To some, a shadow is the dancing silhouette along a walk or wall. A friendly reminder that your not necessarily alone, you always have yourself. To others, it is a stark reminder of an alternate reality. The shadow is a microcosm of a life that has been changed, turned, and darkened.
For drug addicts, reality and the world where shadows live collide and the thin line between hallucinations and shadows become real. To an addict, a shadow is not a cast dark image of himself, it is another person entirely.
Marlin Briscoe became an addict.
Leaving the NFL in 1976 following a final stint with the New England Patriots, Marlin “The Magician” Briscoe moved to the city of Los Angeles where he bought a house and discovered that life after football was not going to be easy, nor what he imagined.
It all started innocently enough, a party here, a party there. A lifestyle change that would eventually erupt into free basing cocaine. Dark clouds would form around his life and as the weeks turned into months, months would turn into years. A decade later he would be sitting at the bottom of his own life, a seedy hotel filled with 30 other addicts. 2 bucks in his pocket that he would pool with another addict to buy more crack.
The addiction would lead to more problems as addictions always do. Although Marlin never dealt drugs to anyone, he would buy from everyone. It was a buy that would end in a 4 day kidnapping that could have cost him his life. Briscoe bought crack using a 1,500 dollar check, the “dealers” accepted because of his name. Those dealers would turn out to be Crips. Gang-bangers. When the check bounced, they came after Marlin.
Finding Marlin in yet another crack house, Marlin would be pulled away at gun point, hands bound behind him, blindfolded, and then thrown into the back of a car. It would last 4 days. Friday to Monday. As his high wore off, he would spend the weekend sober. Fear gripping his life as reality was not induced in drugs. A gun click to his head, no bullet in the chamber. Marlin knew they wouldn’t kill him until they had their money. While his life, his well-being was threatened, his only card was a trip to a bank on Monday. It kept him alive. That Monday he payed his debt, but it took him jumping from their moving car into traffic to escape what would become an unknown outcome.
The addictions that one man fights is rarely different from that which another man will fight. In his own words, Marlin will tell you that barring a miracle, an addict, man or woman, must hit rock bottom before they realize that the only thing below them is their own death. No money, no home, no friends, no job, no future. That is still not rock bottom to an addict. There are deeper places to fall.
In 1984 Marlin tried to get his life back moving home to Omaha. He used his two Super Bowl rings as collateral for a loan to get his life in order. As he traveled toward Denver for a job license, his addictions took over and he found himself in Los Angeles once again. His rings, the property of a local bank would eventually find their way to Ebay as the Marlin defaulted on his loan, the bank would sell them off.
His life would twist and turn around the drug world for a few more years. Tom Flores, the former Bills teammate and now coach of the Oakland Raiders would help get rehab. He would fall off that wagon. He would leave LA for San Diego where he would fall into the ruins of street addiction more. He would be arrested and spend 90 days in a San Diego jail.
As he left jail, he phoned one of his many true friends, the ones that had not yet given up. He would find out on that day, he would have one less willing. As he stood on a street corner, Hall of Fame WR and former Charger Lance Allworth would hand him 500 dollars. “I can’t help you anymore Marlin” he would say and then drive away. In front of him, skid row. Prostitutes and Cuban drug dealers. His family for the last 10 years. As he waited for his ride back to L.A. Marlin Briscoe would make the decision that ended his life. His drug life. He quit. Stepping off the row, Marlin Briscoe would once again face the demons of his past, his shadows, his addictions.
In the same way he fought racial injustices, Marlin Briscoe would tackle the road ahead in his recovery. He would find the road hard, often finding that his addiction past would catch up with his sober present. Often in the forms of temptation of job problems. He would become a coach, a teacher, a father figure. More importantly, he would become Marlin Briscoe the recovered addict.
Some may think that it is his pioneering career as the first black QB to start in the NFL that has spawned the interest of others to develop a film about his life, some may believe that it simply is the addiction of a decade long gone that makes for more compelling fare. Perhaps the real story is not about racial injustice or drug addiction. Perhaps the real story is about one mans recovery and the message that it sends to others. It can be done. There is always hope. As we continue our series about the life of Marlin Briscoe, we will be asking that very question as we look at the film that is in development of Briscoe’s life and those involved in making this life known.
You can listen to Marlin talk about this part of his life in our exclusive interview found here!