In Under Pressure, Ray Lucas provides fans with a timely, uncensored look at pro football’s play-at-all-costs culture. Overcoming questions about his size and skills as a quarterback, Lucas persevered and went on to play seven seasons in the NFL. His professional football career, however, came to a sudden end at age 30, when a neck injury caused him to collapse on the sideline during training camp. Instructed by NFL doctors that surgery wasn’t an option, Lucas turned to painkillers for relief, but as his tolerance for medication escalated and his NFL insurance coverage expired, he began to plan his suicide. Just days before he planned to take his life, Lucas was put in touch with a group of doctors who agreed to perform neck surgery free of charge. In this tell-all, Lucas shares how—in a league without guaranteed contracts and careers that average just a few seasons long—players in the training room are perceived to lack the toughness necessary to succeed on the field. He discusses how this prevailing attitude leads to widespread abuse of painkillers and leaves many former players unable to lead a normal life once their playing career ends while also sharing details on how he overcame his drug addiction and turned his own life around.
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About the Author
Ray Lucas played seven seasons in the NFL as a quarterback and special teams player for the New England Patriots, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, and Baltimore Ravens. He is an analyst covering the Jets for SNY New York and a color analyst for the Rutgers Football Network. He lives in Harrison, New Jersey. David Seigerman is a sports journalist and freelance writer and producer who wrote for College Sports Magazine, the Jackson Sun, and Newsday. He is the coauthor of Take Your Eye Off the Ball. He lives in New York City. Bill Parcells is a former NFL head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, New York Giants, and New York Jets. He who two Super Bowls while coaching the New York Giants and is currently an NFL analyst for ESPN. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
Read an Excerpt
How Playing Football Almost Cost Me Everything and Why I'd Do It All Again
By Ray Lucas, David Seigerman
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2014 Ray Lucas and David Seigerman
All rights reserved.
Get Off the Bus
My first NFL concussion came on my first NFL play.
I was the worst wide receiver on the New England Patriots roster. The worst. I was brutal. But I was out there on the field in Green Bay, covering the opening kickoff of our first game of the 1996 preseason.
Back then, the NFL had yet to outlaw the wedge. That's when three or four fatties would line up shoulder to shoulder or hold hands or lock their arms together and form a wall in front of the kick returner. The first player on the kicking team to the wedge had to split it.
I was lined up as R3 — third guy from the outside, right side of the formation — and started running down the field with the rest of the kick coverage team. I looked to my left and didn't see anybody. I looked to my right. Nobody. I realized, I'm out in front. I have to bust the wedge.
I watched the wedge come together, and it gave me the slightest pause as I considered for the first time what was about to happen. For a split second, I thought, Oh shit. And then it was gone. Instead of getting scared, a switch flipped. I went crazy and picked up speed. It was my first NFL play, and I was going to kill every son of a bitch in that wall.
To split the wedge, you had to hit it right in the middle. If you hit it from the outside, you've taken yourself out of the play. The blockers are like bowling pins, and you have to separate the two in the middle. That's not so easy to do. You can't leave your feet or it's a penalty. You can't go low to take them out. Penalty. Basically, you're fucked. Which is why they eventually got rid of the wedge. But not before I had to go split it, full speed, right down the middle, which is what I did.
A few seconds later, I woke up on my back, looking up at the sky from the turf of Lambeau Field. I had knocked myself completely unconscious and had no idea what had happened after impact. I simply got up, saw guys in the huddle, and figured, That's where I need to be.
So, I walked over and joined the Green Bay Packers huddle.
I looked around at everyone, not recognizing any faces or having a clue what was going on. Brett Favre noticed me and laughed, then started waving over at our sideline and yelled, "You better come get your boy."
When I got to our sideline, Bill Parcells came right over to me.
"What the fuck is wrong with you?"
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah. I'm good."
And that was that. The trainers came over and asked me if I was all right. I told them the same thing: "Yeah. I'm good." That was pretty much the extent of a concussion test back in the mid-1990s.
No one even called them concussions. They were "burners" on offense, "stingers" on defense. Sometimes, they were "dings." Call them whatever you want but they were all the same thing: concussions. Your brain had just been bounced around inside your skull.
When it happens, you feel like warm water is sliding down one side of your head. You usually can't hear anything in one ear, or if you do hear a sound, it's like a faint ringing. You can't see straight, so you close one eye and try to focus. If that doesn't work, you close the other eye and see if that works any better. You do that for 40 seconds, the trainer comes over, asks you if you're all right, and you say, "Yeah. I'm good."
I finished my football career with about 20 burners, and the one in Green Bay wasn't my first. The first one came my sophomore season at Rutgers, when we were playing at West Virginia, my first full year as starting quarterback. They had a safety named David Mayfield, who had been considered one of the bigger hitters in the Big East that year. We were running a sprint pass, and I never saw Mayfield; he was out of my sight line when I made the throw. My receiver was running a hook, and Mayfield stepped right in and intercepted it, but not cleanly. He was juggling it at first, and my immediate reaction was that I needed to go separate him from the ball.
I ran at him, and when we were a yard or two apart, we looked right into each other's eyes. We both knew what was coming. I hit him, spun around, and was out cold.
I didn't know until later, after I'd seen it on film, that after I'd made the hit I spun around and stood right in the path of some defensive lineman, who came out of nowhere and sent me flying through the air.
When I got up from the hit, the training staff was there, ready to ask me that all-important question.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah."
I guess they could tell that I wasn't, because they followed up with some more probing questions.
"Do you know where you are?"
"Where are you?"
"What's your name?"
"What day is it?"
It was pretty bad. We wound up getting crushed 58–22, and on the plane ride home, I asked the guy sitting next to me, "Are we on our way to the game?"
He immediately hit the overhead call button, and the team doctors came over to ask me more questions. But that was it. No big deal. Just a burner. At some point during the flight home, the fog lifted, the ringing in my ears stopped, and everything was back to normal. And I was right back in the lineup the next week at Miami.
Shortly after that opening kickoff concussion in Green Bay, we were flying home from another preseason game. All the rookies sat together on the plane, and one of the offensive linemen turned to me and asked, "Are we on our way to the game?"
So it was my turn to start banging the buzzer, calling over the team doctors, and laughing my ass off now that I was on the other end of the conversation.
* * *
I hadn't planned on playing special teams or wide receiver in the NFL. I was a quarterback. But I would have done anything in the world for the chance to keep playing football after college. If Parcells had told me after practice to go shine the helmets, they would have been the shiniest, sexiest helmets you've ever seen.
I didn't have a lot of choices coming out of Rutgers. It was the era of the pocket quarterback, and there weren't too many guys in the league who were doing what I was doing in college — running around, keeping plays alive with my legs the way Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III are doing today. I wasn't even invited to play in any of the postseason all-star showcase games, so I figured I wasn't going to get a chance at the NFL.
In fact, I had already decided to start playing basketball for Rutgers. Growing up, I actually loved basketball more than football. Every time my mother sent me to the store to buy cigarettes, I went with a basketball in my hand. I'd dribble right-handed on the way there, left-handed on the way back. I scored 2,198 points as a point guard in high school and went to Howard Garfinkel's Five-Star Camp three years in a row. Once, we had Rick Pitino as a guest speaker. During his talk, he brought out Billy McCaffrey (who went on to be one of the top scorers on Duke's 1991 title team) and me to demonstrate how to shoot the basketball. I took double recruiting visits to Syracuse and Virginia, and could have played football or basketball in college.
I chose Rutgers and football. But when my final football season ended, I talked with Bob Wenzel, the basketball coach, about playing for him. I was all set to return to the court when my mother called me from home, saying she had received a letter from the NFL, inviting me to the scouting combine.
That was it for basketball. I dropped everything and started training for the combine.
I went to Indianapolis and worked out with the quarterbacks. I threw the ball pretty well, though I didn't enjoy the whole meat-market aspect of the combine. But the worst part of the process for me by far was the physical. The doctors wanted to see how my rotator cuff had healed after I'd had it reconstructed following my junior season.
That probably was my first real injury. We were playing Miami at home — it was our first big game in Rutgers' new football stadium, and I remember Warren Sapp coming out and kicking the pylons. In the third quarter, Sapp wrapped me up, drove me into the ground, and separated my shoulder.
I don't know how I did it but I played the rest of the season with a tear in my right rotator cuff. When I would bring my arm back to throw, it was fine. But when I started to come forward with the ball, it was a level of pain I had never experienced before. It was the kind of pain that brought tears to my eyes and left me blinking just to clear my vision. We're talking blinding pain on every fucking throw.
It didn't just hurt when I was throwing — my shoulder hurt constantly. I couldn't sleep, couldn't drive, couldn't lift anything. Most of the time, I would just let my arm hang there, resting on my stomach. I didn't even realize I was doing it until people came up to me and asked, "Hey, Luke, what's the matter with your arm?"
Still, the notion of sitting out never crossed my mind. None of us thought that way. Even in college, I always had teammates who played with injuries they probably shouldn't have been playing with. One of my linemen once came into the huddle with one of his fingers sticking out from the middle knuckle at a 90-degree angle. I just stared at it until he asked me, "What are you looking at?"
I said, "Dude, look at your finger."
He looked down and said, "Oh, shit." Just like that, the same way he would've sounded if he'd just realized he'd forgotten his car keys. No big deal. Just a finger pointing in the wrong direction. I was ready to throw up, but he just went to the sideline, and before the next play, he was back in the huddle, staring me in the face. He said, "It came out of the joint, so they just squeezed it back together. Let's go."
That, essentially, is the mentality of a football player. There's a difference between being hurt and being injured: hurt you can play, injured you can't. No one is going to admit he's injured unless he absolutely has to, so you play hurt without thinking twice. If you can't play with pain, you can't stay on the field. If you can't stay on the field, you can't stay in the NFL.
I played the rest of that college season with a tear in my rotator cuff, and we did the surgery the day after the season ended. Then I really found out was pain was. You can live with the bumps and bruises, but when they cut your shoulder wide open, drill holes, tie knots, and put in screws — that's real pain.
Fortunately, I healed fast — always have — and I was ready in time for camp. I didn't miss a beat my whole senior season. I hadn't worried about the shoulder at all until I met the doctor at the combine.
"How's your shoulder?" he asked me. "Does it hurt?"
"Well, it's gonna hurt today."
He proceeded to try and rip my shoulder out of the socket. He pulled it, twisted it, and moved it in every direction a shoulder is supposed to go — and some that it wasn't. The guy was kneeling on top of me with all of his weight, trying to see if he could roll my shoulder out of the socket. I passed the physical, but I was sore as shit the next day.
The only positive thing about my combine experience was one conversation that gave me some hope of getting drafted. It was with one of the coaches from the Pittsburgh Steelers, which made sense. Kordell Stewart had been with them for a couple of seasons by then, though he hadn't seen much time at quarterback. The guy asked me, "Can you do what he does?"
I thought I might end up a Steeler.
There weren't a lot of quarterbacks selected in the 1996 draft. Tony Banks was the first one off the board; he went 42nd to the Rams. The Eagles took Bobby Hoying at No. 85. Jeff Lewis went to Denver, Danny Kanell to the Giants.
And when Pittsburgh was on the clock with the 203rd pick, I was watching the graphic across the bottom of the screen on ESPN. I saw the pick — Spence Fischer, quarterback from Duke — flash onto the screen, and that was it. Eight quarterbacks wound up getting drafted. I wasn't one of them.
After the draft, my agent told me the Jacksonville Jaguars were interested in having me come down as an undrafted free agent. I told him to set it up, right away. An hour later, he told me that the Jaguars had invited South Carolina quarterback Steve Taneyhill instead. I fired my agent.
I woke up the morning after the draft thinking I'd just go back to school, finish my classes, and graduate. Even my backup, Robert Higgins, had been invited to San Diego's rookie camp. I hadn't heard anything from anyone.
But I had an idea.
When you go to the combine, you wind up taking home all kinds of business cards from coaches you meet from all over the league. I found the card for Mike Pope, who was the tight ends coach in New England. I called Mike and told him I needed to talk to Coach Parcells.
I had met Bill Parcells a few times when his teams practiced at Rutgers. I doubted he would remember me, but I had to take the shot. Mike transferred my call and when Parcells picked up, I started my sales pitch.
"Just give me a shot. Let me come up there and show you what I can do."
He listened for a minute or so and said, "Okay, kid."
I didn't know at the time I'd been recommended to him by Doug Graber, my head coach at Rutgers. Still, my call worked. Just like that, I was on my way to New England for rookie minicamp.
I spent my first day there as a wide receiver, even though I had never played receiver before. I was out there alongside Terry Glenn, who the Patriots had drafted over the weekend with the seventh overall pick.
I was awful.
After practice, we were on the bus for the one-mile drive back to the facility. I got called off the bus and needed to catch a ride back with one of the coaches.
That's it, I thought. I'm going to get cut on the first day without even getting to take a shower.
Parcells didn't cut me. But the second day, he had me practicing as a defensive back. I was out there alongside the team's second-round pick from that draft, Lawyer Milloy.
Again, we all started boarding the bus after practice, and, again, I got called off.
After the third practice — which I spent as a quarterback — I made a beeline for the back row, making it as hard as possible for them to find me and call me off the bus again. Sure enough, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis got on, came straight to the back, and said, "Get off the bus. Coach Parcells wants to talk to you."
I left the bus, figuring it would be for the last time. I got into Parcells' car for a ride back to the stadium and prepared myself for the worst.
"We want to keep you, if you want to stay," he said.
I wasn't quite sure I'd heard him correctly, so I asked him what he meant.
"It means we want to sign you. Do you have an agent?"
"No, but I'll sign any papers you have right now."
"You can't do that, Ray. You gotta get somebody to look at the contract."
To be honest, I didn't care what the contract said. I was signing it. Then he told me they would give me a signing bonus: $2,500. To me, it may as well have been $25,000. Give me the papers and show me where to sign.
When I flew home that night, I had on all the free Patriots stuff they gave me. I boarded the plane, wearing my new Patriots T-shirt and my new Patriots hat. A woman asked me, "Excuse me, are you a New England Patriot?" I just lost it. I started crying, I was so proud. I couldn't even squeak out a "Yes."
I came out of the airport and it seemed like everyone from my hometown of Harrison was there. It was an incredible feeling. I told my family and my friends, "I don't know what I'm doing and I don't know if I'm going to make it. But right now, I am on the team."
It probably didn't look that way at first. If you had watched one of our first practices that summer, you would have had a pretty good idea who should be the first player cut.
"Who is No. 15? That guy sucks. No way he makes the roster."
I would have agreed with you. I was playing wide receiver. And I really was terrible.
Learning how to run routes, figuring out the precision involved, was really difficult. Everything has to be done the right way at the right time or the whole thing doesn't work. Plus, I was going against Lawyer Milloy and Ty Law. It was a nightmare.
Early on, we were running a seven-on-seven drill, where the safeties were involved. The quarterback overthrew me on a slant. I went up and caught it, and Milloy hit me. Actually, it would be more accurate to say he nearly decapitated me.
I could barely breathe but I jumped up and glared right back at him anyway. He had no idea I had no air left in my lungs, and I wasn't about to let him know. I wanted him to take away a different message: "That ain't gonna get it done."
In my mind, though, I was thinking, Oh my god, things are different up here.
Excerpted from Under Pressure by Ray Lucas, David Seigerman. Copyright © 2014 Ray Lucas and David Seigerman. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Bill Parcells 13
1 Get Off the Bus 21
2 Under the Annie Bridge 37
3 Maybe 51
4 "I Just Don't Think You're Good Enough" 63
5 Squatting Seven Plates 77
6 A Box of Depends and a Note 87
7 Fantasyland 105
8 Shot 119
9 Plastic Garbage Bag 137
10 Wiggling My Toes 147
11 Spilled Chili 159
12 The Jelly Donut 179
13 Surrender 193
14 Clarity 211
15 We Are Not Alone 227
About the Authors 251