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"Boy cannot sit still," Flowers says, smiling. "Has no attention span. Never did."
Chad's mother, Paula Johnson, left him with Flowers when he was five and took his younger brother, Chauncey, with her when she hopped a bus to California. Paula would later tell Paul Daugherty, author of Chad: I Can't Be Stopped, "Two kids out of wedlock. That's not me. I just couldn't get it together. I do regret leaving him. But I did the right thing."
Chad visited his mother in California several times and lived with her while he attended Santa Monica Community College. But he quickly angers when asked about her. "I don't remember anything about that period, do you understand?" he says. "Nothing." (SI was unable to reach Paula Johnson for this story; Chad has had very little contact with his father, Sam Brown Sr.)
Charles Collins, the receivers coach at Santa Monica whom Johnson credits for his football success--"I owe it all to Coach C"--says Johnson is still struggling to build a relationship with his mother. "It's a bitter subject," says Collins. "He still has that hurt."
"I still mothered," Paula told Daugherty. "Even though I wasn't there, I was involved in everything."
Chad now finds himself in the role of long-distance parent, albeit with considerably more financial means than Paula had. His four children--eight-year-old Jicyra, four-year-old Chad Jr., three-year-old Chad�, and Cha�el, nearly two--live with their mothers in Florida and California). "My job keeps me from being there as much as I would like," he says. "But what I do right now is for them for the future."
Flowers did most of the in-person rearing of Chad, on a teacher's rather than a football player's salary. His childhood bedroom is still festooned with faded miniature pennants of every team in the NFL, old skateboards and youth-football trophies. He spent most of his free time, Flowers says, in the street, playing football, basketball or soccer. One afternoon he decided to teach himself to ride a bike with no training wheels and no adult help. Her husband, James Flowers, looked out the window and then shouted at him to stop, that he was going to injure himself. But Chad climbed on, pedaled a few feet and then crashed down onto the pavement. He picked up the bike, climbed back on and fell again. "That boy's weird," Bessie said.
A few minutes later Chad rode past the window, pedaling smoothly, scrapes and bruises down both legs.
"He will never admit he's hurt," says Bessie today. "He will be bleeding to death, and he will say, 'No, I'm O.K.'"
Bessie, who was a teacher in South Florida for 38 years, drove Chad to North Miami Beach Elementary, Coral Gables High and then Miami Beach High, outside Liberty City, in search of a better education for her grandson. "He could not stay in class," she says. "I was always fussin' at him, tellin' him he's not doing it the right way. And he would say the teachers didn't like him. But I never met a teacher that didn't like him. The school would call me and say, 'Where's Chad?' I'd have to get in the car and drive over there and find him myself." Chad would often cut classes in order to join other students' P.E. classes; on one occasion Flowers found him helping painters who were touching up the front of the school.