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We were released from the stockade in August of 1978, not knowing what to expect. But within eight days we had signed to play again—Randy with Tampa Bay, me with New Orleans.
Mr. Mecom made me an offer I couldn't refuse. First he said he would clear all my debts. Then he gave me a $40,000 bonus and a $70,000-a-year salary. Then he hugged me and said, "I don't care what's happened before, you're a Saint now, and I'm glad we have you." I really liked Mr. Mecom. He was like a little boy over the signing. I thought I'd died and gone to Heaven.
For two seasons, I did my best to repay him. I was the closest thing I could be to a changed man. I had my best year as a pro in 1979. I led the team in sacks and was named Most Valuable Player on defense. I felt I should have made the Pro Bowl. Mr. Mecom renegotiated my contract to $150,000 a year, and gave me another bonus. My troubles, at last, seemed all behind me. Then something happened that even now I hesitate to bring up, but I know it affected me deeply. How much it screwed up my mind I'll never know.
Our second son, Philip Charles, was born right after the 1979 season, two months premature. He weighed only four pounds, 12 ounces. He contracted so many diseases at birth, the doctors said it was almost as if he didn't want to live. Right away I felt a closeness to Philip that I'd never felt for anyone before. I sat with him 48 hours straight in the hospital, and it was so sad, watching him struggle to live. His main problem was hypospadias, a malformation of the penis. He is still far from cured. Already he has had one operation and needs another.
I felt so helpless and depressed I couldn't stand it. Here I was, always so big and healthy, and there he was, so small and sick and vulnerable. It didn't seem fair. Deep down I think I blamed myself. I thought he was being punished because of me. I know I began feeling sorry for myself again, something Paulette hates in me. She thinks self-pity is for losers, and totally unproductive, and she's probably right. In any case, for whatever reason, I was on the verge of the next fateful step down in my life.
The popularity of cocaine got a dramatic boost in early 1980. Who knows why, but everywhere you went, people were talking about it. And the big new item was freebasing: cooking a large amount of coke down to a gummy rock, "freeing up" the base, then scraping off a little at a time, putting a hot flame to it and pulling the fumes right into your lungs through a glass pipe. Freebasing is what nearly ruined Richard Pryor.
Except for a few reefers, I had stayed away from drugs in New Orleans. Partly because I was afraid, and partly because the players were afraid of me. Elex Price, a defensive tackle, said a lot of the Saints thought I might be an undercover narcotics agent. He said, "Man, you got off light in Miami. We better not be fooling with you." I said, "Listen, man, I'm not looking for stuff. I just want to be friends."
Then one night a bunch of players went over to Bob Pollard's house—Pollard, a defensive end, himself was clean; he was out of town, having been traded—to toot some coke, and I went along. And I got that old familiar zing. We sat around snorting, and the subject turned to freebasing. I'd only heard about it that year, but Chuck Muncie said, "Man, that's not new." I said I wanted to try it. So Chuck and I got together at his house and he cooked some up and brought out the pipe. And I took one pull and threw up. I got sick as a dog. It tasted like raw chemicals.
But if I am consistent about anything in life, I am consistent about being a glutton for punishment. Two weeks later, Lloyd Mumphord came through town, and he was into free-basing. He still had a house in Miami and he made periodic stops in New Orleans on his way home to Opelousas, Louisiana. Mumphord had the stuff, and I tried freebasing with him. This time I liked it. It had a different taste—sweeter, actually. And it gave me the best high I ever had with drugs.
I inhaled it, and when I blew it out I got that ringing in my ears—wiinnnnnngggg, real high. One of the popular drug songs calls it "ringing your bell." I call it getting a ringer. When people ask me to describe the total experience of freebasing, I say it's like enjoying an all-league climax. The funny thing is that it makes you want to fornicate, too, but you can't. You usually can't get an erection.