Hargrove's hard journey from rehab to the Super Bowl

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By Simon Evans

MIAMI (Reuters) - Anthony Hargrove will line up as defensive tackle for the New Orleans Saints in Sunday's Super Bowl but watched last year's big game from a drug and alcohol rehab center.

Banned by the NFL for a year for repeated infractions of their policies, Hargrove was not even thinking about his football career -- just on getting his life back on track, somehow.

"At that stage football wasn't even part of the equation, it was something taken away for at least one year," Hargrove told Reuters on Thursday.

"To even get reinstated (to the league) there seemed to be so much that was against me. The plan wasn't about football. The plan was: 'how are you going to live now?'"

Hargrove had a hard life long before his encounters with drugs. The Brooklyn tenement where he lived with his mother burned down when he was six and he spent three years moving from different homeless shelters.

"I lived a very chaotic life at a young age, bouncing around from home to home, shelter to shelter with my mum. That was my norm," he said.

At the age of nine, his mother Rosa died from an AIDS-related illness and he was taken in by his aunt and uncle in Port Charlotte, Florida.

After playing high school football, he moved to Atlanta to play college football for Georgia Tech and was then drafted in the third round by the St. Louis Rams and his troubles with drugs began.

After he went missing for two days the Rams traded him to the Buffalo Bills. There he was suspended for breaching the NFL's substance abuse policy and eventually given the year ban.

After his year out, Saints coach Sean Payton handed him a chance that he has fully taken.

The clinic where Hargrove stayed on a number of occasions is just a few miles from the venue for Sunday's Super Bowl.

He dropped by there to see staff this week, but although his current trip to Miami is about facing the Indianapolis Colts, there is no sense of triumphalism from the 26-year-old.

"It's not a battle I have already won, the challenge is being consistent and doing things day in day out. It is about when trials and tribulations come my way and how am I going to react to them," he said.

Hargrove prefers to use the term 'recovering' rather than 'recovered' to describe his relationship with alcohol and drugs.

"You can relapse because it's a sunny day and you think let's have a cold beer because that is the norm. I have to keep myself aware of not getting too high and not getting too low and keep myself in balance."

His team-mates help to give Hargrove that equilibrium, defensive end Will Smith said.

"We watch out for each other, but mostly probably for him. We know he can be on edge sometimes, so we try to do our best to help him out as much as we can. He's always on edge.

Super Bowl week, with the South Beach parties and the hangers-on, is full of temptations but Hargrove says he now knows how to separate the good friends from those who might lead him toward trouble.

"When you go through something like this you really realize who was there for you. Then there are the people who weren't there for you and who want to get on the bandwagon because you are in the Super Bowl.

"Those are the people you realize are no good for you."

(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Ian Ransom)