TAMPA - Scott Paxson sat at his table during the Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl interview session yesterday morning in the University of South Florida's Sun Dome and smiled.
"I'm taking it all in, man," the reserve defensive lineman said. "Taking it all in. The older guys told me I'll remember this the rest of my life. So, I'm stepping back and trying to enjoy it."
It didn't matter to the former Roman Catholic High School and Penn State product that few of the 300-plus media members present were interested in chatting with him. It didn't matter that he probably will be deactivated Sunday and won't get to suit up for the Steelers' Super Bowl XLIII battle against the Arizona Cardinals.
"It's the experience of a lifetime," he said. "It's what everybody dreams about when you're a kid. Being in the Super Bowl. I'm enjoying every minute of it."
Paxson, who was initially signed by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2006, spent all of last season and much of this year on their practice squad. He saw his first NFL action in Week 5 on special teams, then was put back on the practice squad again, before being signed to the 53-man roster for good in early December. He is listed as the team's No. 3 nose tackle on the depth chart, behind starter Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke.
"I love this team," Paxson said. "I'm on the No. 1-rated defense in the league. I feel I'm a part of it, even though I don't get on the field on Sundays. It's pretty amazing. I get to go on the field and play behind Hamp and Hoke and [defensive end] Aaron Smith. I feel I'm learning on and off the field every day."
Thirty-four months ago, Paxson wasn't sure he'd ever get a chance to play in the NFL. A 2-year starter at Penn State, he had high hopes of being selected in the 2006 draft. Then, 7 weeks before the draft, he was blindsided by the justice system.
The Centre County District Attorney's office filed sexual-assault charges against him for an alleged date-rape incident 14 months earlier with a Penn State coed. Paxson admitted he had sex with the woman, but insisted it was consensual. The charges were dropped 6 months later, after Paxson agreed to plead no-contest to disorderly conduct.
Another former Penn State player, running back Austin Scott, also was charged with sexual assault 2 years ago. The charges against him finally were dropped last April, the weekend of the draft. Scott, like Paxson, wasn't drafted. Scott eventually signed as a free agent with the Cleveland Browns, but was released in the preseason.
The prosecutor in both cases, assistant DA Lance Marshall, resigned Dec. 30 after it was revealed he was being investigated by the state Attorney General's Office after allegations were made that he had improper contact with a victim of domestic violence in a case he was assigned to prosecute. Marshall allegedly sent the woman more than 100 sexually explicit text messages on his county-issued cell phone.
"That put a damper on my life big-time," Paxson said. "I felt like I could have been drafted out of college. Maybe the fifth or sixth round. There were teams that were talking to me. And then, when they found out about my situation, they disappeared. They told my agent [Chuck Abel] they couldn't see a team drafting me with that going on. I'm just glad that's all behind me."
While it's behind him, he hasn't been able to forget the hell Marshall and the Centre County DA's office put him through.
"Bitter? Yeah," he said. "But more to the extent that I just don't know how that guy was able to sleep at night . . . I almost want to have lunch with him - maybe from across the table so I don't strangle him - and find out why he did that to me." *