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 Cpl. Betty Smothers, on Jan. 7, 1993, during an ambush at a bank.
Dunn's intensely personal account of that encounter is the beginning of 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 Tuesday, and includes a forward by Colts coach Tony Dungy.
Brumfield apologized 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 of his death sentence pending.
Then Dunn 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, 33, 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."
Sports fans are 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 in the NFL. As great as those accomplishments are, they share the spotlight with his charitable programs, such as the Home for the Holidays initiative that has helped 77 families and 201 dependents.
There are more than a few interesting revelations of particular interest to Bucs fans.
-He says he would've taken half a million less per year to remain in Tampa Bay, but general manager Rich McKay would not entertain matching the six-year, $28.5-million offer that included a $6.5-million signing bonus from the Falcons. Less than two years later, McKay left Tampa Bay to become GM 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, 5 foot 9, 187 pounds, never thought he was good enough or big enough to make 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."
You think you know Dunn? Certainly, you know about the ground zero in his life, the loss of the woman he called his ''best friend.'' But only in reading his stunningly honest account can you understand how he became what he never set out to become: a role model. The memoir traces Dunn's life from that horrific night and details the struggle of raising five siblings, including a 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.
But after psychological counseling, Dunn learned to let his siblings go. They were old enough to take care of themselves and he needed to be free of being responsible for them.
"I needed to live my own life, for Warrick, for once," he 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 walked off the field holding hands.
To this day, he struggles with relationships and doesn't feel comfortable holding a woman's hand, which as one might imagine has been an issue with those he has dated. It's as if 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.
Rick Stroud can be reached at email@example.com.