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A VISIT TO HELL
Rick Reilly
August 29, 1988
CHARLES WHITE WON THE HEISMAN IN 1979 AND WAS THE NFL'S LEADING RUSHER LAST YEAR, BUT IN BETWEEN, LIFE WAS A NIGHTMARE FOR HIM AND HIS WIFE, JUDI
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August 29, 1988

A Visit To Hell

CHARLES WHITE WON THE HEISMAN IN 1979 AND WAS THE NFL'S LEADING RUSHER LAST YEAR, BUT IN BETWEEN, LIFE WAS A NIGHTMARE FOR HIM AND HIS WIFE, JUDI

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Try 5-4. In the space of five months, White traded his handcuffs for a gold Pro Bowl watch and became the Football News Comeback Player of the Year. Heck, make that the decade. Who came from further back than White? And if you give an award to Charles, what do you give to his wife, Judi?

One thing about the 30-year-old White, he's abundantly human, huge in both glory and shame, greatness and darkness. Raised in the San Fernando ghetto north of Los Angeles, he was a record-setting high school hurdler. He was so strong as a high schooler that he was banned from playing baseball because he broke up a double play once by knocking the second baseman out cold. His body fat was once measured at USC as 1.94%, lowest in school history. USC coach John Robinson called him "the toughest man I ever knew" and "the only college back I've ever seen who could play doubleheaders."

White not only won the Heisman, but he also won a national championship for USC in 1978 and three Rose Bowls. He is universally loved by teammates. Judi, his wife of eight years, calls him the kindest man she has ever known. At home in El Toro, Calif., White always has one of his five kids—ages one to seven—in his arms, sometimes playing the blues on the piano to lull them to sleep.

But then there is the other side. "Whatever happiness Charles brings you," says Judi, "he also brings you the pain. The greatness within him goes along with the depth of his darkness."

If that sounds like she has thought a lot about her husband, she has, mostly at 4 a.m. while lying in bed, wondering if he would come home in their car or a squad car. Or at all.

"I went through hell for him," she says. "I gave up my life for him." But where could she go? She had a bad habit. She loved him: "I saw goodness in this dark man."

White smoked his first joint at 15, in the rest room of a pizza parlor. He smoked marijuana "almost daily" at USC. He did his first line of cocaine a few weeks before the 1977 Rose Bowl.

It was around then that he met Judi McGovern, a USC student and an Ann-Margret ringer, with long auburn hair and oversized eyes. Her friends think of her as either divine, crazy or both. She came from a nonghetto, Mission Viejo, Calif., and her mother hoped she would be a lawyer. But when chance introduced her to White, they fell in love. Still. Judi winces. "I knew I'd have to pay a price," she says.

They lived together for three years at USC before they got married and Judi gave birth to a daughter, Nicole. But two years before that, soon after the Heisman season, things had started to go bad. Charles was sleeping too often, getting too skinny, ignoring Judi too much and staying on road trips too long. White was into cocaine, most of which he says he got from a USC alumnus.

But even with half his body, White was a great athlete. That spring of 1980 he went to the Bahamas and won the Superstars competition and $36,000. Within months, he had spent it all up his nose.

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