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NFL Player’s Life Comes to Tragic End

An NFL player died Thursday.

Police investigations and sober reaction from stunned teammates will now mark the close of Chris Henry's life. But here's the finding that no official report will carry.

Some tales, for whatever reason, seem destined for unhappy endings.

There might be second chances, hopeful signs, promising trends. Redemption could truly be in sight. Henry had them all with the Cincinnati Bengals, and he was still only 26. "He was thankful for what he had in life, and proud of what he had overcome," a statement from his agents would say.

But sometimes, fate will not be deterred.

Henry had been troubled, suspended, discarded, reprieved, and working on salvation. His career had been raised from its own Mariana Trench. His personal life had new hope. There was a fiancée, a family. That bespeaks new stability, for someone whose reputation was once to possess not an ounce of it.

"He was running to daylight," Bengals President Mike Brown said in a press conference Thursday.

Then, suddenly, darkness. Apparently, Henry and his fiancée got into a dispute Wednesday. She drove away in a pickup truck, and he jumped into the back, and then fell off onto a Charlotte road.

From the outside looking in, Henry always seemed one of those textbook cases of an unfathomably adrift athlete. That he loved football seemed beyond question. He had the NFL logo tattooed on the back of his right hand.

But anger or foolishness or immaturity kept landing him in the wrong headlines. A drug charge, a gun charge, arrested for this, arrested for that. A judge once called him a "one-man crime wave." Roger Goodell told him to go away to get his head straight. The Bengals told him to go away for good.

During a stormy period when the NFL police blotter seemed thicker than the New England playbook, Chris Henry was one of the poster players for malfeasance. We've seen it before, and the public invariably sighs a familiar sigh: What a waste.

Guys like that often disappear. End of story.

But Bengals coach Marvin Lewis took him back - to considerable civic doubt. This season, by all accounts, Henry was productive and mature. He was on his way to something of an extraordinary comeback saga. There was a new tattoo: "Blessed." He is said to have felt that way even when he broke his arm in late November against Baltimore to end this season.

Could he beat the odds for a happy ending? Many signs suggested yes. Turns out, no.

Without that injury, he is not in North Carolina Wednesday. He is in Cincinnati, preparing to play San Diego.

You wonder where this emotionally leaves the Bengals. In a way, they are like the Connecticut Huskies after the loss of Jasper Howard, needing to cope with a funeral amid a football schedule, mourning as they play.

But they have had it even worse, already forced to deal with inner team tragedy this season, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer arriving home to find his wife dead in October.

Four days later, Zimmer helped coach Cincinnati to a 17-14 win at Baltimore. The players gave him the game ball. The Bengals carried on.

Now there is more grieving to be done, and another game to play. Fighting for a high playoff seed, Cincinnati goes to San Diego Sunday for what was supposed to an important showdown.

"Important" is likely a difficult term to grasp about a football game at the moment in the Bengals' locker room. But they will regroup, because that is what teams do.

They want a happy ending - the one Chris Henry, for all his journey, will never have.

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Contact Mike Lopresti at mlopresti(AT)gannett.com

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