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I wound up at Jackson State, a mostly black college in Mississippi, partly because I had an uncle who played there and partly because it was only 180 miles away. My father supplied me with wheels—a 1967 Chevrolet Impala SS 396, the slickest car on campus—and I became a college boy, with a diamond in one pierced ear and the hair piled high on my head, looking every bit the punk a lot of people probably thought I was. I always say I eased out of Jackson State, but that's not quite right. There was nothing easy about it. Jackson was the best of times, and the beginning of the worst.
I met my wife, Paulette, at Jackson. And I was a football hero. My play as a defensive end got me an invitation to both the Senior Bowl and the Coaches All-America Game, and eventually got me drafted in the first round—number 26 overall—by the Dolphins.
But I was in trouble all through college. Little things, mainly. Breaking curfew, jumping the wall to visit Paulette off campus. But drugs were never a problem until the very end, and then only marginally. My junior year, I smoked my first reefer. They were plentiful on the Jackson State campus by that time, and I was curious. Paulette and I and three other couples took some rooms at a hotel in Jackson for a party, and the Greeks—the fraternity guys—brought in some marijuana. It seemed like they always seemed to have it.
Actually, we were more into drinking then. We drank Ripple wine, or that Mogen David 20/20 everybody calls "Mad Dog" because it's 20 percent alcohol and looks like blood and can knock you on your tail. But I tried a reefer with the others at the hotel. And like everything else I try for the first time, wine included, it made me sick.
A couple weeks later I tried one again, with some players in the football dorm. This time I kind of liked it. We all got a little buzz on, and we sat around listening to music, and it was cool. I smoked it fairly often after that, usually after games at parties, and then in the off-season. But if I said I used it more than once every couple weeks, it's probably an exaggeration. I know I never paid for it. The guys just had it, and they passed it around.
My career at Jackson State ended on Thanksgiving night of my senior season, after we had beaten Alcorn State in our last game. We were celebrating, and one of the guys sneaked a couple of majorettes into the dorm, and a group of us went up to my room to smoke some reefers. We had barely lit up when there was a banging on the door: "Reese!" It was Coach Bob Hill. "I know what's going on in there, Reese. Just pack your bags and get the hell out of here. We don't want you here anymore." I left school right away.
Then came the day Don Shula called to tell me Miami had drafted me. I was all pumped up. The Dolphins sent a scout to bring me to Miami to negotiate. We were the only two in first class out of Mobile. "You're in the big time now, baby," he said. "Order anything you like." I ordered a vodka and orange juice. Then a gin and orange juice. Then a bourbon and orange juice. I was flying high.
Joe Robbie, the owner of the Dolphins, gave me a $45,000 bonus to sign, and a three-year contract calling for $28,000 the first year, then $30,000, then $30,000 again. That's important to remember. Abner Haynes, a former player, was my agent. He took his cut off the top of the bonus, and they took some more for taxes, and I wound up with $9,000 to buy myself a new car. That was about all I saw of my signing bonus.
Then Haynes took me back to his place in Dallas "to celebrate." If I knew then what I know now, I'd have skipped Dallas and gotten my rear end back to Prichard. But I was going to be a big shot. In a Dallas Holiday Inn, downtown, I sat in a room and watched some people take out these little brown vials of white powder, pour it on a glass, cut shares with a razor blade, and then sniff it up their noses. My first look at cocaine.
I didn't do any. I wanted to, just to try it, but I didn't. The next night they snorted again, at an apartment, with some of the other players Abner had under contract, but I passed again. I left the party early and went back to my room, still a virgin.