Orlando Scandrick hates sick kids.
How else do you explain teammate Justin Durant’s tweet two weeks ago about Scandrick showing no mercy while playing Madden NFL against a young cancer patient during the Dallas Cowboys’ annual holiday visits to local children’s hospitals?
“Scandrick played a kid in Madden at Children’s Hospital and hit him wit a surprise onside,” Durant tweeted, followed by crying-tears emoticons.
The Cowboys linebacker, who is on injured reserve, then added, “he was winning and going for two,” followed by more tears.
Well, the truth is actually a little different.
Scandrick, 27, doesn’t hate kids. He just hates to lose. Always has.
The Cowboys cornerback is ultra competitive. He’s passionate. He carries a giant chip on his shoulder. He wants to win. It comes out in everything he does.
And he doesn’t care what you think about it.
“I was the kid that cried after games when we lost,” Scandrick admitted. “I was the kid that pouted. I was the sore loser. It was always more than a game to me. I’m just competitive. I got this thing that I psych myself out. I tell myself it’s me against the world. I got to do it. I always got something to prove.
“When I put my mind and heart into something, I’m going to get it done, I don’t really care. I believe I can be the best. I believe that being competitive and always staying on the attack gets it done, and I think that rubs people the wrong way.”
Just don’t ask his mom about it.
LaTonya Lee, who raised Scandrick as an only child for 15 years in the gang-infested neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles before giving birth to his younger brother, still sees him as her sweet baby.
“Are you talking about my baby?” an annoyed Lee asked rhetorically. “No, my baby does not have a chip on his shoulder. He just has a lot of passion for the game, and he wants everybody to share his passion. He was taught to always do his best. He tries to get the other players engaged in doing their best. He just wants to be the best that he can be.”
Her baby and his lifelong chip have actually come to embody the spirit of this feisty Cowboys team that entered training camp with the motto of “Fight” and is focused on finishing the fight heading into Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts (10-4) at AT&T Stadium.
Like Scandrick, these Cowboys (10-4) are not interested in being nice, they are focused on winning and maximizing an opportunity that wasn’t promised to them.
Their path to the postseason became easier Saturday when the Washington Redskins upset the Philadelphia Eagles. The Cowboys have to win or tie one of their final two games to clinch the NFC East title and a playoff spot.
“For the first time in a while this team has a chance to win the division with a good record and actually be seen as a threat,” Scandrick said. “The last few years we have had opportunity to win the division. I don’t think anybody saw us as a threat. We were the walking wounded. We have all suffered. I want it bad. We want it. It’s important to everybody.”
Certainly, quarterback Tony Romo, running back DeMarco Murray, receiver Dez Bryant and the team’s powerful offensive line have been the foundation to the Cowboys’ success in 2014. And it’s no secret they remain challenged on defense.
But it’s also a unit that has played above its head all season, with a chip on its shoulder because of perceived slights, which is right out of the Scandrick playbook for success.
“He has a real competitive nature to him,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We talked about it a lot — the chip on the shoulder that he plays with. He has always played with it. He is just someone who competes. He competes in everything he does and he positively impacts our team and it’s contagious.
“ [His teammates] look at him and they say we need to play that way, and I think that’s a really good thing. It’s good for our defense and it’s good for everybody on our team.”
Remember, Scandrick came to the Cowboys as a forgotten fifth-round pick out of Boise State in 2008. The same year they took cornerback Mike Jenkins in the first round.
Even after proving better and more valuable than Jenkins as the team’s versatile slot cornerback, he was again overlooked when the Cowboys selected Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick in 2012 and signed Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50.1 million free agent contract to be the difference-makers at the position.
“I felt like the faith was low,” Scandrick said. “I felt like they didn’t think I could get the job done. I took that as a challenge. I worked to get better. I’m to the point where I’m using anything to fuel the fire.”
It’s no secret or coincidence that Scandrick has emerged from the pack as the team’s No. 1 cornerback. He replaced Claiborne in the starting lineup last season and has supplanted Carr as the shut-down corner this year.
He has led the team in pass deflections the past two years combined. He is the one now asked to cover the opposing team’s top receiver.
If game-breaking receiver T.Y. Hilton plays Sunday — the Colts list him as questionable after he missed practice all week with a strained hamstring — Scandrick, the Cowboys’ 5-foot-10, 196-pound pit bull, will likely follow him everywhere he goes.
“He covers. He can play man. He can play zone. He tackles. He blitzes,” secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. “He does it all. He’s prideful. It’s the confidence in this moment, ‘I’m winning.’ He plays with confidence and that swagger, ‘I can cover that guy.’ He wants the toughest matchups. He is a little pit bull.”
The latest fuel that Scandrick has thrown on the fire was his four-game suspension before the season for “popping a molly” while on vacation in Mexico last spring with reality-star girlfriend Draya Michele.
The suspension was reduced two games, but it proved to be a learning experience for the humbled Scandrick. He initially blamed his girlfriend before taking ownership of his own decisions.
“It wasn’t her fault,” Scandrick said. “I was looking for someone to blame. I let the team down. I let myself down. I was looking for answers. I was thinking ‘why me?’ and I was feeling sorry for myself. I came to my senses and realized I was wrong. I was dead wrong. It was no one’s fault but my own.”
Scandrick has been hellbent on making amends to Michele and the Cowboys ever since he returned to the team for the Sept. 21 game against the St. Louis Rams.
That chip has manifested as him being one of the team’s top players in 2014, owner Jerry Jones said.
“He’s showed great leadership,” Jones said. “He had a great off-season, had a great camp and I say that with an emphasis on the fact that he knew that he wasn’t going to be here for the first four ballgames. That took a lot of mental toughness.
“He not only was contrite about how it happened but he had the obvious feeling of not wanting to let his teammates down. Well, I think his continued preparation and expectation for the year and then how he’s played really make him one of the main reasons we’re having the success this year.”
Said Carr: “He has always had a chip on his shoulder and it’s bigger than ever this year. He has given everybody else a chip as well. It’s a method to his madness, the energy he provides. He has done a good job growing as a player on and off the field. It’s showing.”
In a certain sense, Scandrick has finally arrived. He has gone from being overlooked to being relied on as an important piece.
He no longer has to fight for respect in the locker room or around the league.
He even admits he is finally comfortable “in his own skin” and place on the team.
But Scandrick also can’t change who he is, as the world found out during the competitive game of Madden with a kid stricken with cancer.
He can’t change his nature and he can’t let go of that chip. He’s not done rising.
“I wasn’t supposed to be that guy,” Scandrick said. “But I was always confident. I knew the sky was the limit. I’m playing how I want to play. It feels good now. But I’m not done yet. I’m not there yet. I feel like I’m a budding star. I’m starting to peak. The light switch is on. I want to be dominant. I want to be a star.”
Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760