I don't know what Christmas it was. But it was a great one. My neighbor friend and I had asked our parents for the same exact gift; he wanted a Los Angeles Rams football uniform, and I wanted one of my favorite team, the Oakland Raiders.
We both circled the item in a Sears and Roebuck Christmas catalog so our parents would be sure to get it right.
On that Christmas morning, my friend Robert showed up at my door, with his Rams helmet in hand. Knowing he'd be ready to go, I had already been ‘suited up' in my Raiders gear. On the back of my helmet, I'd done the first bit of business, by using a black marker to write the number ‘12' for my favorite player to this day;
All I know about it is what I've read, and what I've seen on TV.
It was an article in the New York Times, dated February 3, 2016 that had me read about my all time favorite player, Kenny ‘Snake' Stabler and his battle with the debilitating condition. As I read that article, it painted a picture that brought you close to his struggle, to a battle he was fighting two fronts.
A battle he lost.
What is Chris Brymer's battle like?
To read about the former Trojan is like reading about a nightmare that is happening in real time. Yet, I wonder if Chris Brymer is aware he is a party to the nightmare that has consumed his life.
A football product of Apple Valley High School, Chris was recruited to USC by head coach John Robinson. His professional career took him from Dallas to Europe and back home again to Los Angeles.
The same career now has him on a path only he knows, but no one else recognizes or understands.
In a story courtesy of ABC7.com, Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel spoke of his former teammate,
"To see anyone you know and love struggling in any way is painful and then wanting to help and not knowing what to do,"
It's a sentiment you hear over and over again by those who know; acquaintances, friends, and family. The hardest part knowing he isn't the man they once knew.
His former wife, and highschool sweetheart, Melissa, believes it is CTE that has taken Chris Brymer from his life, and taken him somewhere else. The destructive behavior she witnessed up close and personal eventually ended their marriage.
"it is, in my opinion, true CTE", she told ABC7.
Former USC Trojan running back Anthony Davis is uniquely qualified to speak on what Brymer is likely going through, at least on some level.
The All-American running back helped the Trojans to two national titles in the 1970's.
After suffering episodes of memory loss, and blacking out on the 405 freeway, Davis sought help at the Amen Clinic in Costa Mesa, where he was told he had the brain of an 85 year old man.
At the time, he was only 55 years old.
It was after a year of what is referred to as "brain nutrition",that included hyperbaric oxygen and neuro-feedback that he noticed a dramatic improvement.
People close to him wonder if such a rehabilitation program could benefit Chris Brymer?
When Ken Stabler died on July 8, 2015, he, along with his family and partner Kim Bush, had already determined that he would donate his brain for a study at Boston University. Both likely knew what doctors eventually found.
Stabler had High Stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy; CTE.
To quote the piece in the New York Times,
"The relationship between blows to the head and brain degeneration is still poorly understood", and "that other factors, like unrelated mood problems or dementia, might contribute to symptoms experienced by those later found to have had C.T.E.".
Quarterbacks, as one would expect, would have the added layer of protection, if for no other reason than they aren't playing a position where they may have repeated blows to the head.
A reasonable argument is that where Chris may find himself today is because he played a position where that risk was high. However, Stabler is interesting, if you'd want to use such a word, because they played different positions.
As the football world begins a long and begrudging process to acknowledging the link between brain injuries and CTE, families like Chris Brymers' struggle with the prospects, be them long or short, of a loved one who is a stranger by every definition of the word.
Kim Bush would say of Stabler, "On some days, when he wasn't feeling extremely bad, things were kind of normal", "but on other days it was intense. I think Kenny's head rattled for about 10 years."
It's important to note that colon cancer took Ken Stabler, and not CTE.
It's important to make that distinction because if the insidious nature of cancer hadn't taken him, the results of CTE could have been a likely death sentence as well, in its own equally cruel nature.
Near the end, as Stabler was being rushed away by doctors desperate to save his life, his long time girlfriend Kate held his hand on the way to an elevator. She told him she loved him, and Ken told her that he loved her too.
Kim turned away to wipe her tears. When she looked back at him for the last time, they looked at each other and he said, "I'm tired".
I wonder if that fatigue has set in yet on Chris, as I imagine it has on those around him.
CTE has all the markings of a disease that ravages the mind in a slow and deliberate method, eventually taking its victim hostage. Those around can only watch, can only wonder.
It's a terrifying existence for both - victims all.
It's that cruel and insidious nature that Melissa Brymer, their son, his family, and his high school friend Matt Rohrbaugh are intimate with, and would truly love to see change, or at least managed.
"How do you take a homeless man who you know needs some mental help, and how do you help somebody who doesn't want help?", Rohrbaugh said.
Unfortunately, Chris isn't there yet. He doesn't likely think there is a problem. For him, this is his life.
At least as he now knows it to be.