There is nothing more disappointing than an NFL player who doesn’t meet his potential.
He has all the tools and talent to make it in the league and has spent his life training for this point.
Then, for reasons internal or external (or both), the player fails to live up to the hype.
Former Colts quarterback Art Schlichter was a player who could have had fame and fortune in the NFL.
Unfortunately, he blew any fortune he did have on gambling and other vices.
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) December 28, 2021
The result was an abbreviated pro career in three different leagues.
Schlichter became a cautionary tale for future NFL hopefuls of what not to do as a pro.
This is the sad story of Art Schlichter.
Early Life and the Genesis of an Addiction
Arthur Ernest Schlichter was born on April 25, 1960 in Bloomingburg, Ohio.
By the time he was four, Schlichter’s father, Max, could see the athletic potential in his son.
Not long after, the younger Schlichter began training as if his life depended on it.
During summer months, he would throw 2,500 passes each week to hone his arm.
By the time he reached high school, Schlichter was already an accomplished athlete.
Case in point, as a Little League pitcher, he twice struck out 18 batters in a game.
He continued his athletic supremacy at Miami Trace High School in Washington Court House, Ohio.
Schlichter started at quarterback for the Panthers as a sophomore and never relinquished the spot.
In three years, Miami Trace never lost a game and only suffered one tie.
Schlichter would eventually be named all-state in not only football but basketball as well.
When he wasn’t playing a sport, Schlichter began hanging out at racetracks with a friend, Bill Hanners, whose family trained horses.
To pass the time and make things interesting, Schlichter and Hanners began betting on races.
They weren’t old enough to bet, but Hanner’s mother would place the bets for them.
Once they reached 18, the duo began betting on their own, although it always seemed like Schlichter had more money to blow.
”If I had $10 to bet, it seems like he would have $50,” said Hanners in 1983.
Schlichter’s behavior with gambling would only get worse.
As one of the best high school football players in the country, Schlichter had his choice of colleges.
Ohio State was just down the road, but Schlichter wasn’t enthusiastic about playing for longtime coach Woody Hayes.
Hayes was known as a running coach with his ‘three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust’ offense.
He was also fond of saying, “When you throw a pass, only three things can happen, and two of them are bad.”
Needless to say, Hayes’ philosophy of the pass was directly opposite of Schlichter’s.
However, an OSU assistant coach implored his boss to reconsider recruiting Schlichter, especially since he was home grown.
In turn, Schlichter’s friends coaxed their buddy into the idea of reimagining the Buckeye offense.
“I liked the idea,” said Schlichter, “I wanted to be the one to make the Buckeyes pass.”
Eventually, both coach and quarterback warmed to the idea of working with each other and Schlichter became a Buckeye.
Schlichter is a Starter, but Hayes is Fired
It didn’t take long for Schlichter to prove he was ready for college ball.
As a freshman in 1978, he beat out senior Rod Gerald, who had been the OSU starter for three years and an All-Big Ten selection in 1977.
Then, in the season opener against Penn State, Schlichter promptly threw five interceptions, putting him in Hayes’ doghouse.
— Raise Penn State (@RaisePennState) November 21, 2019
He would recover to help OSU win seven of their next ten games.
The Buckeyes 7-4-1 final record was good enough to get an invite to the Gator Bowl to face Clemson.
After the first two quarters of the game, the Tigers led 10-9. By the fourth quarter it was 17-9 in favor of Clemson.
With 8:11 remaining, Schlichter made things interesting by scrambling for a one-yard touchdown.
Hayes went for two points, but the attempt came up short.
Ohio State got the ball back with nearly three minutes left and Clemson nursing a two-point lead.
Schlichter then drove the Buckeyes to midfield before disaster struck.
With a little over two minutes remaining, he attempted a pass that was intercepted by Clemson nose tackle Charlie Bauman.
Bauman zigged and zagged and was eventually knocked out of bounds on OSU’s side of the field.
As he got up, Hayes came out of nowhere, grabbed Bauman’s jersey, and punched him in the throat.
The "Punch Bowl" December 29, 1978
Buckeye legend Woody Hayes punched Clemson defender Charlie Bauman after he had intercepted QB Art Schlichter's pass at the 1978 Gator Bowl.
Woody Hayes lost his long-standing head coaching job at Ohio State. pic.twitter.com/CiyRHCVAjx
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) December 30, 2021
The unprovoked attack prompted a brawl between the two teams.
Once order had been restored and the Tigers ran out the clock, the sports world was in shock over what had transpired.
Hayes had long been a thorn in the side of Ohio State administrators and the punch was the final straw.
The coach knew his fate by the time he left the field and was resigned to what would happen next.
As the Buckeyes flew home, Hayes made an announcement over the plane’s intercom.
“This is your coach,” he said. “I won’t be coaching you next year.”
He would be correct as the school announced the following day that they had fired Hayes.
Schlichter Thrives on the Field but Gambling becomes a Problem
Offensive line coach Earle Bruce replaced Hayes and returned the Buckeyes to a ground-based offense.
Schlichter played better than the year before and reduced his interceptions significantly from 21 to six.
When the 1979 season ended, OSU was undefeated and headed to the Rose Bowl to play USC.
Art Schlichter and the Buckeyes in 1980 Rose Bowl vs. USC pic.twitter.com/0fTVAJdj79
— Aram Tolegian 🇺🇸 🇦🇲 (@ChemicalAT) July 25, 2017
With two minutes remaining, the Buckeyes led by six, but the Trojans scored with a minute left to win the game by one.
Schlichter finished fourth in the Heisman voting that season, the highest ever finish at the time for a sophomore.
In 1980, OSU went 9-3 and lost to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl 31-19.
Schlichter passed for over 1,900 yards and 15 touchdowns that year but became more and more frustrated at Bruce’s offensive philosophy.
Very briefly, he considered transferring to a school that favored the pass. However, Schlichter’s bond to Ohio and the Buckeyes was too great.
To help alleviate his sorrows, Schlichter would frequent race tracks and bet large sums of money.
He also began betting on college basketball games.
Ultimately, he was a much better quarterback than gambler and lost thousands of dollars.
Oddly enough, there were times when Schlichter would go to his favorite racetrack and spot Bruce, his coach.
The two would talk horses and eat meals together.
“It was probably the only thing we’d ever talk about,” says Schlichter, “when we would talk.”
For his part, Bruce never saw a problem in his connection with Schlichter at the race track.
“I’ve seen [Art] at the track, but what does that have to do with anything? I don’t have an addiction. I sure as hell didn’t bet for him or take him to the window or twist his arm or give him any tips or anything else,” said Bruce.
At one point during his senior year, Schlichter bet on three professional baseball games in one day and lost $12,000. The amount was covered by an OSU booster.
Meanwhile, Schlichter’s 1981 senior season saw him pass for 2,551 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions.
Art Schlichter (1978-1981) pic.twitter.com/5mfcVMPmjY
— Mr. Ohio (@MrOH1O) April 17, 2020
The Buckeyes went 9-3 again and beat Navy 31-28 in the Liberty Bowl.
That would be Schlichter’s final game at OSU.
During his collegiate career, he passed for 7,547 total yards, 50 touchdowns, and 46 picks.
Schlichter finished in the top six of the Heisman balloting his last three years as a Buckeye.
Colts Draft Schlichter
By the time the 1982 NFL Draft arrived, every team in the league had heard the rumors that Schlichter had a gambling problem.
That didn’t stop the Baltimore Colts from selecting him with the fourth overall pick in the first round.
To make room for Schlichter, the Colts traded their top two quarterbacks, Bert Jones and Greg Landry.
🗓️ OTD 1982: The Colts traded QB Bert Jones to the Rams for a 1st (#4) & 2nd (#34) rd pick, giving Balt 4 picks in the first 2 rds:
#2 Johnie Cooks LB
#4 Art Schlichter QB
#28 Leo Wisniewski DT
#34 Rohn Stark P
Jones played only 4 games for LA & retired in May of 1983. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/pQKT0ugRu9
— 80s Football Cards (@80sFootballCard) April 27, 2021
Baltimore also drafted Arizona State quarterback Mike Pagel in the fourth round.
However, Schlichter was expected to be the Colts franchise quarterback.
That idea didn’t last long.
Schlichter arrived at his first training camp out of shape and not mentally ready to be a pro quarterback.
By the time the ‘82 season began, Pagel was Baltimore’s starter.
“I am not exaggerating,” said then Colts GM Ernie Accorsi, “when I tell you that Mike Pagel beat him (Schlichter) out on the first day of practice. It was just no contest.”
In his rookie year, Schlichter would see action in only three games, passing for 197 yards and two interceptions.
Gambling Keeps Schlichter off the field in 1983
While he was struggling on the gridiron, Schlichter was suffering even more away from the game.
By the middle of his rookie season, Schlichter had blown his entire $350,000 signing bonus on gambling.
As 1982 became 1983, Schlichter owed bookies over $600,000 in gambling debts.
The bookies then threatened to go to the Colts and expose his addiction.
Instead, Schlichter approached the FBI for help and his testimony about the betting operation led to the bookies getting arrested on federal charges.
He also came clean to the NFL which led Commissioner Pete Rozelle to suspend Schlichter for the 1983 season.
Rozelle reduced the suspension to 13 months when Schlichter promised to get professional help.
”I had reached the point where I was so uncomfortable, that the problem was so incomprehensible that I knew something had to be done,” Schlichter said in 1983.
Schlichter is Released by the Colts
The NFL reinstated Schlichter in 1984 and he started five games for the Colts, who had moved to Indianapolis after the ‘83 season.
He passed for 702 yards, three touchdowns and seven picks that year.
— Daily Backup QB (@dailybackupqb) November 28, 2021
Schlichter also admitted to the team that he had gambled during his suspension.
In 1985, he started one game for Indy, throwing for 107 yards and two interceptions.
However, five games into the season, the Colts released Schlichter after rumors surfaced that he was gambling again.
Schlichter was picked up by Buffalo in 1986, but the Bills released him when Jim Kelly joined the team after the USFL folded.
Kelly had been the team’s first-round pick in 1983 and Buffalo still held his rights.
In 1987, Schlichter was arrested in New York for his connection with a sports betting operation.
That arrest led the NFL to veto a deal the quarterback had with Cincinnati to be Boomer Esiason’s backup.
Schlichter made an appeal to the NFL to return in 1988 but was turned down.
Schlichter Spends Time in Canada and the Arena Football League
While the NFL made it clear they did not want Schlichter, the Canadian Football League was only too eager to take him.
Specifically, the Ottawa Rough Riders were one of the worst teams in the CFL and needed help.
QB Art Schlichter played @Colts 82-83. Ottawa Rough Riders 1988. Detroit Drive 90-91. Cincinnati Rockets 92. Arena Bowl Champion. Schlichter committed more than 20 felonies, gambled away most of his money. 95-06 he spent 10years in 44 different jails. https://t.co/x4QfHOjJk5 pic.twitter.com/RtHJK2FrjR
— Scott Grant Photography 🇨🇦 (@quickshutterguy) December 27, 2020
They signed Schlichter and he looked good coming out of training camp.
In the team’s final preseason game, he completed all of his passes for 150 yards.
Then, the regular season began and Schlichter couldn’t help the Riders win many games.
He injured his ribs part way through the year and was placed on the disabled list.
On the day Schlichter was set to return, Ottawa released him.
He spent 1989 out of football then found employment again, this time with the Arena Football League’s Detroit Drive.
The Drive inserted Schlichter as their starting quarterback in 1990 and he finally made good on his potential.
During the ‘90 season, Schlichter completed over 50% of his passes for 1,718 yards, 27 touchdowns, and eight interceptions.
— Mark4Sports (@Mark4Sports) August 10, 2021
He led Detroit to ArenaBowl IV and won the game’s MVP award after he passed for two touchdowns and rushed for three scores and a two-point conversion.
Schlichter’s play led to a decisive 51-27 victory over the Dallas Texans.
In 1991, Schlichter continued to play well and passed for 1,888 yards, 33 touchdowns, and eight picks.
The following year he was traded to the Cincinnati Rockers.
Cincinnati was an expansion team and their trade for Schlichter was meant to garner interest from locals due to his Ohio roots.
He more than delivered in 1992 and would throw for 2,461 yards, 45 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, leading the team to the postseason in their inaugural year.
At the same time he was playing for the Rockers, Schlichter co-hosted a team based radio show for WSAI Radio in Cincinnati.
In October of ‘92, Schlichter announced that he was retiring from football to concentrate on his radio work.
However, evidence was later confirmed that Schlichter had bet on AFL games while playing and was forced by the league to retire.
Legal Troubles Plague Schlichter for Decades
For a little while, it looked like Schlichter had found his calling. He was popular during his co-hosting gig with WSAI and was hired to be the station’s afternoon drive-time host.
In 1994, Schlichter was hired by KVEG Radio in Las Vegas and he moved to Nevada.
Unfortunately, his gambling addiction moved with him.
Schlichter was fired by KVEG after only a few months for stealing money from the station’s owner to pay for his gambling debts.
For the next several years, Schlichter would only find more trouble due to his addiction.
— Chill Brismon (@CBrismon) September 3, 2021
He was known to use various schemes in an attempt to extort money from people.
Schlichter also stole money from his wife, Mitzi, to use for gambling purposes.
At one point, Schlichter pawned Mitzi’s wedding ring and later tried to get it back, only to find it had been sold.
From 1995-2006, he spent 10 years in jail, moving back and forth between 44 different jails or prisons.
Contrary to what one might expect, Schlichter’s time in jail did not stop his gambling.
At one point during his incarceration, Schlichter’s public defender, Lisa Wagoner, smuggled a cell phone into prison so Schlichter could place bets from his cell.
After getting caught, Wagoner was sentenced to two years probation and her law license was suspended for 90 days.
A few years later, Schlichter published an autobiography in 2009 and then reconnected with Anita Vatko Barney, whom he had first met years earlier.
Barney was the widow of the co-founder of Wendy’s and Schlichter had met the heiress while speaking at a church about his addictions.
As expected, Schlichter found a way to con Barney to feed his gambling habit which led the heiress to nearly lose her entire fortune.
In 2011, Schlichter was arrested again for a sports ticketing scheme that took millions of dollars from people who used the fake ticket system. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Schlichter Released, Experiences Health Issues
Just before he was taken to prison, Schlichter was out on bond when he tested positive for cocaine.
His bond was immediately revoked and he was ordered to begin his sentence.
He was then taken to prison where he spent the majority of his sentence at Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, Ohio.
On June 14, 2021, Schlichter was released from prison and will be supervised by the Adult Parole Authority in Ohio for the next five years.
GSN-After a run of prison sentences that spanned two decades — brought on by a gambling addiction that led to financial fraud, theft and shattered an NFL dream — former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Art Schlichter, 61, has been released from prison. pic.twitter.com/G5LrSC7niD
— HJ (Hank) Ellison (@hjtherealj) September 4, 2021
After his release, a former prosecutor, Ron O’Brien, warned the public about the former quarterback.
“My advice to anyone coming upon Mr. Schlichter is that they not engage in any business transactions or any purchases or any other transactions that would involve giving him any money,” said O’Brien. “(He) is a career criminal engaged in fraud as a career,” O’Brien continued. “He just cannot help himself. He will do this the rest of his life.”
Recently, doctors have diagnosed Schlichter with Parkinson’s disease and dementia.
It is believed that football played a large part in his condition, especially due to the estimated 15-17 concussions Schlichter is reported to have sustained during his playing career.
His glory days long behind him, Schlichter is currently 61 years old and lives in Ohio.