Cincinnati Bengals: A Brief Storybook Ending to a Tragedy

Chris Murphy@@SeeMurphsTweetsAnalyst IDecember 21, 2009

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 20:  Wide Receiver Chad Ochocinco #85 of the Cincinnati Bengals looks on against the San Diego Chargers during the NFL game on December 20, 2009 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

When anyone dies unexpectedly, it hurts.  But when that person is 26 years old, it not only hurts, but begs the question: "What if?"

What would that man have accomplished had he not gone so early?

How would his three children have turned out if they had him in their lives?

What if he had not died?

When wide receiver Chris Henry died falling out of a truck during a dispute with his fiancee, these are some of the questions that had to race through the minds of friends and family, along with "Why?"

Sometimes there is just no explanation.  

Yes, we tend to glorify people in the public eye only after their death instead of during their lives, as if to keep a secret from them only to reveal it when they are not there to listen.

In the case of Chris Henry, however, it was hard to ever glorify him.  

On Dec. 15, 2005, Henry was pulled over in northern Kentucky for speeding. During a search, marijuana was found in his shoes.  He was also driving without a license or insurance.  

One month later, on Jan. 30, 2006, he was arrested in Florida for multiple gun charges, including concealment and aggravated assault with a firearm. He was reported to have been wearing his Bengals jersey at the time of his arrest. He pleaded guilty to this charge and avoided jail time.

On Apr. 29, 2006, Henry allowed three underage females (ages 18, 16, and 15) to consume alcohol at a hotel in Kentucky.  One of the girls (the 18-year-old) accused Henry of sexually assaulting her; she later retracted her story and was charged with filing a false police report.  On Jan. 25, 2007, Henry pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of a city ordinance commonly referred to as a "keg law." He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, with all but two of those days being suspended.

He was pulled over in Ohio on Jun. 3, 2006 for drunk driving.  He registered a .092 blood-alcohol level, .012 above the level permitted in the state of Ohio.

On Oct. 6, 2006 he was suspended by the NFL for two games for violating the league's personal conduct and substance abuse policies. NFL policies forbade Henry from taking part in practices, however, he was allowed to attend any team meetings. 

The following April, Henry was suspended for the first eight games of the 2007 NFL season for violations of the NFL's personal conduct policy.

Henry allegedly assaulted a valet attendant at Newport on the Levee in Kentucky on Nov. 6, 2007. He was arrested for a second time in Orlando on Dec. 3 for violating the probation he was serving from a Jan. 30, 2006 arrest. On Feb. 21, 2008, he was found not guilty.

On Mar. 31, 2008, Henry punched a man named Gregory Meyer, 18, and threw a beer bottle through the window of his car.  Henry mistakenly thought it was someone who owed him money.  Henry was waived by the Bengals a day after this arrest and was then served a house arrest sentence.

Henry was re-signed by the Bengals in August. 

That is a long list of problems to overcome, but just as it seemed Henry was beginning to do so, he left this earth.

“Chris changed his life around when nobody thought he could,” Cincinnati tackle Andre Whitworth told reporters. “Nobody thought the Cincinnati Bengals could go from 2-14 to where we are now. We embodied that. He embodied us. He changed and we changed. That’s why he’s important to us.” 

But in the caves of questions, sport brings a light of certainty. 

As a sports fan, you were certain Chad Ochocinco would catch a touchdown pass after his emotional interview with reporters regarding the death of Henry, along with bringing Henry's jersey to the field before the game. 

You just knew in this holiday season, there would be some kind of happy ending to this tragedy. 

Just like Henry's chance to overcome his list of faults, however, the happy ending was brief.

After Ochocinco caught a 49-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to give the Bengals a 10-7 lead, causing Ochocinco to drop to his knees, put his right hand on his heart, look up and say a few words in tribute to Henry, the Bengals went on to lose 27-24 to the Chargers on a last-second 52-yard field goal in their second attempt to clinch a division title.  

Just as is life, sport can be ruthless and heart-breaking even when it produces the occasional fairy tale.

Unlike life, however, sport always gives a chance for redemption in the form of another game.