Stanley Wilson runs against the Browns during the Bengals' 1988 Super Bowl season. (Photo by Allen Steele/Getty Images).
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CINCINNATI – It was during one of his repeated dry periods between relapses that Stanley Wilson either bared his soul or claimed another sucker.
By then, in the early 90s, his life was unraveling with so much more to come. But at the time the former Bengal running back seemed to have stabilized, albeit briefly. And though curious, I feared he would shut down if I asked about the 1989 Super Bowl eve relapse that is so familiar to most of us.
This conversation centered on the launching point of his all too desperate existence - when it all started to come unglued. It was the night of his final college game at Oklahoma.
Stanley told me he had gone out with some teammates, which wasn't out of the ordinary. What set this occasion apart was what he didn't do. For the first time in his life, he didn't say no. Stanley Wilson had, he claimed to me, never tasted alcohol in his life. Not so much as a sip.
But now most of the reasons he didn't indulge were gone. He was no longer in training. He had become a Sooner legend. What was to be gained by more abstinence? He never provided details about his lifelong teetotaling, such as whether a weakness for strong drink ran in his family. The start to his forbearance wasn't as important as the end.
It was in that campus bar that Stanley was again the brunt of fateful urging.
"Stanley, give it a rest. The season’s over. Nothing left but to wait for the draft. Come on, man, have a beer," no one in particular chided.
And for the first time in his life, Stanley said he didn't decline. A rueful crease came to his lips as he continued.
"So … I had a beer. Not bad. So I had another."
And with that the genie was literally out of the bottle.
"I just kept it up. Bottom line, the first time I ever drank, I drank until I blacked out. Don't know what happened after those first few, but I can only imagine."
What really is beyond imagining is the catastrophe that his life would become after his first sip. Pot, cocaine and crack eventually made their way into his repertoire. Along with several convictions for burglary that have him doing 20 years.
I suspect those teammates who goaded him into that initial excursion over the edge harbor some guilt to this day. Perhaps they visit him in prison or write now and then or employ Stanley's saga as a cautionary tale in their lives.
Or maybe Stanley's recollection was just another in a long litany of fabrications, the kind alcoholics and chemical dependents conjure out of thin air to engender pity.
Either way, his is one of the saddest episodes I've experienced in Cincinnati sports.
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