It is Super Bowl Week in the United States. The media blitz is on.
As a former center under the quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Randy Grimes could talk your ear off about the schemes, the blocks, the patterns and likelihood of this play or that. He could explain how Brady and Gronk are going to give Mahomes and Kansas City all they can handle in the Florida sunshine this Sunday.
He could. But he won’t.
Because even after starting over 100 games as a ferocious battling O lineman, he’d rather be talking sponsorship. Or the importance of family. Or a Higher Power. In fact, anything to do with recovery.
And that is exactly what Grimes was doing on the big screen in the Aurora Recovery Centre lecture hall recently, Zooming in from his home in Florida, meeting fellow men and women on the path right where they are at. On the road to recovery.
At 60 years old, Randy Grimes is still a force. Six-foot-four, 270 pounds, broad shouldered, he looks like he could still squat into position and “3-19” hike the ball to Vinny Testaverde or any other quarterbacks to whom he snapped over his nearly 10 years in the pro game.
But, far away from the blazing sunshine state, today he is addressing a captive audience in snowy Gimli, Manitoba. An addict is an addict in his mind, whether in Tampa, Florida or the prairies of Canada.
“Well, they’re warmer down here, I know that,” he says with a laugh.
Randy Grimes connects easily with folks in recovery. Not as some big shot pro athlete needing ego strokes, but as a humble man, one who knows what it is like to be at the top, the bottom, and all points in between. He sees no difference in the stories he hears in Gimli or at his own alma mater treatment centre, in that sense.
“One of the things I learned to do in treatment was to play the tape all the way through. I know that every time I pick up, I wind up either in an emergency room or with handcuffs on or in a treatment centre somewhere,” he says.
“I don’t think it is a matter of whether you are an executive, a former professional football player, or homeless. Addiction takes us all to the same place and that is where we all meet. And we all have the same stories. From the time we started picking up and started the lying and the manipulation and the behavior, that is where we are all on the same plane at the same time.”
Randy hit the wall on Sept 22, 2009. That was the day he was dropped off by the entrance to a treatment centre in West Palm Beach, Florida, his date with destiny. The result of yet another frantic plea for help, this one initiated by his wife Lydia, who reached out and found help from the National Football League’s Player Care Foundation. Falling out of the vehicle, the big tough former pro athlete literally crawled on his hands and knees the final 40 feet into the centre. Like most who have endured the vicious battle with addiction, his story is complete with highs and lows that leave loved ones shaking their head in disbelief.
In the 20 years leading up to that fateful crawl, he had been paying his dues as his addiction grew. From winning the Southwest Conference Championship as a member of the Baylor University Bears squad of 1980, a team that included NFL Hall of Famer Mike Singletary, Randy Grimes was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 45th overall. He made the Bucs offensive line right out of the gate and never looked back. He married his college sweetheart Lydia in his second year. They would go on to have two children and three grandkids. Everything looked great on the surface.
Playing pro football in the 1980s and early 1990s was not like today’s game. Three practices in full gear a week, then a game on Sunday. It was vicious. The injuries were mounting up, and steroids and painkillers were the answer for most players. In Randy’s case, in the firing line of defences trying to get around, over or through him to get to the quarterback, he suffered at least 20 concussions, enduring a long list of neck, shoulder and back issues.
Fractures of many bones. Six different knee surgeries.
The answer came in locker room medicine cabinets in the form of Vicodin, Percocet and, after he retired, OxyContin. What began as an answer turned into a requirement. Eventually he was throwing back up to 45 pills a day to deal with the pain. He knows first-hand all about overdoses, doctor shopping, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, and pawning Southwest Conference Championship rings.
He made serious and not-so-serious attempts at getting back on track. Six different rehabs and detox centres near his home in Houston, Texas, where he had landed after retiring, did little more than “put a BandAid on the problem.”
Addiction is the great remover. It removed jobs, houses, cars, and friendships from Randy’s life. It was on its way to removing his marriage when Lydia made the call and he fell out of the vehicle at the gates to what he hopes is his final treatment centre as a patient.
“It wasn’t until I came all the way to Florida and got away from all my people places and things and triggers that got me there that I finally got this,” he says of his life, now in his 12th year of abstinence.
And that is where the members at Aurora connect with the big man on the Zoom call.
Though raised faraway in a closed-knit, non-drinking, religiously-centred family in Tyler, Texas, about halfway between Dallas and Shreveport, Louisiana, Randy Grimes knows exactly where Aurora’s members are at. Because, to him, an addict is an addict, whether you did your thing on a pipe, from a bottle or, like he did, through painkiller pills.
When Aurora Recovery Centre President Steve Low contacted him and asked him to share his story with the members, he was only too willing. That is what he does, who he is.
Since getting recovery, Randy has become a well-known interventionist, helping hundreds of people from all walks of life to reach for the hand of recovery. He helps people find treatment centres and has been an ambassador for several mental health and recovery organizations. He is a go-to guy for media from CNN to Fox Sports, from MSNBC to the NFL Network. He is founder of Pro Athletes In Recovery, a foundation that helps people, not just athletes, find the resources they need in the post inpatient phases of recovery.
And for an hour or so a couple of weeks before this weekend’s big game, he was on screen in the cold, blowing snow of a prairie winter, telling his story, encouraging Aurora members to stay put in treatment, do their work and turn their lives around.
“When I was in treatment this last time in Florida, I guess I was a sponge. They talk all the time about waiting to hear that ‘one sentence’ or meet that ‘one person’ while you are going through this process that is going to change everything. Well, everything everybody said changed everything,” he says.
“So, I encourage everybody to kind of be like a sponge. To soak up everything they can. We are there for such a short time and, really, we are not there long enough to really make a big difference, so you have got to soak up everything you can and then carry it on the outside with you and stay plugged in.”
As a man who went from playing in front of 80,000 people to cleaning cigarette butts off the ground at his last treatment centre, he has strong beliefs about the desperation level it takes to make it in recovery. He finished treatment, went to sober housing, went to meetings, did therapy and aftercare, and watched his life change for the better.
Today, he is a grateful, doting grandfather, in crazy love with Lydia coming up on 40 years, and loves how recovery has given him what he was looking for all his life. Structure. Purpose. Happiness.
“People ask me what I miss most of all about football. It is not the game; it is the locker room. Being in recovery has given me a new locker room. To hang out with like-minded people, people that have been to the places I have been. People that have bled and cried and laughed and everything else we do in addiction. They have been there, those deep dark places. That is what recovery has given me back. My locker rooms. It has given me a playbook. And I encourage those people [at Aurora] to use the playbook that they are being given.”
Randy Grimes website: randygrimesspeaks.com
By Jeff Vircoe