The NFL's Secret Drug Problem
Ray Lucas wishes he'd gotten that message while he still had something to lose. "If I could take back anything, it's not the money or the house – it's the shit show I dragged her through." He nods across the table at his wife, Cecy, a fine-boned woman whose liquid eyes seem parked on the shoulder of tears. We're sitting in the kitchen of their house in Harrison, New Jersey, once a working-poor town of Irish pubs now engulfed by bodegas and taquerias. "No one tells the story of our women and kids. Their dudes became some full-time fucking monsters."

Cecy huffs a sigh and eyes her nails, content to let him tell the story. She cuts in only to correct his memory, which after a dozen or more concussions, can stand the help. "You took more pills than that," she says when he talks about the period after his first back surgery, postretirement. In 2005, he had a lumbar laminectomy to fix three vertebrae in his back and got healthy enough to hold an executive position with an office-cleaning outfit in New York. He also cut back on his pill consumption – though not quite as much as he recalls. "It wasn't just a couple a day," she says. "The co-pays for your pills – the sleep stuff, the Vicodins, plus the muscle relaxers – that was in the thousands, babe."

Lucas seems stunned. "You sure that wasn't later, when my neck got bad?"

"Baby, we were broke, even with your TV gig. Every last dollar went to drugs."

By 2008, Lucas' NFL coverage had ended, and his cervical nightmare began: short, sharp spasms that had Cecy fearing he'd developed Tourette's. Dropped by his doctors because he had no insurance and couldn't pay cash for visits, he hit the street and found dealers happy to help a TV star. "I'm talking professionals in Manhattan, not some kid on a corner; for a while, they wouldn't take my money. They'd just say, 'Bring me to the club when you go out.' I'd get them past the ropes, introduce them around, and be on my way to the tunnel with my stash."

But addiction is a beast whose belly can't be filled. Lucas' intake doubled, then quadrupled. In a year, he'd lost his start-up business because he was so doped he couldn't make meetings; lost the big suburban house downstate that Cecy spent years remodeling; pulled his daughters off dance teams and cheerleading squads because he needed their travel money for his jones; and moved the family, Christmas week, to a saltbox in Harrison, where they were awakened by drunks banging on their door. "All I did then was break their hearts; why they didn't leave me, I'll never know."

"Because you wanted to die, and we wouldn't let you. Tell about the time Rayven stopped you."

Rayven, his oldest, walked into Lucas' bedroom on a morning he'd set aside to shoot himself. "I was at my worst, just filled with fuckin' poison," he says. "She's standing two feet from where I'm hiding the gun and says, 'Daddy, I know you're sick and having a bad time, but I just really, really love you and want you better.' I mean, what do you say to that but 'I love you, too, baby, and I promise I'll keep trying'?"

He made a series of calls to the league and players' union, seeking cash and medical help. What came back, says Cecy, was a disability application "the size of a frickin' phone book. We filled it out the best we could, and six months later: denied." Ultimately, they managed to get him partial disability, borrowed against his NFL pension; meanwhile, his checks from SportsNet New York went "directly to drugs – I never saw them," she says. Then came the break that saved his life: a back-channels call from a former league physician, passing on Smith's private number. "He said, 'You can't use my name, but she'll take care of you. Please call her before you do something crazy.' "

Three days later, Lucas was on an examining table at PAST's surgical center in Clifton. "The nurse who took my pressure ran out to get the doc. I'm thinking, Hmm, this probably ain't good," he says. After 12 years of pilling, his heart had doubled in size, and his blood-pressure readings ran so high that any strain could have triggered a stroke. He was rushed to see Dr. Bart DeGregorio, PAST's pulmonary director, and put on a crash course of diuretics and beta- blockers. Through diet and medicine, doctors reduced his triglycerides while weaning him off a dozen toxic drugs. That October, PAST's Emami performed a spinal fusion, resolving at least some of the pain in his neck and allowing him to enter rehab.

For three full days, Lucas writhed on the floor, shitting and barfing and hearing voices. When he managed to get upright, the joint pain was savage: "He walked," says Smith, who flew him to Florida and stayed through the worst of it, "like an 80-year-old guy with gout." As the Suboxone built up, though, the pain receded; in a fortnight, he was stretching and taking long walks, things he hadn't done in nearly a dec­ade. After 42 days, he went home to his family, who'd moved to their current house across town. "I came through the door, and it was just tears, hugs, and more tears: The real me was back, not the zombie," says Lucas. He looks over at Cecy, who stands to clear the dishes in order to keep from crying. "All the wrong I did her, the times I broke her heart: for her to still love me . . . man, you don't know."

It's about to get seriously moist in that kitchen when Lucas' daughters burst in: two tall, lissome teens and a 10-year-old colt with their mother's heartfulness. They kiss Mom hello, then hover over Dad, sensing something amiss. "You OK?" they ask him. "Does your neck hurt? Your knee?" "I'm fine," he says. "Stop mothering me." "Then, good," says Rayven, grabbing his hand. "You can drive us to Wendy's: We're starved!"