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Bronco Rob
06-07-2009, 09:02 AM
Chris Mims had it all, on the field and off, but the former Charger lost control of his life after his career came to an end

By Brent Schrotenboer
Sunday, June 7, 2009


LOS ANGELES – This is where he died: facedown on the bathroom floor of Apartment 409.

It was Oct. 15, 2008. Downtown Los Angeles. A friend entered the room and found the man unconscious. He called 911. Paramedics arrived at 9:24 a.m. and pronounced the man dead at 9:35. Cause of death: an enlarged heart.

Age: 38. Weight: 456 pounds. Name: Chris Mims, former defensive lineman for the Chargers.

At the height of his career, Mims was a key part of the only Chargers team to appear in a Super Bowl. He was a fun-loving player with a beaming smile – a man who was as generous off the field as he could be merciless on it.

His demons were relentless, though, particularly after the Chicago Bears released him in August 2000, one day after he overslept and missed practice.

Those who knew Mims well say they don't fully understand his decline, but they see his story as a cautionary tale for young men heading to the NFL.

Like many of the 256 players selected in April's NFL Draft, Mims possessed two assets that could make anyone feel invincible: an athletic body and instant wealth.

Hundreds of pages of court records – plus interviews with several friends and family members – show how quickly both could disappear.

About 78 percent of players are bankrupt, unemployed or divorced within two years of leaving the NFL, according to statistics cited for the past 15 years by retired player advocates. For Mims, the fall was much steeper.

“When you play football, you walk into places and you're the guy,” his lifelong friend Jaime Shepherd said. “You have this persona. You have money. But once you're not that guy anymore, you can't go to the bar and buy everybody's drinks. You can't take care of your mother. You can't take care of your friends.”

During his final years, Mims couldn't take care of himself, friends said. He became reclusive and depressed, and lived on disability payments. He evaded bill collectors. He drank and overate alone, hiding his burgeoning girth.

“You could speak with him on the phone, but if he knew you weren't going to be happy with the way he was, then he wouldn't allow you to see him,” said Mims' mother, Carleen Hastings.

When he died, Mims weighed twice what he did in college. His body required a coffin so large that it occupies two plots at a cemetery in the Hollywood Hills.


The old neighborhood

Dorsey High School yearbooks in the late 1980s show Mims as one of the most popular people in school. Ladies' man. Homecoming king. Star athlete. He had come a long way since his father, Lorenzo, died in an apparent homicide when Chris was 11. (Like the son, the father died at 38.)

South Central L.A. was a rough neighborhood. Gunfire was common. Rival street gangs, the Bloods and Crips, ruled parts of it. When signing autographs, Mims was known to cross out the C in his name because he was from Bloods territory.

“Coming from where we come from, the inner city, we grew up wanting to play football,” said Beno Bryant, one of Mims' Dorsey High teammates. “It was the way we were able to release our aggression and do it legally without being reprimanded by the police.”

Football and his mother helped keep Mims away from trouble. So did his warm personality.

Mims' mother raised him, along with a sister, who was six years younger, and twin half-brothers, who were 12 years younger. Money was scarce. At Dorsey, teammates teased him about his ratty football cleats.

“He'd say: 'These are the only shoes I've got. What do you want me to do?' ” Bryant said. “The thing about it is, people talked about how run-down the shoes were, but you couldn't stop him (in football). You couldn't stop him for nothing at all.”

In his senior year, Mims broke the school's season records for sacks and tackles. Because of subpar grades, he attended community colleges in Los Angeles. From there, a college assistant coach, A.J. Christoff, recruited him to the University of Tennessee.

Kevin Mays recalls how Mims, one of his Tennessee teammates, fit in.

“You wouldn't think that two people from two completely different backgrounds would get along so well, but I didn't know anybody on the team that just didn't love him,” Mays said. “That's the kind of personality he had.”

After two seasons at Tennessee, Mims was selected by the Chargers in the first round (23rd overall) of the NFL Draft in April 1992. Three days later, his old neighborhood erupted in the flames and destruction of the Rodney King riots.

It was a critical turn. Just as Mims was escaping the hardships of his old haunts, his body was entering a new stage that proved to be much more dangerous.

At the time of the draft, Mims played defensive end at 6 feet 5 and 270 pounds. Team officials expected him to play defensive tackle at more like 295.

“It will probably never happen just because of my weight,” Mims said to USA Today in 1992. “I don't see myself being a 295-pound guy.”

He struggled at the table and in the weight room. In 1993, he weighed 287 pounds. In 1998, he was up to 352.

At Tennessee, his nickname was “The Blade.” In San Diego, it became “The Fat Doctor.”


A judge's rebuke

On the morning of April 9, 1996, a little more than a year after the Chargers' loss in the Super Bowl, a Superior Court judge in Vista gave Mims a scolding.

“You're making a lot of money, and it's going through your hands like water,” the judge said. “You're going to have to put your life in order and put yourself on a budget. You can't go out and write checks that don't clear.”

It was one of more than 20 times that Mims had been taken to court for unpaid bills in San Diego County. All dated to his NFL days, when he earned almost $6 million.

He defaulted on a $243,750 house loan during the Chargers' Super Bowl run in 1994. He neglected bills for his Mercedes-Benz 600 SEL. He ignored attorneys' fees, carpet bills, liquor bills and, at times, child support.

Some friends attributed Mims' financial problems to immaturity. Others pointed to his excessive generosity.

Mims “couldn't say no,” said his coach from Dorsey High, Paul Knox.

He bought new cleats, travel bags and other equipment for Dorsey's football team.

“If he had $10 and you needed it, he'd just give it to you,” said Mays, his former Tennessee teammate. “He had a huge heart.”

Before his rookie season in 1992, Mims approached a 4-year-old boy, Mike Azhocar, at training camp. He asked him who his favorite player was. When the boy said Padres star Tony Gwynn, Mims laughed and told him to wait. Mims came back with autographed football cards, starting a friendship with Mike and his younger brother, Danny, that lasted through Mims' NFL career.

Mims went to Mike's kindergarten class, called him on the phone and took him to lunch. Mike Azhocar is now a linebacker at Cal Lutheran.

“He was probably their inspiration for where they are in their lives right now, working hard in school and playing the sport they loved so much,” said Azhocar's father, Mike. “He was a big inspiration.”


Generous to a fault

Mims' popularity peaked in 1994, when he rang up a career-high 11 sacks. In some ways, it was a curse.

Friends and others from the old neighborhood had come to him for money. “Now that I'm doing well, they're going to be coming by, looking for everything,” Mims predicted in 1992.

“Chris was generous to a fault,” said Mims' former Chargers teammate Lew Bush. “Unfortunately, when it came to focusing on Chris first, it was hard to keep priorities in order. It's hard for a young black man to step up and say, 'Hey, I don't know what I'm doing; I need help.' ”

His coach at Los Angeles Southwest College, Henry Washington, said Mims became the “Bank of America” for less-fortunate friends from home. Mims gave Bryant his Mustang 5.0 when Bryant's car broke down. He paid for funerals that friends' families couldn't afford.

But after 1994, his football career tapered off amid injuries and off-field issues. In 1995, a Superior Court judge cited Mims for not making monthly payments of $5,000 to a man whose windshield he smashed in a traffic dispute.

He also reported for training camp at more than 300 pounds. He managed just two sacks that season. After the Chargers cut him in April 1997, he joined the Washington Redskins, where he lasted just one season.

By 1998, Mims was back with the Chargers. But he managed just two sacks that season and none in 1999.

Mims' football career was over by the following August, when he was cut by the Bears. He was battling weight and injuries. His personal life was spiraling downward.

In 1999, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault after he hit a man with his belt outside a downtown Del Taco restaurant. A year earlier, he was convicted of refusing to take a blood-alcohol test after being pulled over on suspicion of driving drunk.


'Broken spirit'

Mims died in his fourth-floor, one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles' business district. It was nine years after his last NFL game. Rent was about $1,500 per month. His 13-floor building had a rooftop pool.

Mims didn't go out much. A neighbor who lived across the hall said she saw him only once.

“Is that the football player?” she said when asked about Mims. “I knew he was real sick. He had a caregiver come over who helped him.”

In the last year of his life, Mims might have added 100 pounds, his friends said. By definition, he was morbidly obese. He also suffered a stroke a few years earlier, causing his thought processes to slow.

“I think maybe he had a broken spirit and a broken heart,” said LaHoma Griffin, the mother of Mims' son, Chris Jr.

He was lost after his football career ended, friends said. Depression led to drinking and overeating, which led to more depression. He could barely walk on a knee that had virtually no cartilage – an old injury that worsened after 104 games in the NFL.

Mims needed surgery, but one friend said he never had it because his doctor told him he first needed to exercise and lose weight. It was a hopeless cycle. He couldn't exercise much and lose weight because of his knee.


Lingering mystery

His death still puzzles his loved ones. His mother said this year that “we still haven't quite connected the dots.”

It's a hard connection to make: from how he lived to how he died in Apartment 409. Bryant said he never saw Mims with a gloomy look on his face.

“It's something I want to take with me throughout my life,” Bryant said. “He always had this great big, beautiful smile.”

Weight may have been the biggest irony.

Mims was trim and agile when he was drafted. He was worried about whether he could gain what was necessary to play professional football. He was athletic enough to play center – in basketball – at Los Angeles City College. But he died so overweight that he needed a driver to take him around in his own car.

Mims is survived by two children, a son and daughter. Both are now about 15. Griffin said that in the year before he died, Mims spent more time with his children – about once a week.

His son is autistic. He has a strong resemblance to his father and is almost as tall. They liked to eat out and watch TV and movies.

In the end, Mims was still struggling to accept that his football days were over.

“It's hard for us all, because it's all we know,” Bryant said. “We go to school, but when you're in college, you don't really think about getting A's and B's, because it's all about getting out there on the football field.

“It's tough, but I think he was making a transition, to say to himself that he wasn't just a football player, that he was a very intelligent guy who had a wonderful spirit and wonderful heart.”




http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/jun/07/1n7mims225244-fallen-stars-burnout/?chargers

That One Guy
06-07-2009, 12:12 PM
“It's hard for us all, because it's all we know,” Bryant said. “We go to school, but when you're in college, you don't really think about getting A's and B's, because it's all about getting out there on the football field.

And they wonder why these guys can't transition? The term student athlete is a joke.

orinjkrush
06-07-2009, 12:42 PM
such a sad story. sometimes success is harder to cope with than failure.

broncofan7
06-07-2009, 12:45 PM
“It's hard for us all, because it's all we know,” Bryant said. “We go to school, but when you're in college, you don't really think about getting A's and B's, because it's all about getting out there on the football field.

And they wonder why these guys can't transition? The term student athlete is a joke.

Exactly right but not exactly ground breaking reporting .......