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Of the two boys, Christian's tastes ran urban and eclectic, Tyler's down home. Named after the city where Earl grew up, working in the rose fields, Tyler dressed in Wranglers and cowboy boots like his dad. They listened to the same classic country music: Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. At six, Tyler said he wanted to go into the sausage business, except football eventually interfered. While Christian played wide receiver, Tyler was a tailback, his running style familiar: bowlegged and pigeon-toed, with a safety or two hanging off his shoulder pads. "I like being knocked down," Tyler says, "and getting back up." After Christian left for the University of South Carolina, where he ran track, Tyler was the one who listened to his father cry at night. He flipped him over on his side when his back buckled.
Tyler turned down a scholarship offer from Texas A&M—"I liked A&M," he says, "but Dad said no"—and followed a former high school teammate to San Diego State. Tyler became a fullback and special teams ace, but was known mainly for what he did off the field, graduating in three years with a business degree, volunteering at the Pro Player Foundation in San Diego and helping the charity raise money for underfunded elementary schools. "He is everything you want your son to grow up to be," says San Diego State assistant coach LeCharls McDaniel.
In December 2007, the day after the Aztecs lost to BYU in the regular-season finale, Tyler woke up in his dorm room and couldn't walk. The entire right side of his body was numb. His vision was blurry and speech slurred. Trainers asked, "Did you get a concussion and not tell us?" But Tyler passed the concussion tests, so they ferried him to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, where an MRI revealed lesions on his brain. Only a junior, still a college football player, Tyler's illness was diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. He told the doctors to call his mom. His dad would worry too much.
At first, MS was manageable. Tyler wore a steroid pack under his shirt and an IV under a sleeve to take final exams. He kept the disease a secret, telling only two coaches and two teammates. He played his entire senior season, and though he tired more easily in practice and wasn't squatting 615 pounds anymore, he was still the Aztecs' third-leading rusher. In a loss to Colorado State, with his father in the stands, he caught a pass for 33 yards. Tyler never imagined NFL scouts would be interested in him, but at San Diego State's pro day, several told McDaniel they wanted to sign him as a free agent after the draft.
A week later, however, Tyler's right side went numb again. He rushed to Scripps for more steroids, but this time they didn't work. He lay in a hospital bed for almost a month, accompanied by his mom and a friend on the Aztecs' women's track team named Shana Watson. "She thought I was dying," Tyler says of Watson. Doctors told Tyler he could never play football again, and McDaniel relayed the news to the scouts. In the summer of 2009, Tyler moved back to Austin and found his father racked with guilt. "What did I do wrong?" Campbell asked himself. "Why is this happening to my boy? Why is this happening to me?"
The father thought about Darrell Royal, who had recruited him out of John Tyler High School, even after he told the fabled coach, "If you're here to buy another black athlete, I'm not for sale." They had bonded in the team lounge at Texas, listening to Willie Nelson pick his guitar, and laughing because Campbell was the only black player interested. After Campbell and Royal retired, they golfed in the twilight at Barton Creek, until they could barely track their balls. Royal shared with Campbell his anguish from burying two children before they turned 30. "It's just not supposed to happen," Campbell says. "The parent is supposed to go first."
Tyler worked in the sausage factory, as he promised when he was six, and went to a clinic once a month for medication administered through an IV. He commuted 80 minutes each way to Waelder, stuffed meat in casing and then returned home to see his dad drunk or high or both. "He could see my health," Tyler says, "and I could see his." Tyler called Christian, a marketing and public relations executive in Houston, and summoned him home. In November 2009 they approached their father.
"I remember how it went," Earl says. "They came to the house and said, 'Dad, we've got to talk to you,' and I said, 'No, you ain't got to talk to me.' They said, 'Yeah, we do, we've got to talk about the pills.' I told them, 'Just take the pills.' But they said, 'We don't want 'em. We want you.' I told them, 'Well, I ain't going anywhere.' And that's when Tyler said, 'Yeah, you are. You've got to go.'"
They drove him to a rehabilitation center in Austin, and after one meeting Campbell called Reuna and said, "You have to come get me. There's a girl in here talking about cocaine and something called mushrooms and shooting speed in her thighs. I didn't do any of that stuff." Reuna said, "You stay there because you would have started."
Campbell worried that media and fans would find out where he was. But Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson, the former Cowboys linebacker and cocaine addict, told him, "Who cares if they do? You'll be able to help so many people because you don't know anything about cocaine or marijuana. You're like a regular Joe on the street—50, 60, 70 years old—who never even played sports but drinks beer and takes pills. They all think what they're doing is O.K. because their doctor gave them the pills that are running their lives."