Bam Morris toils for better life Troubled ex-star apologizes to Tagliabue and NFL after drug bust, prison By JOHN McCLAIN Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle Commissioner Tagliabue, I want to ... apologize for my disrespect to you and the National Football League ... While I played football, I never appreciated what I had or what being a professional football player meant. Being a football player in the National Football League was an honor ... I now know that it wasn't just myself who was hurt by the decisions I made. I hurt the league, too, and for that, I want to give my deepest apologies. Sincerely, Bam Morris HUNTSVILLE Byron "Bam" Morris is not sure when he decided to send a handwritten letter of apology to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Morris finally had figured out what he wanted to do with his life, and he needed to express his regret for ruining his six-year career as a running back and finding himself in state prison in Huntsville. Maybe a letter to the commissioner would help him on his road to recovery. Maybe it would help him retrieve his dignity and cleanse his soul of the guilt he felt for hurting the family members and friends who warned him and tried to help him. "I just wanted to tell the commissioner how I feel that I disrespected him, myself, my teammates and coaches and the league," Morris said. "If I had worked half as hard in the NFL as I've worked in prison, I might have been in the Pro Bowl every year. This time, I'm not going to make the same mistakes." Morris, 32, will leave the state prison as a free man on Friday after being locked up for almost five years. He plans to adjust to society and get reacquainted with his wife, Valerie, as well as the other family members and friends who have supported and encouraged him. Then, he wants to climb to the highest rooftop and deliver a sermon for everyone to hear. "I don't want anybody to have to go through what I've gone through," said Morris, dressed in prison whites in a visiting room at the Wynne Unit. "I was at the top, and it seemed like in the blink of an eye, I hit rock bottom. I hope to talk to kids, starting with 10-year-olds and working my way up to NFL players." Morris hopes to send his message through speeches at schools and through the media. "I want to tell them, 'Man, I thought I was living Bam's the man, you know but I was a dead man walking,' " he said. "I was just taking up space. Looking back, I think going to prison was good for me. State prison got my mind right. I really believe that if I hadn't come to prison, I'd probably be dead, because I was living too fast and trying to do too much." Pattern of drug abuse Morris played for four NFL teams in six years. He was the embodiment of a pro athlete who blows his fortune on drugs, alcohol and parties. "Weed was my drug of choice, but I tried other things, too, like X (Ecstasy) and cocaine," he said. Morris' off-the-field problems, including arrests for possession and trafficking in marijuana, eventually led to multiple arrests, convictions and, finally, prison time. "I had everything, and then I lost it," he said. "Part of what I want to tell people is that I never looked at football as a job. I looked at it as a way to make money so I could party." At one point, Morris' base salary was $1.2 million a year. All he has now is an NFL pension that will pay him $20,000 a year. "I don't want athletes or anyone, for that matter to think it's OK to have money and do the kind of things I did," he said. "Just because you have money doesn't mean you should blow it on partying and drugs and girls. I don't want them to think it's cool, because once you get in trouble, it's hard to get out." Many tried to help No one who coached or played with Morris called him a bad guy. They said he ran with the wrong crowd, didn't listen to the right people and was easily influenced. Many tried to help him. "One of my coaches told me that friends like the ones I hung out with are like roaches once the light's turned on, they scatter, and that's exactly what happened," Morris said. "I realize now those guys didn't want me to be successful; they wanted me to fail. "If they had wanted me to succeed, they would have said, 'Bam, look what you're doing to yourself. You're tripping, and you've got to stop.' But it was like, 'Bam, let's go,' and we'd roll. I can't go back to that life." Outstanding college career Although Morris was seldom dedicated enough to pay the price it took to be consistently productive in the NFL, he wasn't always in trouble. As a junior at Texas Tech, Morris won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's outstanding running back. Pittsburgh took him in the third round of the 1994 draft, and he rushed for 836 yards and scored seven touchdowns. In his second and final season with the Steelers, he played in Super Bowl XXX, a 27-17 loss to Dallas. Morris was the game's top rusher with 73 yards and a TD on 19 carries. Two months later, he was busted for the first time, and his career began to unravel with one incident after another. The Steelers, Ravens and Chiefs each got rid of him after two seasons. "In Pittsburgh, I'd been coming to meetings late because I'd been partying all night, and coach (Bill) Cowher called me into his office," Morris said. "He said, 'Son, you've got all the talent in the world, but if you don't work harder and stop hanging out with all those hoodlums, you won't last five years in this league.' "Well, he was almost right. I lasted six. At the time, I didn't think he knew what he was talking about because he'd never been through what I was going through. It was too late for my career when I finally realized he was right." Cowher was happy to hear this week that Morris is getting out of prison, and he hopes the player's life has changed. "Bam was very engaging, very easy to like," Cowher said. "If he could have stayed focused on football, there's no telling how good he could have been. "I remember telling him a couple of times that if he didn't change his lifestyle, he was going to wake up one day with nothing. I had hoped to touch a nerve to get his attention, but I was never able to." No one else succeeded. A good communicator Morris signed with Baltimore in 1996, and after the Ravens dumped him, Chicago signed him briefly before trading him to Kansas City. "Bam could always express himself," said San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer, who was Morris' coach at Kansas City. "He'll be able to convey his message. I think people will listen to him if he's serious about it. Because he's been a successful NFL player and has been down that road to failure, he has credibility. ... He can have a profound effect on a lot of lives." The first person Morris changed was himself. "When I left federal prison and came to Huntsville, I weighed 307 (pounds)," said Morris, who played at approximately 255 pounds. "Now I weigh 238." But before the physical change came an emotional transformation. "At first, I still wanted to blame everyone but myself," he said. "I didn't want to accept responsibility for what had happened. When I got here, I had a temper. A lot of guys gave me a hard time because of who I was. I talked a lot of smack. I got into some fights. I got put on restriction because I disobeyed direct orders. After I got off restriction, one of my guys convinced me to start working out." Physical transformation Morris began lifting weights and running, and he changed his diet. "For the first time, I pushed my body to the limit," he said. "On one of his visits, I told (attorney) Josh (Kaufmann), 'If I'd had this kind of drive in football, you and I wouldn't be having this conversation.' I could have been one of the top backs in the league. But I did just enough to get by in the NFL." Morris coasted through his time in federal prisons at Leavenworth (Kansas) and Beaumont, but after he arrived at the Byrd Unit at Huntsville, things changed. "Man, the Byrd Unit was a different world, like night and day from the feds," Morris said. "That experience isn't something I'd wish on anyone else, let me tell you. At first, I told myself, 'I just can't do this.' God, it was so hot in that cell. There was a heat wave and no air conditioning. I thought, 'Man, what have I gotten myself into? Lord have mercy.' I was on the back side of the cell, and it was about 110 degrees." Besides the heat, there were long workdays. "I thought, 'I'm going to end up dying here. Why in the world did I do those things?' " Morris said. "Finally, I made a promise to myself that I was going to do everything I could to make it, and when I got out, I was going to do everything in my power to stay out." Some skeptics Morris knows that many of those who were associated with him in his hometown of Cooper, at Texas Tech and in the NFL believe he might suffer a relapse. They've heard his promises before. Kaufmann, the Houston attorney, was once fired by Morris when he acted as the player's agent. But Kaufmann befriended Morris while the player was in prison. He has seen the transformation. "I was very skeptical at first, and it took me some time," Kaufmann said. "As time has progressed and I've spoken to him so much in federal and state prison and seen the changes he's undergone, I believe in him." Kaufmann asked a friend, Houston-based Green Bay Packers scout Alonzo Highsmith, to visit Morris to see if he was also convinced the prisoner had changed. Highsmith, a running back at Miami who was the third overall pick by the Oilers in the 1987 draft, never had met Morris until he went to Huntsville. "I was skeptical when Josh asked me to meet with Bam," Highsmith said. "All I knew was what I'd read and heard all that stuff about drugs and alcohol. "I saw passion in Bam's eyes. I was looking at a man that had been totally humbled. I saw a man that wanted a chance to tell his story. I think athletes, including NFL players, will listen to him because he's one of their peers. If you followed the NFL in the 1990s, you knew who Bam Morris was." Dreams of NFL Morris hopes to get a job. He wants to complete his degree at Texas Tech and maybe become a junior high football coach. Deep down, though, Morris would love one last chance in the NFL. He knows he's in better shape coming out of prison than he was at any time during his career. "You know, if I was fortunate to get a tryout with somebody, that would be great," he said. "If I didn't make it, at least no one would be able to say it was because I wasn't in shape. Looking back, I think the only time I was in really good shape was my rookie year. In my heart, yes, I'd love to play again, but I understand the circumstances. I'm ready to face whatever's out there for me." anyone think that an NFL team will give him a chance? From memory it would be the first time that anyone was out of the NFL for that long and made a comeback. MIAMI need a RB still?