We can review the history of addictive diseases in terms of Super Bowl freak-outs - that is, how players defined and reacted to their substance abuse right before the big game. Three in particular come to mind as representing the major ages of addiction in sports - Denying the Disease (DD), Accepting the Disease (AD), Before the Disease (BD).
DD: Denying the Disease. Stanley Wilson was the Cincinnati Bengal tailback who was found high on cocaine in his bathroom the night before playing the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII in 1989. Wilson was no stranger to addiction treatment - he had been suspended twice previously by the NFL for his cocaine use. After this episode, he was banned from football for life.
Ten years later Wilson was was sentenced to 22 years for home robbery. Wilson never "got with the program" despite being in and out of rehab. On the positive side, his son Stanley Wilson Jr. attended Stanford University and went on to become a professional football player himself. (The bad news there - he plays for the Detroit Lions.)
AD: Accepting the Disease. Unlike Wilson, Barret Robbins, a star center for the Oakland Raiders for nine years, accepted his diagnosis for bipolar disorder and supervision and medication for his disease. Nonetheless, Robbins experienced an emotional collapse before Super Bowl XXXVII with Tampa Bay in San Diego in 2003. He was found wandering drunk in Tijuana the night before the game.
Although Robbins did not have the checkered punishment record and career that Wilson did, the years since his breakdown are - if anything - more tragic than Wilson's. Arrested during a shoot-out with Miami police, Robbins - himself wounded - was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to receive treatment and to avoid alcohol. However, in 2007, he jumped probation and hasn't been located since.
BD: Before the Disease. Among the many tales of football high-jinks in the old days is the legend of Max McGhee. McGhee played for the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl I in 1967. Altiough he led the Packers in pass receptions for five consecutive years, now in his mid-thirties, McGhee was only a back-up player. Not expecting to play, he went on a late night drinking bender Super Bowl eve.
But starter Boyd Dowler showed up injured, and McGhee was thrust into the game - where he promptly caught a touchdown pass. He ended up with seven passes and two touchdowns in the Packers' 35-10 shellacking of the Kansas City Chiefs (Wilson's and Robbins' teams were both badly beaten). McGhee, who died in 2007 at age 75 in a fall blowing leaves off his roof, was quoted: "When it's third and ten, you can take the milk drinkers and I'll take the whiskey drinkers every time."
Conclusion: Sometimes it's hard to feel we've progressed in handling addiction.
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