Former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout and punt return specialist Antwaan Randle El could have been a standout baseball player for his hometown Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs made Randle El a 14th-round selection in the 1997 MLB Draft. However, he put his baseball dreams aside at the behest of his parents.
Randle El became a standout quarterback for the Indiana Hoosiers before embarking on a nine-year NFL career with the Steelers and Washington Redskins.
Randle El made history by becoming the only wide receiver to throw a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. His clutch 43-yard reverse touchdown pass to Hines Ward helped the Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
When Antwaan Randle El exchanged his baseball bat for a football helmet, he certainly made some unforgettable memories on the gridiron.
Antwaan Randle El was born to parents Curtis Sr. and Jacqueline in Riverdale, IL on August 17, 1979.
Curtis Sr.’s ancestors added “El” to the family surname when they converted to Islam many years earlier. Curtis Sr. and his family retained the surname when they became Christians, per TribLive.com’s Joe Starkey.
Curtis Sr. and Jacqueline (nicknamed “Jackie”) married when they were still teenagers. Their union produced three boys: Curtis Jr., Antwaan, and Marcus.
Curtis Sr. had aspirations of making it big in college sports. However, he decided to give it up because he had to provide for his three sons. He eventually became a food distributor who worked the overnight shift in the Chicago, IL area.
On the other hand, his wife worked as a day-care provider to help make ends meet.
Curtis Sr. and Jackie had their sons’ best interests at heart from the get-go. Their house rules were so strict that legendary Indiana Hoosiers head basketball coach Bob Knight’s rules were nothing compared to theirs.
The couple wanted to keep their two sons off the crime-riddled Chicago streets as much as possible.
Some of their rules, per Starkey, included:
- No staying overnight at any friend’s house.
- Do not leave the neighborhood on your own.
- Go home after school as soon as possible and finish homework before practice.
- Never accepts gifts or favors from anybody.
- Arrive home before the power company turns the streetlights on.
Among the house rules that the Randle Els implemented, showing your love to others was the most important.
Jackie Randle El, a staunch Christian, ardent runner, and softball enthusiast told TribLive.com that demonstrating love was the only way to make their three sons follow suit.
When Antwaan Randle El entered the National Football League, he was thankful that his upbringing had helped mold him into the man he eventually became.
“A lot of guys I grew up with either didn’t make it out or just fell off somewhere along the way,” Randle El told Starkey in the summer of 2002. “I thank God for my parents because of their strictness and concern. That’s why I am who I am.”
1997 Harvey (IL) Thornton Wildcats (32-1)
Melvin Ely (Fresno State)
Eric Herring (George Mason)
Antwaan Randle El (IU/NFL)
Napoleon Harris (NW/NFL)
Fell to Peoria Manual, 65-62 in Class AA semifinal, but still finished 2nd in the nation (USA Today) pic.twitter.com/wNKMTVBTqG
— RobertBoucher (@CollegeHSGreats) March 5, 2019
Antwaan didn’t always display exemplary behavior when he was a young boy growing up in Riverdale, IL.
Sometimes, he riled up and provoked some of the bigger boys in their neighborhood. His older brother Curtis Jr., who’s older than him by less than a year, quickly intervened and protected him before things got out of hand.
The two boys loved playing baseball together during their formative years in Northeast Illinois.
Curtis Sr. supported his sons’ sporting endeavors passionately. He attended their various weekend sporting events after he clocked out from work. He seldom missed any of their games or practices.
Curtis Sr. told Starkey that his friends always told him he looked tired when he reported for work. He didn’t mind one bit. All he cared about was that his sons grow up to become upstanding young men.
He was also a hands-on dad who was home when his sons came home from school on weekdays. Curtis Sr. assisted them with their homework while Jacqueline was at the daycare center.
Once the boys finished their assignments, their dad accompanied them to their practice at 5:30 p.m. As soon as practice wrapped up, he drove them home, and then they always had dinner together.
Although those dinners never lasted more than 40 minutes, Jackie thought they gave her and her husband more insight into their sons’ lives, per TribLive.com.
Antwaan Randle El attended Thornton Township High School in Harvey, IL.
Randle El became a highly-touted and decorated three-sport star who excelled in basketball, baseball, and football for the Thornton Wildcats.
Antwaan and his brother Curtis Jr. were teammates on the Wildcats football team. They continued their athletic journey together in Bloomington, IN during their college days.
As Randle El’s high school days wound down, dunking a basketball, playing the infield, and throwing a 50-yard touchdown pass became second nature to him.
When Randle El was barely 18 years old, his hometown Chicago Cubs selected him in the 14th round of the 1997 MLB Draft.
The Cubs eventually offered Randle El a minor-league contract. Unfortunately, his mother Jackie was against the idea of her son playing minor-league baseball. She wanted him to earn a degree and finish his education, per TribLive.com.
Antwaan told The Herald-Times‘ Jon Blau twenty-four years later that he didn’t talk to his parents for two to three months because he was angry at them. He felt he should have seized the opportunity to play for the Cubs and become a baseball player.
Antwaan Randle El eventually put his baseball dreams on the back burner, focused on getting a bachelor’s degree, and became one of the most exciting quarterbacks in Indiana Hoosiers football history.
College Days With The Indiana Hoosiers
Antwaan Randle El attended Indiana University in Bloomington, IN from 1998 to 2001. Randle El was a sports communications and broadcasting major who suited up for Indiana Hoosiers head football coach Cam Cameron.
According to Starkey, Randle El and his brother Curtis Jr. accepted football scholarships from Indiana so that their dad Curtis Sr. could watch them take the field.
Curtis Jr., who arrived in Bloomington, IN in 1997, played baseball and football for the Hoosiers before he ultimately decided to settle in at defensive back for Cameron.
Antwaan followed a similar path. He played basketball, baseball, and football before focusing his efforts on the gridiron.
However, he encountered rough sailing early in his college football career. Randle El, a partial academic qualifier, had to skip his first technical year because of his sub-par SAT scores, per Bleacher Report’s Ryan Winn.
Fortunately, Randle El’s tremendous upside prompted Cameron to start his prized quarterback recruit in the 1998 NCAA season.
Randle El didn’t disappoint. He had a total of six touchdowns – three in the air and another three on the ground – in IU’s 45-30 season-opening win over the Western Michigan Broncos on September 12, 1998. He finished his first college football game with an astonishing 467 all-purpose yards.
Randle El led the Hoosiers to a 14-7 victory against the Iowa Hawkeyes five weeks later. They became the first Big Ten football team to avenge a 60-point loss to their tormentors the previous season.
No less than Hawkeyes head football coach Hayden Fry came away impressed with the 19-year-old Randle El.
“This quarterback is one of, if not the most exciting, quarterbacks I’ve seen in this conference in years and years and years,” Fry told reporters after the game (via Bleacher Report).
Despite winning just four games and extending their postseason bowl drought to five years dating back to the Bill Mallory era, the Hoosiers found a keeper in Antwan Randle El.
Randle El’s 1,745 passing yards and six touchdowns in 1998 helped him earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. He set a new school quarterback single-season rushing record with 873 rushing yards that year.
Randle El also took the court for fiery Hoosiers head basketball coach Bob Knight following his impressive freshman season on the gridiron.
— Antwaan Randle El (@TheRealRandleEl) January 12, 2017
Regrettably, Antwaan wasn’t as impressive on the hardcourt as he was on the football field. He averaged just 1.5 points in eleven games for the Hoosiers’ basketball team in 1998.
Although Antwaan didn’t stand out as a basketball player at IU, he savored his experience playing for Knight.
Randle El told the Sports Spectrum Podcast’s Jason Romano in the fall of 2021 that Knight was all business on the court.
However, when the final whistle blew, Knight was one of the most caring individuals Randle El had ever seen. Knight showed a side others rarely saw. He loved to talk about family and crack jokes with his players.
Randle El also recalled that Knight reached out to his connections, so he could help his players find jobs once they were done playing for him.
Playing for iconic Indiana Hoosiers head basketball coach Bob Knight was something Antwaan Randle El would do all over again in a heartbeat.
The Randle El brothers experienced harrowing tragedy before Antwaan’s sophomore year in Indiana.
When Curtis Jr. tried to break up a fight between a teammate and another man in March 1999, he got stabbed in the midsection. The knife penetrated four inches into his gut. He lay unconscious on the floor while his brother Antwaan told him to stay calm.
Curtis Jr. protected his younger brother whenever he got in trouble with the neighborhood bullies while they were growing up in Chicago, IL. Now, it was Antwaan’s turn to look after his older brother.
For a time, Curtis Jr. was teetering on the brink of death. According to The Herald Times‘ Andy Graham, his guts were “literally spilling out.” Had the knife gone half an inch farther into his body, he would have succumbed to his injury.
Fortunately, he survived the ordeal.
Graham identified Curtis Randle El, Jr.’s assailant as IU fraternity member Richard Gilliam. Bloomington, IN authorities subsequently charged him with felony battery.
For his part, Curtis Jr., who lost 21 pounds during his recovery period, told Graham some three months later that the stabbing incident brought him closer to God and increased his faith.
Antwaan reported for spring practice in1999 but his mind was on his brother Curtis Jr. the whole time.
Antwaan was one of 265 guests who visited Curtis Jr. on his first day at the hospital. The former brought fruits and other soft foods to his brother daily, per Starkey.
That was only the beginning.
After Curtis Jr.’s doctors released him from the hospital, not only did Antwaan design his brother’s rehabilitation program, but he also took part in it daily. The older Randle El told TribLive.com in 2002 that the Hoosiers football coaches virtually had no say.
Antwaan and Curtis Jr. ran hills, caught footballs, and hit the weights hard for several weeks after the latter’s release.
Their efforts reaped massive dividends. Curtis Jr. took the field again and played his entire senior season.
On the other hand, his brother Antwaan built on his freshman season with 2,277 passing yards, 17 touchdown passes, and seven interceptions in the 1999 NCAA campaign.
The Hoosiers duplicated their 4-7 win-loss record from 1998 and missed a bowl game for the sixth straight year.
Antwaan continued expanding his horizons in collegiate sports following his sophomore campaign with the Hoosiers.
Antwaan Randle El, a 14th-round Chicago Cubs draft choice in 1997, went on to play baseball for the Hoosiers’ baseball team in the 2000 NCAA season.
— Antwaan Randle El (@TheRealRandleEl) December 28, 2016
Randle El’s performance as a pocket passer regressed in his junior year. He had 1,783 passing yards, 10 touchdown passes, and 14 interceptions in 2000.
However, Randle El continued mesmerizing Hoosiers fans with his otherworldly scrambling ability. He had 13 rushing touchdowns as a junior. It marked the third straight season Randle El had at least 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Randle El also had a career-best 1,270 rushing yards in the 2000 NCAA season.
Alas, the Hoosiers won just three games that year and extended their bowl drought to seven years.
Nonetheless, Antwaan Randle El earned his second straight Second-Team All-Big Ten selection.
Randle El had 17 total touchdowns and 2,628 all-purpose yards in his final year in Hoosiers cream and crimson in 2001.
Indiana mustered just five wins that year. Regrettably, Antwaan Randle El never played in a bowl game during his four-year stint with the Hoosiers’ football team from 1998 to 2001.
He finished his college gridiron career with 7,469 passing yards, 42 passing touchdowns, 3,895 rushing yards, and 44 rushing touchdowns.
Randle El also won several accolades following his senior season at Indiana. He earned First-Team All-American and First-Team All-Big Ten honors in 2001. He also won that year’s Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Big Ten MVP awards.
As Antwaan Randle El’s college football career wound down, he celebrated a major victory off the gridiron. He and his girlfriend welcomed their daughter Ciara in the summer of 2001.
According to TribLive.com, Randle El’s mother Jackie wasn’t pleased her son fathered a girl out of wedlock. Nevertheless, she eventually accepted her new granddaughter – somebody who inherited her dad’s personality.
“When the baby was born, it was the best day,” Jackie Randle El told Starkey prior to Antwaan’s rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2002. “She is simply a doll. She has the attitude and personality of Antwaan Randle El.”
Fatherhood wasn’t the only change Antwaan Randle El experienced as he embarked on a memorable nine-year career in the National Football League.
The former Indiana Hoosiers quarterback became a wide receiver and punt return specialist who spent the majority of his pro gridiron career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pro Football Career
The Pittsburgh Steelers made Antwaan Randle El the 62nd overall selection of the 2002 NFL Draft. They drafted him as a wide receiver.
Randle El went on to play both as a wideout and punt returner for the Steelers and Washington Redskins in his nine-year pro football career from 2002 to 2010.
When Randle El took the field for the Steelers’ preseason opener at Heinz Field in the summer of 2002, the crowd gave him the loudest ovation. His entire family – his parents and two brothers – sat in Section 138, per TribLive.com.
Randle El and his family remained close when he entered the pro football ranks. He made it a habit to call his family members daily after first donning Steelers black and gold in 2002.
Randle El had 2,265 receiving yards, seven receiving touchdowns, 1,650 punt return yards, and four punt returns for touchdowns in his first tour of duty in Steelers black and gold from 2002 to 2005.
The Steelers averaged almost eleven wins per year during that particular time frame. They made the postseason three times in four years. The pinnacle of that run was Pittsburgh’s 21-10 victory over Shaun Alexander’s Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher utilized Randle El’s passing skills for certain trick plays. Arguably Randle El’s most memorable moment as a Steeler was his 43-yard reverse touchdown pass to wide receiver Hines Ward in Super Bowl XL that sealed the outcome.
Randle El told the Cumberland Times-News‘ Mike Matthews in February 2019 that the Steelers ran that play against the Cleveland Browns in the regular season. They also ran it several times in practice leading up to the Super Bowl.
They never ran it perfectly until the most pivotal moment against Seattle in Super Bowl XL.
Antwaan Randle El was a Super Bowl champion. He would earn another Super Bowl ring as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ wide receivers coach some fifteen years later.
Shortly after Randle El earned a Super Bowl ring with the Steelers, he also earned First-Team All-Pro honors following the 2005 NFL season.
Randle El hit the free agent market and signed a seven-year, $31 million deal with the Washington Redskins just over a month later.
He had a chance to return to his native Windy City but ultimately turned down a six-year, $18 million contract from the Chicago Bears.
A higher salary wasn’t the only deciding factor for Randle El. According to ESPN’s Michael Smith, he loved the idea of playing with Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell and thriving in veteran offensive coordinator Al Saunders’ system.
Randle El torched the Miami Dolphins and their head coach Cam Cameron, his college football coach at Indiana, in the 2007 NFL season opener.
Randle El went off for 162 receiving yards in the Redskins’ 16-13 win against Cameron’s Dolphins on September 9, 2007.
He went on to rack up 2,202 receiving yards, eight receiving touchdowns, 907 punt return yards, and one punt return for a touchdown during his four-season tenure in the nation’s capital from 2006 to 2009.
The Redskins averaged barely seven wins per year during that period. Washington made the postseason in 2007 but lost to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Wild Card Game, 35-14.
Randle El never got a chance to finish his seven-year contract in Washington. He was one of ten players the Redskins released on March 4, 2010.
The Redskins waived them two months after Washington hired Mike Shanahan to become their head coach and executive vice president in January 2010.
— Antwaan Randle El (@TheRealRandleEl) December 23, 2016
Randle El re-signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers just four days after the Redskins released him. He inked a three-year, $7 million contract.
Antwaan Randle El had 253 receiving yards and 56 punt return yards in his return to the Steel City in the 2007 NFL season.
The Steelers eventually released him on July 28, 2011.
After sitting out the entire 2012 NFL campaign, Antwaan Randle El officially announced his retirement on July 16, 2012.
He finished his nine-year pro football career with 4,467 receiving yards, 15 receiving touchdowns, 2,557 punt return yards, and five punt returns for touchdowns.
Antwaan Randle El, who has a bachelor’s degree in sports communication from Indiana University, did some media work for the Steelers, Redskins, and NFL Network during his playing days.
Antwaan Randle El and his wife have six children. He loves playing “tickle monster” with his kids. He chases them around the house and tickles them when he catches them.
Shortly after Randle El retired from the National Football League in the summer of 2012, he became a Washington Redskins color analyst for Comcast SportsNet and a football analyst for the Big Ten Network.
Randle El helped establish the Christian high school Virginia Academy in Ashburn, VA in 2013. He served as the head basketball coach and athletic director for several years.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 19, 2016
The nine-year NFL veteran poured out his sentiments about the gridiron almost four years after he hung up his cleats.
In an exclusive interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (via ESPN) in January 2016, Antwaan Randle El wished that he had chosen the baseball diamond over the gridiron.
“If I could go back, I wouldn’t. I would play baseball,” Randle El quipped. “Don’t get me wrong, I love the game of football. But right now, I could still be playing baseball.”
Randle El has been experiencing pain in his knees, ankles, and feet during his retirement years. He has also experienced memory lapses, per ESPN.
When Randle El appeared on The Dan Patrick Show several days after his interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he issued a stern warning to aspiring football players.
“If you’re playing this game of football, you have to know what you’re getting yourself into,” Randle El told Patrick (via ESPN).
Randle El served as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offensive assistant from 2019 to 2020. He earned his second Super Bowl ring after the Bucs beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV, 31-9.
He’s currently the wide receivers coach of the Detroit Lions.
#Lions WRs coach Antwaan Randle El crashed the team's draft room when they traded up for Jameson Williams.
Reporters asked him about that moment and he had no idea they released the video.
"Oh, they showed that?" 😂
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) June 16, 2022
Randle El told Steelers.com in February 2011 that he loves eating his wife’s greens with turkey and cornbread.
He’s no slouch in the kitchen himself. He can whip up a mean breakfast dish, particularly pancakes and omelets.
Randle El likes eating crackers and dip while watching his favorite television program, ESPN’s SportsCenter.
Antwaan Randle El can also fix things around the house. However, his wife doesn’t always like the way they turn out. Whenever that happens, he seeks professional help, per Steelers.com.