TAMPA — Warrick Dunn finally came face-to-face with his demons last October, at Angola State Prison, a short 56-mile drive from his hometown of Baton Rouge. La. The journey for Dunn had taken a lifetime.
Seated just a few feet away, with his hands shackled to his waist, was Kevan Brumfield, the man who had confessed to killing Dunn's mother, Baton Rouge police corporal Betty Smothers, on Jan. 7, 1993, during an ambush at a local bank.
Two years later, a jury deliberated one hour before deciding Brumfield should die for his role in the murder he and Henri Broadway committed after laying in wait behind the bushes of a night deposit box.
In all, 10 gunshots were fired into the police cruiser, four hitting Piggly Wiggly night manager Kimen Lee, who survived the attack, and five striking Smothers. But those bullets also ripped holes through the lives of Dunn, a high school senior at the time, and his five brothers and sisters.
For years, Dunn was haunted by one question that would not be answered: Why?
Brumfield apologized for what had happened to Dunn's family before saying, "I didn't do it. They got the wrong guy."
Dunn had been warned to expect that response, especially with an appeal pending.
It threw Dunn for a moment and made three pages of questions he had jotted down in a spiral notebook irrelevant. Then he bared his soul to a man he had never met.
"I told him in the years after my mom's death, I had been hesitant about being in a committed relationship, how I've been afraid to lose people," Dunn said. "I've been in counseling for many years over this very concept of having a true, committed relationship because I don't want to lose somebody I love twice in my life. … I don't think I could suffer that pain again.
"If you didn't do it, I don't know why you are here today, but I know why I'm here today. I am here because I need to forgive somebody. I am here because it has been 14 years and it's time for me to move on."
That's how Dunn's intensely personal account begins in Running for My Life: My Journey in the Game of Football and Beyond. The book, written with former Sports Illustrated Associate Editor Don Yeager, goes on sale Nov. 4, and includes a forward by Colts coach Tony Dungy.
Everyone is aware of Dunn's remarkable career at Florida State, which led to fame and fortune with the Buccaneers and Falcons as one of only 23 players to rush for more than 10,000 yards. As great as those accomplishments are, they have been somewhat overshadowed by his charitable programs, like the Home for the Holidays initiative that has helped 77 families and 201 dependents.
There are more than a few interesting revelations that will be of particular interest to Bucs fans.
• He says he would've taken a half-million less per year to remain in Tampa Bay, but general manager Rich McKay would not even entertain matching the 6-year, $28.5-million offer that included a $6.5-million signing bonus from the Falcons. Ironically, less than two years later, McKay left Tampa Bay to become general manager of the Falcons.
Dunn also was so devastated about not being a part of the Bucs' Super Bowl XXXVII, he couldn't really watch the game. "I couldn't escape the feeling of, "That could've been me.'
• Despite his success at FSU, Dunn never thought he was good enough or big enough to make in the NFL. "I figured I would be a 9-to-5 employee in a desk job somewhere in Baton Rouge after I graduated from FSU.'
• Doug Williams, who knew Dunn's mother in high school, hooked Warrick up with Charlie Ward at Florida State and the two became roommates and lifelong friends. Ward wore Williams' No. 17, which is retired at FSU.
But much of Dunn's emotional energy was focused on his sibling's pain and the tragic circumstance that thrust him into the role 'daddy,' when he was only 18.
You think you know Dunn, 33, having practically watched him grow before your eyes. Certainly, you know about the ground zero in his life, the loss of his 'best friend,' in an botched robbery attempt.
But only in reading this stunningly honest account can you begin to understand that Dunn became what he never set out to become: a role model. The memoir traces Dunn life from that horrific night and details the struggle of raising five siblings, including the strained relationship with his brother, Derrick, who was diagnosed a few years ago with a slow-growing and inoperable brain tumor that has been kept in check with medication.
Because of his overwhelming responsibilities, Dunn suppressed his own feelings and became shy, introverted and almost distrustful of people until Atlanta Falcons' teammate Shawn Jefferson suggested psychological counseling and change his life.
He learned to let his family go. They were old enough to take care of themselves and he needed to free himself from the burden of being responsible for them.
"I needed to live my own life, for Warrick, for once," Dunn said.
He started smiling, laughing and is learning to love.
The most vivid recurring memory of his mom is after his final high school game just a few weeks before she was killed. She came down from the stands and the two of them walked off the field together holding hands.
To this day, he has struggled with relationships and can't feel comfortable holding a woman's hand, which as you can imagine, has been an issue with the people he has dated. It's as if as he 'can't let someone else in that special place I've reserved for my mom."
But only by letting go, could Dunn move on with his life.