There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Bobby Beathard sure could pick ’em. Several players that the former Redskins general manager drafted way back in 1985, in fact, have had quite a year in 2001.
In January, for example, Raphel Cherry, a college quarterback briefly transformed into a starting safety, found out what he’ll be doing for the next 30 years. He’ll be doing 30 years. For murdering his wife.
Then this summer, 10th rounder Terry Orr, the unsung hero of Super Bowl XXII and by all accounts a real locker-room leader, finally got some attention for his dealings with teammates. According to the courts, Orr ripped off a host of fellow former Skins and business associates to the tune of a few hundred thousand dollars. In August, the tight end was granted a residence in the federal penitentiary.
Twelve days after Orr was put away, eighth-rounder Barry Wilburn, a pro bowl defensive back who once wore the No. 45 jersey for the Redskins, was assigned a new number: Lockup No. 74, courtesy of D.C. Jail, for allegedly attempting an armed robbery of three pedestrians near Dupont Circle.
Jock apologists like to say that the actions of those in the sports world simply mirror what happens in the rest of society. The Redskins class of ’85 seems to put the lie to that. So few draft picks, so many criminals.
Yeah, Beathard sure could pick ’em.
Over his illustrious Skins career, Beathard proved that he was qualified to do more than stock the roster for Burt Reynolds’ jailhouse squad in The Longest Yard. He was, after all, the architect of three Super Bowl teams here. To be fair, the GM’s top job was to acquire talent, not character. And for all the dirty deeds that members have done of late, on talent alone, this was a bumper crop.
There were mistakes even on the talent end, however. Beathard’s top pick in 1985, Tory Nixon, was an absolute bust. Even before the season started, the Redskins cut their losses and pawned him off on the 49ers.
A lot of general managers have lost their jobs for wasting a top pick, but the unexpected emergence of fellow rookies Cherry and Wilburn in the defensive backfield saved Beathard from total humiliation and gave the Skins D the depth that Nixon was supposed to provide.
Wilburn, in particular, was a diamond in the rough. By 1987, he was not only starting but more than holding his own in comparison with playing partner Darrell Green. “Once Darrell Green’s weak sister, Wilburn is fast becoming Green’s better half,” the Washington Post’s Richard Justice wrote of Wilburn. Wilburn led the entire NFL in interceptions that season, made the All-Pro team, and was invited to the Pro Bowl. His 100-yard interception return against the Vikings in the last game of the season still stands as a team record. In the Skins 42-10 blowout of the Denver Broncos in the 1987 Super Bowl, Wilburn had two interceptions.
His slide from All-Pro toward America’s Most Wanted began in 1989, when he tested positive for cocaine the week of the Skins season opener against the Giants. After additional positive tests, he was suspended by the league and missed the last eight games of the year. He was arrested for driving drunk in Fairfax County in March 1990, when cops spotted him going 34 mph in a 55 mph zone. He got a 60-day suspended sentence on the DWI charge. Later that year, Wilburn was sentenced to serve 10 days for driving with a suspended license. The Redskins cut him in May 1990. He bounced around to other NFL teams for a while, and, at 37, even tried a comeback this year with the Memphis Maniax of the ill-fated XFL.
But he hasn’t been able to clean up his off-the-field act. According to news accounts, on the morning of Aug. 29, a D.C. cop spotted Wilburn chasing three men on New Hampshire Avenue. The men told the officer that Wilburn had demanded money and pulled a knife, but, rather pathetically given Wilburn was a guy who had once chased down the likes of Jerry Rice, they were able to run away from the former football star. When Wilburn was taken in, police found that he was wanted on an outstanding warrant for possession of marijuana. He is now awaiting trial on charges of attempted robbery while armed. The report filed by the D.C. Pretrial Services Agency about Wilburn doesn’t reveal anything about his former status. Instead, the document says the defendant has “no fixed address” and “no visible means” of income.
There’s also this morsel: “Defendant indicates having never used illegal drugs.”
The fall of Orr, who had a reputation as a straight shooter, is particularly surprising. A running back during his days at the University of Texas, Orr was a special-teams standout and leader during his 10 years with the Redskins. His shining moment came during the first half of Super Bowl XXII, when he fought to the bottom of the pile at the Redskins 16-yard line to recover a fumble by teammate Ricky Sanders on a kickoff, with his team trailing 10-0. Teammates and sports columnists alike said that Orr’s hustle turned the game around for the Skins.
He showed leadership off the field, too. Rep. Henry Hyde hailed Orr for his volunteer work during a 1997 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. In 1999, Gov. James Gilmore thought enough of Orr to reappoint him to the board of the Virginia Baseball Authority.
But Orr likely soiled his good name for good this year. According to federal prosecutors, he used his reputation to bilk friends and associates, including Art Monk, Brian Mitchell, and Raleigh McKenzie (another member of the Redskins’ ’85 draft class), out of as much as $50,000 each in an investment scam. Before being sentenced for wire fraud on Aug. 17, Orr tried to persuade a U.S. District court judge that he was guilty only of putting “too much trust” in the wrong folks. The judge called Orr’s tale “malarkey” and gave him 14 months in the pen.
Cherry’s saga is plainly horrific. He was a quarterback at the University of Hawaii, and though the Redskins weren’t looking for a rookie QB, Beathard couldn’t pass on a player with Cherry’s athletic ability. Joe Gibbs put him in the defensive backfield, and by the end of his rookie year, Cherry had cracked the starting lineup as a safety.
“I’m a pretty aggressive person,” Cherry said when a reporter asked the then-rookie about his football philosophy. Cherry got caught in the proverbial numbers game and was cut by Gibbs the next season. Sadly, he was never able to bridle that aggression in his life off the field. In December 1998, his wife, Jerri Harris Cherry, was found dead on her couch in Jacksonville, Ark. She had recently served her husband with divorce papers. Prosecutors alleged she had been choked to death. In January, Cherry was convicted for the second time in the slayingan earlier guilty verdict was overturned because jurors had admitted discussing the case before deliberations.
Like his classmates, Cherry denies wrongdoing. “I never touched Jerri, and that’s the truth,” Cherry told his wife’s family in the courthouse after the conviction for first-degree murder. Dave McKenna