Cleveland took him in the first round of the draft that year, but White was a bust. The Browns blame White, and White blames the Browns' fullback-oriented system. "I still don't know why they took me," White would tell friends. "I was a wasted pick."
The cycle was simple: Drugs brought football failure, and football failure brought more drugs. A lot of his salary those first years was spent between midnight and 4 a.m. Judi would go to the bank to draw out money only to find none there. Disappointments? White missed Nicole's first birthday party—and two teammates were there—because he was out partying.
The man with the remarkable body now became renowned around the NFL for how much cocaine he could put into it. Judi had never so much as lit up a joint, but friends told her that when it came to drugs, White was "a Superman. They'd never seen anybody do so much in their lives," she recalls.
But it was tightrope-walking without a net. Every time White was out late, "I thought he was dead," says Judi. She dreaded hearing the door close every time he left the house.
In July 1982, White agreed to check into a drug-rehab clinic in Orange, Calif. When he came back to Cleveland that summer, he enrolled in the Browns' drug counseling group, the Inner Circle. But even as he sat in those meetings and pledged to stay clean, White would sometimes hold a bottle of clean urine in his pants—between his legs to keep the sample warm—for the drug tests.
Eventually the doctors got smart and White was bent straight. He went almost three years without alcohol or cocaine. "The happiest years of our lives," says Judi. Even so, White was miserable on the field. In 1985, one week after Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer told White he was "too good a player to let go," Schottenheimer let him go. "I'll never forget that," White remembers. "Thanks, Marty." He was cut and for one month stayed cut. Finally the phone rang and it was Robinson, now head coach of the L.A. Rams. Care to play special teams?
White would have poured Gatorade. Still, something about being in California again set him back. Could it be not wanting to return to L.A. as anything but a star? The checking account started to fund brain-frying sessions again. At one time the Whites were so broke they couldn't pay the light bill. Judi found her husband's relapse so vile that every time she smelled the aroma of cocaine or marijuana on his clothes, she would throw up. "I was like Pavlov's dog," she remembers. "If I smelled it, I lost it."
The tightrope was fraying. Both Judi and Charles now call it "our lost year." White was in so deep that he would check himself into hotels and smoke crack alone, peering out from under the corner of the drapes to see who might be coming to get him. Judi wouldn't be able to stand it, waiting for him to return, so she would take herself and the kids to another hotel. But in the morning, Charles would be outside the house, waiting.
Finally, one night in 1985, White got home in the skinny hours of the morning. Some screaming and crying and ranting later, Judi did something strange. She threw her husband down and lay on top of him. She put her palms on his and spread his arms out as though he were on a crucifix. And she screamed into his face, "Look! I'm going to love you no matter what you do to me or to you! I'm going to love you and I don't care what you do to either of us! I'm not going anywhere! I'm staying right here, through this, no matter what!"
Talk about a dirty trick. You treat someone as lousy as you can and they come back and love you more.