a handful of other football greats, is a shrine to his love for the game. He's so all-American, his breath practically smells like apple pie; he's 16 now, but looks much older at certain angles, his brown hair so perfect even when tousled, his chin so proud when clenched. He will walk around the house wearing nothing but jeans, proud of an upper torso that seems sculpted in soft focus--he still has, after all, the body of a child.

He doesn't speak much, certainly not of the incident behind the lawsuit. He lets his father do that; Rob will answer questions about it, but he will not offer anything unsolicited. He prefers that the whole thing just disappear, and he worries that an article about the messy affair will only rekindle the teasing from his classmates, which has just barely subsided. He gives only short answers to long questions; he's polite and reserved, and you could almost mistake him for shy, though his father and mother insist the whole incident with Fox has hardened him.

How did you end up playing quarterback instead of running back or wide receiver?

"I chose to try to play quarterback," says Rob.
What did you like about that position?
"It's more fun. More challenging."
Do you like being in charge? Directing the team?
"Yeah."

Were your heroes quarterbacks? Obviously you must have been a Cowboy fan. Did you always like Aikman?

"I watched Troy and Roger Staubach and some players like them."
What do you like about the way Aikman plays?
"He makes stuff happen."

Rob began playing ball when he was 8 years old, quarterbacking the Boys' Club flag football team in McKinney. His father, who grew up in Pleasant Grove and played football at W.W. Samuell High School and later at Austin College in Sherman, encouraged him to join the team after seeing an ad in the McKinney Courier-Gazette, and Robert Sr. coached his son until the sixth grade.

In 1994, Rob started playing in a tackle league in neighboring Allen. Around that time, he began attending quarterback camps at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Florida, where he studied the game with famed coach Steve Spurrier. He also took top quarterback honors at the Jason Garrett Quarterback and Receiver Camp held at East Texas State University in Commerce. He has the medal and newspaper clipping framed and hanging in his bedroom above a black-and-white picture of his mother's father, who was a football coach in Florida for 30 years.

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