Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Watching Maxx Crosby play football should come with a dizziness disclaimer.
He’s manic in his movements, even by the high-paced standards of modern NFL edge rushers. The 24-year-old Raiders star bounces between spins, swims, slaps, twists and rips in split seconds when he’s trying to pressure opposing quarterbacks. And the motion doesn’t stop when he completes the task, as he’s got a similarly diverse set of celebrations, including arm extensions, archery imitations and punch combinations.
“I’m wild on the field,” Crosby said this summer during an interview at his Henderson home, “and I’m just kind of crazy at the end of the day.”
Never-ending intensity is a hallmark of Crosby’s personality, one that’s proven to be both a blessing and a curse as he enters into his third NFL season starting on Monday Night Football when the Raiders host the Baltimore Ravens. He goes all-out on everything, and for a long time, that included partying.
He needed something that could give him the same highs of making a game-changing play, and he found it in alcohol from a young age.
“I knew deep down I had a problem from the day I started drinking in high school,” Croby said. “I couldn’t drink without throwing up. That was the reality of it. I knew I couldn’t handle it.”
But, for a long time, he could manage it. Crosby’s tireless work ethic and undying commitment to football always made up for his extracurricular indulgence.
He’s usually been one of the best players on all of his teams throughout his career, dating to childhood, but his reputation preceded him and may have prevented him from being one of the leaders on those teams.
That changes this season. Now 18 months sober, Crosby — alongside his “brother” and high-priced free agent signing Yannick Ngakoue — has taken ownership of the Raiders’ defense, according to coach Jon Gruden.
Crosby's activity level during training camp practices was almost as frenetic as his game day approach, as he competed to beat everyone off the ball and knock pads silly when it was his turn in drills. While on breaks, he’d offer nonstop encouragement and instruction to teammates.
“He’s a fun guy,” Gruden said. “He’s a hell of a football player and thank God we got him.”
• • •
The Raiders got him because they believed in him when they had reason not to.
Alcoholism nearly derailed Crosby’s collegiate career at Eastern Michigan. The Eagles were the only Football Bowl Subdivision team to offer Crosby a scholarship out of Colleyville Heritage High, just outside of Dallas.
They were coming off a 1-11 season and Crosby was aware of their reputation as “the worst team in the country.” But he committed because he felt otherwise overlooked as a “skinny white kid” and thought it was his best chance to someday reach the NFL.
“Even when it didn’t feel realistic and other people didn’t see it in me, I always believed deep down there was no other job I could be doing,” Crosby said. “I’ve always kept that mentality and outworked everyone around me.”
It paid off his redshirt sophomore season, when he racked up 11 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss to get on NFL teams’ radars. Going into the offseason, Crosby decided that he was only playing one more year before declaring early for the 2019 NFL Draft.
But the drinking was still a constant, and it finally caught up to him in the aftermath of a house party when he was arrested for driving under the influence.
“Party got busted, I left and crashed my car and ended up getting suspended,” Crosby said.
The suspension was set to last multiple games, and Crosby remembers feeling physically sick to his stomach for days at the thought of not being able to play. In an effort to clear his head, he and his longtime girlfriend adopted a pit bull and named her Brooklyn.
He also begged Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton to reconsider, partly because the team’s second game of the year would be the biggest opportunity to improve his draft stock with a date at Purdue, a power-conference team. Creighton eventually relented, downgrading Crosby’s suspension to one game — but only if he abided by strict conditions for the rest of the year.
“We had a lot of talks, went back and forth and came up with a game plan,” Crosby said. “I had to do a lot of things in the community. I had to stay sober. That was part of it, and I did it. I ended up getting to play in that game, got a big sack and we ended up beating Purdue at their place. It was a big win for our school.
“But there’s a difference between being dry sober and being really sober. I still had a ton to work on.”
• • •
Crosby tried to keep the incident private, but NFL teams found out anyway.
Coaches at EXOS, one of the biggest NFL Draft training companies, warned Crosby every team was going to ask him about it at the draft combine. They were right.
“It wasn’t fun,” Crosby said of his combine-meeting experience. “There were some interviews where I was like, ‘This is the worst.’ But I was ready and prepared for it. It was uncomfortable, but at the end of the day, I didn’t kill anybody. I messed up, I learned from it and I’m glad the Raiders believed in me.”
The Raiders were rewarded immediately for taking Crosby in the fourth round at the 106th overall pick, a selection that’s widely regarded as the franchise’s best since Gruden returned to the sidelines. Crosby claimed a starting role and caught fire at the end of the Raiders’ final season in Oakland, registering 10 sacks.
But his success only made temptation loom stronger.
“After my rookie season, it was great,” Crosby said. “You’ve got money now. You’ve got opportunities to do whatever you want, basically. You don’t have supervision, so for me I was just partying too much, and it became unmanageable.”
• • •
In January 2020, Crosby flew his family out to Las Vegas to go house shopping. He found a place in a private community and relocated with his girlfriend in February.
But he didn’t allow himself much time to settle. By early March, on the same day the NBA shut down to signal the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, Crosby checked himself into rehab in Los Angeles.
“I knew at the end of the day, it didn’t matter what anybody else said,” Crosby said. “I needed help. I needed it to save my life.”
Crosby was eventually allowed to make a few trips back to his new home, but for the most part, he was sequestered either in the rehab facility or later a sober house for four months. He moved back to Las Vegas permanently in late July 2020 feeling refreshed and motivated for training camp.
Two days later, he tested positive for coronavirus and was forced to quarantine away from the team for 10 days. He was told not to do any physical activity, but couldn’t hold off the urge, and fought through symptoms to work out all day in his backyard.
He drilled his footwork on a small patch of turf, did cardio in his small waterfall-equipped pool and hit an old palm tree with pass-rushing moves until his hands bled.
“Football, I’ve got one shot at this and it’s super important to me,” Crosby said. “I want to live out my dream and do everything to the fullest of my potential. I don’t think that’s possible if I’m partying and (goofing off) on the side.”
• • •
The hits didn’t end with the sickness.
By midseason, Crosby was dealing with two serious injuries that required surgery — a broken hand and a torn labrum. And yet, he didn’t miss a game. Asked if sitting out was a real possibility, Crosby chuckled.
“If you ask me, no way,” Crosby said. “If you ask my coaches, they were thinking about it, but they didn’t want to come to me because they knew I’d shut that (expletive) down so fast. For me, if I can play, I play. Unless I cannot physically move, I’m going to go out and play.”
His production slightly dipped from his rookie year, dropping down to seven sacks on the season, but Crosby maintained better balance in his private life. When he wasn’t practicing, he was at home with his girlfriend and their now three pit bulls — Durk and Leo recently joined Brooklyn as Crosby continued his quest to find healthier outlets outside of football.
The couple’s idea of a night out became checking out Las Vegas’ biggest resorts and going to a fancy dinner before heading home. The dialed-back routine helped Crosby get his mind right and set a foundation for his approach to the upcoming 2021-22 season.
“For me, this upcoming year is a huge year personally,” Crosby said. “It’s a huge year for our team and I’d be doing a disservice to our team if I wasn’t locked in.”
• • •
Crosby hasn’t missed a single day at the Raiders’ Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center in Henderson since Super Bowl 55, the conclusion of last NFL season. He’s often the first one there, even beating the notoriously early-rising Gruden throughout training camp.
“He likes coming to work — his car, he’s got an orange Porsche,” Gruden said recently in a news conference. “Who the hell has an orange Porsche? I pull in here and there’s an orange Porsche, so I know he’s in there. I leave at night and the orange Porsche is here.”
Crosby now finds the structure that rehab provided last offseason in football. Before training camp, he’d wake up every day, make the 15-minute drive to the facility and then go through both a cardio and lifting routine before a rehabilitation regimen to get back to full strength from his pair of surgeries.
Then, after he went back home at night, he’d stretch and use Normatec body-recovery technology to treat soreness. Crosby would also eat the same five meals every day prepared by the Raiders’ team chef.
“It gets annoying and repetitive at times but I’ve got nothing else to do,” Crosby said. “I’d much rather be doing this than working a normal job or being in school or something. I’d just be miserable. This is what I love to do so I’m going to put everything into it, and hopefully it goes the way I expect it to.”
Teammates have been taken aback by Crosby’s dedication and therefore gravitated toward him — including star tight end Darren Waller. In a lot of ways, Waller is the opposite of Crosby — soft-spoken, reserved and workmanlike on the field.
Because of that, Crosby said it took the two time to bond, but they’re now as close as any two players on the team. Waller was an inspiration to Crosby for sharing his own story of addiction, and they make for a natural support system for each other.
“When the days get overwhelming or kind of long, you look over and see him and know he’s fighting the same battles you’re fighting,” Waller said. “It’s cool to have somebody in the trench with you like that. I’m lucky to have Maxx as a teammate.”
• • •
Gruden announced last week that Crosby and Waller had been voted captains — alongside Ngakoue, quarterback Derek Carr, fullback Alec Ingold, running back Josh Jacobs and guard Richie Incognito — for the upcoming season.
When the veteran, eight-time captain Carr was leaving team headquarters that night, Crosby caught up to him.
“He was like, ‘Bro, I’ve never been a captain at any level,’ ” Carr recalled. “I looked at him like, ‘What!?’ He was like, ‘Dude this means so much to me.’ ”
“I was like, ‘Maxx, you’ve proved it on and off the field every day. Everyone knows his story off the field and what he’s been able to accomplish in his personal life and, on the field, we’ve seen what he accomplished this offseason. No one has worked harder than that guy. In the weight room, even on days when we’re not lifting, (strength coach) A.J. (Neibel) has to tell him, ‘We’re not lifting today. Go rest.’ He has just taken his game and leadership to such a high level. Man, I’d follow that guy anywhere. He inspires me.”
The noticeably slimmed-down, bulked-up Crosby has importantly reached what he feels is a mental and physical peak without sacrificing any of his unbridled energy. He’s as crazy as ever, just with a more positive way to channel it.
And he can’t wait to channel it for the team that stood by him throughout his trials.
“Everyone has supported me for who I am,” he said. “At the end of the day, they know I’m not the straightedge, perfect kid but know that I have a big heart and I’m going to put everything I have out on the field.”