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THE BALLAD of Big Daddy
William Nack
January 11, 1999
Big Daddy Lipscomb, whose size and speed revolutionized the defensive lineman's position in the late '50s, was a man of insatiable appetites: for women, liquor and, apparently, drugs
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January 11, 1999

The Ballad Of Big Daddy

Big Daddy Lipscomb, whose size and speed revolutionized the defensive lineman's position in the late '50s, was a man of insatiable appetites: for women, liquor and, apparently, drugs

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There is only one detailed account of where Lipscomb went and what he allegedly did from the time the softball game ended until he died in the ambulance on Friday morning. That story was told by one Timothy Black, an admitted heroin user with an extensive criminal record. Black's account, according to his testimony at the coroner's inquest and various published reports, is this: Lipscomb had been using heroin three times a week for about six months, since he first asked Black to buy it for him. Late on Thursday night Black climbed into Lipscomb's Cadillac on a street corner in Baltimore, and together they picked up two women. They partied until 3 a.m. at Black's apartment on North Brice Street. The women then left. At Lipscomb's urging, the two men went out and bought a $12 bag of heroin. They returned to the apartment. Black cooked the heroin in a whiskey bottle top and drew the solution into an eyedropper connected to a crude syringe. Lipscomb shot the heroin into his arm. He started nodding off.

"Then I noted that he was making funny sounds and drooling at the mouth," Black testified at the inquest. "I slapped him in the face to try bringing him around, and he fell on the floor. I put some ice packs around his waist and on his face, but I couldn't bring him around. I then shot up the rest of the heroin that was left in the cooker."

A friend joined him, and together they tried to revive Lipscomb, injecting him with a saline solution. When this failed, they called the ambulance. Lipscomb never regained consciousness.

Rudiger Breitenecker, who did the autopsy, found four fresh needle marks on Lipscomb's body, accounting for the deadly heroin dose and the saline injections, and only one old one, which could have been left by "an old blood test," Breitenecker says.

What the medical examiner also found surprised no one: a fatty liver. "If he hadn't died from heroin, he would have died from liver disease due to chronic alcoholism," Breitenecker says.

Although the Lipscomb case has been closed for more than 35 years, the player's friends and teammates harbor a powerful skepticism about Black's version of events. While no one has provided evidence to sustain a plausible alternative to Black's story, these doubts—based not only on the results of Breitenecker's autopsy but also on what Lipscomb's friends and teammates knew of his behavior—linger. The theory most often advanced by the skeptics holds that Black administered the shot that killed Lipscomb, either accidentally or in order to steal his money; they also speculate that the Baltimore police helped cover up the circumstances of Big Daddy's death because Black had worked for them as an informant.

Black, who died last month of a cerebral hemorrhage, never said anything to support any of those theories. But the people who knew Lipscomb best, off and on the field, still don't believe he injected himself with heroin—or anything else, for that matter. Lipscomb lived in morbid fear of needles. The stories documenting this abound: how he swooned or broke into a sweat at the very sight of a needle, and how Cecelia had to sit on his lap to keep him in a dental chair when he took shots of novocaine for a tooth extraction. "He never acted weird, dopey or glassy-eyed," Buddy Young says. "There is no way in the world he used any kind of drug."

Lipscomb drank that last night, though not to excess. The autopsy revealed his blood alcohol level to be .09, barely high enough to make him legally drunk in most states today. Black told The Saturday Evening Post that he and Lipscomb had "bought a six-pack" of malt liquor before picking up the two women, though Lipscomb's friends insist that he was strictly a VO drinker.

Black did not appear to be the most reliable of witnesses. Not only was he a drug user and an ex-con, but he also changed the story he told the police. When first questioned on May 10, Black said that he and Lipscomb took the two women home about 3 a.m. after partying with them and then returned to Black's apartment. Leaving Lipscomb there, Black said, he then went to an all-night diner, ate some breakfast and returned home at 7 a.m. He said he found Lipscomb slumped over the kitchen table. By May 11, Black had added the drug purchase to his account, and his trip to the diner had disappeared from the story.

Geraldine Young says that Lipscomb had about $700 in cash in his pocket when he went out that night. Police found $73 on him. For years, until he was killed in an automobile accident in 1983, Buddy Young insisted that the missing money held the secret to Lipscomb's fate. "Find out what happened to that, and you'll know why Daddy is dead," he said.

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