Later Az heard the story: Abdul had traveled to Atlanta, where Abdul Jr. was close to finishing his studies at Morehouse. On Nov. 24, 1997—10 years and one day after he had been sentenced—he left some spaghetti sauce simmering, Goodfellas style, to pick up Sakeenah and Saleem at school. A pair of U.S. marshals in an unmarked car pulled him over. He showed them a passport from Ghana and feigned an African accent, but they had him cold.
"I see your son's a heck of a football player at San Diego State," one of the marshals said. Abdul didn't respond, and they handcuffed him and took him away.
A few minutes later, as he was being booked, Abdul suddenly felt liberated in a way he had never imagined was possible. Finally he could openly exult in the success of his kids. The booking officer asked for his full name. "Abdul Muntaqin Hakim," he said proudly, enunciating each syllable.
Loosely translated, Az-Zahir Ali Hakim means "radiant" and "high, wise counselor." It's a heavy designation, yet Hakim radiates a youthful buoyancy his teammates regard as infectious. As he darts across the middle or squirts free on a punt return, Hakim still seems like the kid on the junior league field who no one could catch. "He has a unique ability to run with the football after the catch," says Rams receivers coach Al Saunders "He's effervescent and upbeat, and he always lights up a room. His play is an extension of his personality."
Hakim's NFL career got off to a rocky start. After St. Louis picked him in the fourth round of the '98 draft, he broke his left hand during the preseason, then couldn't crack the lineup. The Rams would finish that season 4-12, but they had a heck of a scout team: In practice Hakim bonded with a third-string quarterback named Kurt Warner. While Warner's only action was a token appearance in the season finale, Hakim showcased his skills in a Dec. 13 upset of the New England Patriots, scoring touchdowns on a nine-yard reception and a 34-yard reverse.
In '99 the return to health of All-Pro Bruce and the first-round selection of Holt kept Hakim out of the starting lineup but not off the field. With offensive coordinator (and now head coach) Mike Martz making aggressive use of multiple formations and Warner emerging as a star, Hakim became a "12th man" who could score in bunches. In St. Louis's third game, a 33-10 victory over the Bengals in Cincinnati, Hakim caught touchdown passes of nine, 51 and 18 yards from Warner and returned a punt 84 yards for another score. Last year eight of his 36 receptions went for touchdowns, and five of those scores came on third down, tying him for the NFC lead in that category. He averaged 18.8 yards per catch and had five touchdowns of 48 yards or more. This season Hakim has 52 receptions for 730 yards and four touchdowns.
Clad in a beige canvas coat and sitting in the prison's chapel, Abdul Hakim Sr. tells his story in a far more relaxed manner than one would expect of a man who recently celebrated his 56th birthday in a federal penitentiary. Abdul, who did not receive additional time for his 10-year flight from justice, has served three years of the sentence he went to such lengths to avoid. He will plead his case to a parole board in July 2001.
In the meantime he sees all of Az's games at Lompoc, viewing the ones that aren't televised in Southern California several days later on videotapes sent by Saunders. Abdul, who normally speaks to Az the day after games, reached him on the team bus after the Rams' Super Bowl win. "I was choked up," Abdul says. "I'd have given both my arms to be at that game."
Abdul leans forward on a chapel bench and bows his head. "I hate that I lied so much for so long," he says softly. "As Muslims we are taught to be truthful because there's a life after this, and God has a punishment for everything you do in this life."
Abdul has something to say about Az: "I feel him at all times...," but he is cut off. An emergency situation is at hand, and the warden has ordered an immediate prisoner count and lockdown. Another guard appears, telling the reporter and photographer he'll escort them from the premises. Hakim extends his hand, but it's just out of reach. "Goodbye," he says, and like that, he is gone.