Rollin’ Thunder, part 2
After everyone left, Chad’s father grabbed me and asked, “Where did you learn to play?” I replied, “I’ve never played before. “ Then Chad’s father made clear what was expected. “I coach the junior high football team. If you want to play for me, I have three rules: don’t be late for practice; you must have passing grades, and no fights. Is that understood?” I nodded my head, yes.
I ran home to tell my parents. They weren’t too pleased when they found out what happened. “I do not want you playing sports,” my father said. “I want you to get an education and become a doctor or a lawyer.”
I didn’t understand why my father was against my playing football. My mother explained that he had played Negro league baseball and dreamed of being in the majors one day. But by the time Jackie Robinson went to the Dodgers, the scouts said he was too old to play. He resented being labeled “too old” and never talked about it.
I was discouraged. But one day I heard a knock on my door. It was Chad’s father. After a long conversation with my parents, he convinced them that I should be allowed to play.
I showed up at practice. They had a throwing drill to see who could throw the farthest. I threw the ball so far that even the kids who didn’t want me on their team were astonished. Later on in practice, the coach tried me at quarterback. He told me to run a quarterback draw, and I faked like I was going to pass and headed for the end zone. By the end of the day, even Chad, who’d picked a fight with me, came up to me and said, “good game.“ We became friends, and he came to my defense when anyone said something mean.
By my senior year, college coaches and scouts came from all over the country. Everyone thought I could play in the pros. One day hometown legend Joe Namath showed up in the stands. When he saw me throw a pass, he said, “Who is this guy?”
College coaches from Bear Bryant to Woody Hayes came to my house and shamelessly tried to charm my parents. Ohio State Coach Hayes was the best. He’d promised them’ I would be the starting quarterback and get an education. My parents were sold. I was going to be a Buckeye.
When I got to the campus I was consider a phenom. The first game, I started. I threw for 300 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown pass. But even though I lead the Big Ten in total yards, many said I that I couldn’t be a pro quarterback. Opposing coaches would taunt me with racist comments and players would take cheap shots by hitting me after the play ended.
As my success grew I attracted a lot of parasites and leeches. My life took a turn when I was invited to a party. Everyone was drinking and dancing. I went to use to the bathroom saw and saw two pretty girls snorting lines of coke. They asked me to join them. I was reluctant but ending up doing lines with them.
I soon was hooked.
My personality changed. I would be late for practice, stopped going to class and partied all night. However my play didn’t suffer. I was touted to win the Heisman Trophy, the highest honor in college football.
Although I didn’t win the Heisman I was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Being drafted by my hometown team was exciting. They gave me a hero’s welcome. Chad’s father and his son were the first to welcome me. The Mayor gave me the keys to the city, and my parents were struck with emotion and said they were “proud of me.”
After everyone left I called my drug dealer.
When I got to training camp expectations were high. The players knew I was the star. The veterans resented me because I was the highest paid player. Chuck Knoll, the coach, said, “we paid a lot of money for you and we expect to win, don’t let me down. “
The pressure to perform made me withdraw. I felt alone and would drink. The first game of the season I was so nervous I vomited in the locker-room. The coach didn’t start me because he didn’t think I was ready to play. After three games our two quarterbacks were injured. The coach told me to go out to the field.
We were losing to the Bears 21-7. I was nursing a hangover from the night before and barely could stay awake. On the very first play I got hit so hard I saw stars as I lay on the ground. The linebacker who hit me was Dick Butkus. He said, “Welcome to the NFL, @#hole.”
The next play I ran fifty yards and stiff-armed Butkus for a touchdown. The fans went crazy and on the final play I scored a touchdown to win the game. After the game I was craving some coke. I called my drug dealer and got high. I became the starting quarterback and we went to the playoffs.
The next season we were predicted to win the Super Bowl. The first game of the season, I was running down the sidelines when I heard something snap. I fell to the ground, and when the doctor came he shook his head and said, “It’s over, you’re done. You can never play again”.
I was devastated; I tried to call my former friends and got no answer. Endorsements stopped coming. The collection agencies repossessed my house and my prize possession, which was a Bentley. Even the dog ran away.
My life became worse. I was a fullfledged junkie who was desperate. I had no money, couldn’t find a job. Football was l all I knew.
I ended up homeless, roaming the streets of Pittsburgh looking for a hit of coke. Many who remembered me avoided me. They would grab their kids and run.
I was so desperate I stole a gun and broke into my friend Chad’s house. I crawled through the window looking for something to steal. When Chad screamed “Rollin’, is that you?” I broke down and said, “I need help.“ We both had guns. I was going to put down my gun when it went off. A stray bullet hit Chad and he fired back and hit me in the chest.
As we lay on the ground, Chad was motionless. He was dead. The police arrested me and I went to jail for 20 years.
I was placed on a suicide watch. As the months became years I started going to the prison chapel. One day a pastor gave a powerful sermon on repentance. He read Acts and preached about the gospel of Paul on the way to Damascus. I got baptized right then. I then would go to the prison library and read the bible and the works of Jesus Christ.
I started talking to gang members about what happens if you are lead astray.
One day the warden said, “Someone is here to see you.” It was Chad’s son. He was 18 years old and a star quarterback for Ohio State. He was a believer also and I wept. I asked for his forgiveness. He said, “pray with me“ and we prayed together.
He advocated for my release and I finally got out.
Today I coach the high school team I played for, and help youth who are in the throes of addiction.
I thank my lord and savior for the second chance.