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Unfortunate Break Derailed Henry's Shot at Redemption

Dec 17, 2009 – 4:10 PM
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Thomas George

Thomas George %BloggerTitle%

He saw Chris Henry's last NFL catch, a 20-yard grab early in the second quarter back on Nov. 8 in Cincinnati. And Ozzie Newsome, the Baltimore Ravens general manager, knew when Henry was tackled by cornerback Fabian Washington that something was wrong.

"You could see by the way he landed on that wrist that there was a big issue," Newsome recalled. "Yes, his last NFL play was against us. But that is not what I am going to try to remember."

Most people across the National Football League want to remember the good Chris Henry, not the troubled one -- the receiver who has been described as someone who was thankful for what he had and proud of what he had overcome.

When Henry, 26, died on Thursday morning from injuries sustained when he fell onto the street off the back of a pickup truck that his fiancée was driving in Charlotte, N.C., the league realized it had lost a young man that was part of its fraternity.

Once a member, in many ways, always a member.

"I want to say we are greatly saddened by today's tragic news about the loss of Chris Henry," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote on Thursday morning as part of a live chat with NFL.com. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Chris' family, including his Bengals family. We have been in contact with the Bengals to offer our support through this difficult time. I ask you to keep Chris and his family in your thoughts today."

I was at that game on Nov. 8 in Cincinnati and remember Henry making the catch and breaking his left forearm when tackled by Washington. It looked like a simple catch and tackle -- until Henry landed and crushed his forearm. Afterward, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told me in the locker room that Henry had been more excited than usual before the game. Lewis said Henry knew the game plan called for more balls thrown his way and that Henry was ready.

Lewis said Henry's enthusiasm for the opportunity was organic, child-like. That was the kind of personality he had exhibited in this new chance with the Bengals, Lewis said.

Henry had caught three balls for 92 yards in a 17-14 Bengals victory over Baltimore on Oct. 11. That 20-yard catch was his lone one in the Bengals' 17-7 victory in the rematch.

Chris HenryIn many ways, Henry reflected the ascending "bunch of rejects," Lewis called them, that the Bengals had become this season en route to a perfect 6-0 record in the AFC North and in their 9-4 season thus far.

Henry was placed on injured reserve after that game, which was Cincinnati's eighth of the season.

No doubt, the Bengals are wondering right now how things might have been different had Henry not been injured. If he could have remained healthy, he would have been with them this week rather than in North Carolina.

Henry was drafted by the Bengals in 2005 and, throughout his career, faced multiple arrests, NFL suspensions and was even cut two Aprils ago by the Bengals. But the franchise -- particularly owner Mike Brown -- never fully gave up on Henry. His obvious talent had something to do with that.

"I think, No. 1, you were impressed with the way he played as a rookie," Newsome said. "His ability to make explosive plays was impressive. Everyone knew about the trouble he had. But the NFL and America itself is all about getting second opportunities. He was working to do his best with his new chance. He had the opportunity to turn his life around and did."

The league will move on while remembering Henry.

The Bengals must do the same.

They play at the San Diego Chargers on Sunday with a chance to clinch the AFC North. Newsome knows it will not be easy for the Bengals. But he thinks they will be prepared.

"They went through the loss of life when [Cincinnati defensive coordinator] Mike Zimmer lost his wife earlier in the season," Newsome said. "I think Marvin will be able to deal with it and help his team do so. So, they have some idea how to handle it. But there really isn't a formula for it. I don't know. No one really knows how you deal with something like this while trying to accomplish your goals."
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