His eyes flicker to the right, to the left, and he leans in. His voice softens to a whisper. Each breath he takes weighs heavier than the last.
Every so often, Sammy Watkins feels a presence around him. A dark presence.
Like he's being stalked. Like evil lurks.
He felt it worst three years ago when he researched religious stories of the beginning of mankind and took it too far. There was Adam, OK. Eve, got it. But the serpent? No, the serpent was not just some snake. All the things we think are good…aren't good. All of the things we think are bad…aren't bad. God could be Satan, Watkins explains. Jesus could be Lucifer. Watkins started to feel a dragon-like, snake-like presence around him, and then, when he went for a drive, he saw something that petrifies him to this day.
He doesn't dare vocalize details, doesn't dare risk welcoming this sight back into his life. But it horrified him. It was demonic. It made one thing clear to Watkins: "There's s--t that can happen in this world that can take your life, my life, if it wants to," he says. For a moment, here at The Big Easy restaurant in early March, just a few weeks after making the signature play in Super Bowl LIV, Watkins looks terrified. But then the terror quickly vanishes, because, now, Watkins knows how to ignore all evil.
And death? Pshh. Watkins isn't afraid of death.
"Not when you know you've probably died so many times," he says, "and you're still here. You keep coming back."
Hang on tight. Watkins has a few million more thoughts on the universe and our place in it.
You're looking at his human body right now, a 6'1," 211-pound wide receiver for the Chiefs, but Watkins says he may also be playing this game as something completely different and takes a few guesses here. A dinosaur. A dog. A horse. Yeah, maybe a horse. It's all possible, he continues, because we've all been reincarnated back and forth and keep coming back. We spiral through a matrix until, one day, we find a way out of this world.
If he ever has a son, Watkins may just leave this body and—why not?—come back through him.
Heaven and hell exist right here in our brain. "What side will you choose?" he asks. "The good wolf or the bad wolf?"
Dreams are not merely dreams. No. Watkins believes we all move through an astral realm in which you can manifest outcomes into the physical world. Like this past AFC Championship Game. Yeah, he made that all happen.
He hears voices that tell him when danger's near.
He knows, for certain, that "words cast spells."
He knows spirits—"entities," he calls them—move through us all via the etheric body, one of the seven bodies of multidimensional consciousness. They can be good. They can be evil. They all want to experience our physical world. Most humans are not conscious of them. He is. He can consciously ignore evil spirits trying to cling to him. But he also believes this: When he refuses to let that evil spirit get what it wants in him, it can cling to someone close to him.
The same year Watkins won a Super Bowl, his uncle died. An uncle with zero known health problems. To this day, his family has no idea what killed him.
"Something," Watkins says, ominously, "just turned him off."
Watkins could talk all night. Seriously. The pink sunset behind him has faded to black. The beer bottle in front of Watkins has barely been sipped and the po'boy hardly nibbled as his arms flail, eyes bulge and diamond necklace sparkles. All other patrons are long gone. His wife, Tala, calls twice, asking where he is. Bartenders stack chairs on tables all around as Watkins goes on…and on…and on…
Even after a Super Bowl triumph, Watkins can't shake the feeling.
He senses evil coming. For all of us.
That cold intensity returns. His voice, again, lowers.
"My job is to really…" he says, cutting himself short. "It's a new world coming. It's definitely coming. I don't know what direction it's going, but there's definitely a new order coming. I don't know who's going to be in control of it, but we're in the Dark Ages right now. For sure."
Dark Ages? What? He doesn't break cadence.
"The darkest times ever. And there's going to be more darkness, more craziness."
"Just darkness. … Just the way the world is turning. The s--t you're seeing. People are getting taken. Killings. The dying. The way the world is turning. I don't think it's any human that's doing—there are other things."
Other things, like COVID-19? It seems like he's never even heard of the novel coronavirus on this day in early March, but two weeks later, when the world is more aware of the virus' rapid spread, Watkins will say simply that, yes, this is the "new world order" coming.
And then will add: "I'm ready."
Which may all send a chill down your spine…
…or send your eyes rolling to the back of your head.
Go ahead and mock him. Watkins knows people will think he's weird. Delusional. High on a supply you've never even heard of. But he isn't haphazardly baking takes in an oven at 900 degrees. A specific path led him here.
From being a fourth overall pick 2014, a player many considered a surefire perennial All-Pro. To getting wasted every night his first two years as a pro. To continually getting hurt as a result of that reckless lifestyle. To falling into a deep depression and nearly retiring.
To researching nonstop and questioning everything.
To becoming a Super Bowl hero who thinks, hopes, prays he's finally found his purpose in life.
Call Watkins whatever you want. He believes.
I. At war
He knows what everyone saw: a ceramic-boned bust. From broken ribs to a hip tear to a glute, a hamstring, a calf and, of course, the foot, Watkins could've been suplexed into 100 tables over his first three years in the NFL and come away healthier than this. The Bills had mortgaged their future not for Khalil Mack or Aaron Donald or Odell Beckham Jr. back in 2014 but rather for another reason for Buffalonians to curse the sports gods.
But here's what you did not see: a 21-year-old drinking every night. That's no exaggeration. Watkins partied "every night"—yes, "every night," he repeats—turning downtown Buffalo's Chippewa Street into his own personal frat party. Beer, liquor...Watkins didn't discriminate in lighting his $12.8 million signing bonus on fire with friends who followed him north. "Living fast," he calls it, holding up a pretend blunt. Yeah, he smoked plenty too.
He treated his body terribly.
"I would go out and get wasted," he says. "Wasted wasted."
Then he'd wake up, go to practice and suffer the consequences. Along the way, his body deteriorated. When he thinks back on it, he admits now: Those injuries were largely a result of his own behavior.
His attitude deteriorated too. As other receivers in his class became stars—OBJ turning early success into full-fledged celebrity—Watkins' irritation and isolation grew. In October of his second season, he demanded the ball 10 times a game and said the front office was making itself look bad by not force-feeding him. In came the sarcastic cheers from 70,000 fans the next game. In came the social media blasts when he inevitably got hurt again, and no, telling fans on IG to "continue working y'all little jobs" didn't quite help his cause.
Watkins couldn't ignore online trolls, just as he couldn't ignore everyone in real life treating him differently. The general manager. Coaches. Teammates. Friends. He felt like he was toxic—to everyone.
And he slipped deeper and deeper into a depression.
No one in the locker room had a clue. His best friend on the team (Caleb Holley) had been cut before that second season, and after that, Watkins shut everyone out. Not just at work either. Watkins stopped talking to his parents and barely talked to Tala, who was then his girlfriend. Celebratory boozing would give way to self-loathing boozing at home. More of a numbing. Watkins would retreat to the basement, drink alone until 4 a.m., sleep two hours and wake up at 6 a.m. to do it all over again.
Guilt consumed him, rotting away his joy. He felt like he was letting everyone down, and not just in Buffalo. His friends. His family. Everyone back in Fort Myers' Dunbar area—aka Little Pakistan—who ever dreamt of a better life.
Everyone was so quick to judge, so quick to dismiss him as a bust, and when they looked at him, all they saw was a Clemson supertalent who got paid. They didn't know where he was really from. He's seen friends shot "dead in the head" inches in front of him. So often, he knew who pulled the trigger but says he never snitched. Nobody dared snitch. And even then—even if you evade the streets and make it to the NFL—home had a way of haunting him. He tried to avoid it as much as possible, but sometimes he didn't have a choice but to return. So he got his gun license. Rival neighborhoods were at war. With gang members eyeing him up, wondering who he was fighting for, Watkins moved through the streets "like military, watching every move."
To be ready to defend himself if need be.
Once, Watkins hit the clubs 154 miles away in Orlando, only to have a friend tell him later he'd heard he was being followed. The friend knew exactly what Watkins was driving, what streets he'd turned on and that he was wearing a gaudy, sparkling diamond necklace that might as well have been a bull's-eye. Watkins could've been jumped. Killed.
Such is the theme of his life: Watkins believes something has always shielded him from danger. He wasn't the only kid with talent. Countless others had that and then some, like his brother, Jari McMiller. Think Watkins is gifted? He'll rave about McMiller forever. Unfortunately, Watkins explains, McMiller "got caught up in the environment of destruction." He doesn't even fault him because just about everyone they knew had their hands "in something."
He did everything in his power to help McMiller turn his life around. After he was drafted by Buffalo, Watkins brought his brother up north to live with him. McMiller got a 9-to-5 and left the mayhem behind.
Or tried to. The darkness followed them both.
In Watkins' third season, the Bills informed him that there was a warrant out for McMiller's arrest in Florida. The FBI was involved. Twenty-two alleged Lake Boyz gang members were being arrested as part of a wide-sweeping RICO case, including McMiller and other friends, cousins. "S--t," Watkins says, "half my family." So off McMiller went, back to Florida. Watkins paid a $1 million bond and vowed to pay for any lawyers his brother would need.
That was in January of 2017. The trial is still pending, set to begin June 8. McMiller is facing up to life in prison, per the District Attorney's office.
Watkins didn't think his "dark place" could get any darker then, but it did. After McMiller's arrest, football itself became trivial. Back to the basement he went. Back to hiding from the world. He was worried about going broke and, much worse, worried he'd lose his brother forever.
"I don't think the world knows what athletes go through off the field," Watkins says. "We have family. We have lives. You have good and bad in your family. I'm like f--king Jesus in my family. I was putting family before football. I wasn't focused on football. I was like: 'F--k football. I have to figure out how I'm going to put my family in a position to be successful or not to get killed or not to get in a situation where they can go to jail.'
"I was fighting a war outside of football."
Everyone Watkins grew up with was suddenly facing life in prison.
Four more people in his family died.
His body was a wreck.
He was no transcendent talent after all, with a measly 430 yards and two touchdowns in eight games his third year.
His career felt finished.
"I just went into a shell," Watkins says, "where I blocked out the world. I was down. Real bad. Everything around me was bad.
"I went home into that dark place and was like: 'F--k. My whole life is in shambles.'"
II. The breaking point
Retire. That's all that made sense to him on the team bus after he injured his foot again in Year 3. In front of the entire team, Watkins collapsed into the arms of his position coach, Sanjay Lal, and cried. He was ready to give up. Right then.
Pissed off at the world, he went on a self-imposed hiatus.
He boycotted "everything."
Instead of getting scheduled treatment, he stayed away from the Bills' facility. Nobody heard a peep from Watkins as he, admittedly idiotically, ripped the boot off his foot to jog around town. He returned to action too soon, in two-and-a-half months, and only damaged his foot further. Of course, he was doing all this damage to himself, but he couldn't see that. Not at the time. His life was at a crossroads.
"Literally, just questioning everything in my life: 'Am I supposed to be doing this? Is this my purpose? Is this a sign for me to quit football?'" he says. "This is what God's telling me. I felt like he was telling me to stop. Just stop."
Watkins' body was broken and his mind a maelstrom. He was just "lost." So, after surgery that 2017 offseason, Watkins put himself on lockdown. Blinds shut and doors locked, he ignored all nonessential texts and calls. Desperate for answers, he studied every religion he could think of: Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, etc. From there, Watkins got lost in geometry, biology, physics, the universe, aliens—"all this craziness," he says—to the point where research utterly dominated his life.
One article, one book, one YouTube clip led to another. And another. Never much of a student at Clemson, Watkins studied 24/7 for six months straight.
The ideas were captivating.
"It was," he says, "controlling me."
And then...he woke up. As if he had been hypnotized his entire life. As if a higher power snapped him into a new world.
Reemerging in July, Watkins felt nothing but bad energy from new Bills head coach Sean McDermott. Like McDermott was testing him, triggering him, waging a "mental war" to make him explode. Watkins never demanded a trade, but he wanted out. Needed out. Literally stared into a mirror in his St. John Fisher College dorm room at Bills training camp and prayed, nightly, Get me out of here. Please, God.
"And," Watkins says, "I think McDermott heard my prayers."
On August 11, the Bills shipped the player they'd once viewed as a franchise savior to the Rams.
The man who left town was completely different than the one who came to town.
The world viewed him as a bust.
He believed the opposite was true. He was only getting started. He was a new man.
The night before the biggest game of his life, Watkins hardly slept. He tossed and turned before dozing off into a different dimension for, oh, maybe two hours. But when he woke up he felt like Superman. "F--king Superman," to be precise. He had no doubt that morning, no doubt when the Chiefs trailed the 49ers by 10 in the fourth quarter and no doubt when he stepped up to the line against Richard Sherman with 3:44 left.
The ball was coming his way. He'd burn Sherman. The Chiefs would be Super Bowl champs.
Watkins was the first player celebrating at Hard Rock Stadium, his arms extending to the sky and his head tilting back as he screamed, "Let's goooo!" To the world, this was a scintillating talent finally delivering on his promise.
To Watkins, it ran so much deeper. So after the confetti fell, after he stretched a Super Bowl shirt over his pads and fielded questions in a crowded, musty interview room, he felt an energy, a vibe. He knew it was time to tell his story. The whole thing. Aliens, demons, reincarnation...everything. That's why he's here at the Big Easy. And all you can do to understand is try to keep up. To ride along on his stream of consciousness.
He believes in a god, a higher power, but, no, his belief system can't be neatly packaged into a Wikipedia page. He begins by looking around the New Orleans-themed Big Easy. Two older gents at the bar are debating how Bernie Sanders is going to pay for his campaign promises, a dog that was barking on the patio just left with its family and jazz blares as two of four ceiling fans slowly rotate. But, Watkins explains with a grin, there's something else here that's present. Something beyond three-dimensional comprehension.
He's convinced we only see 1 percent of this universe. And tapping into the "unseen" world—other dimensions—obsesses Watkins.
Such entities, beings, spirits, whatever you want to call them, are everywhere. They're inside of you, him, everyone. Watkins states this as fact because he's seen others look at him, mortified by a bad entity and shout, "What the f--k is that?!" Initially, he tried to fight back. He was startled by the "bad."
"Like, 'There's something controlling me!' Somebody or something," he says. "Once I realized that if I work with this being or entity—and continue to keep the love in my heart, my soul—then I'm going to be OK, I just woke up out of nowhere and started feeling more, seeing more. I can feel a vibe. Feel energy. I feel like I know when I'm around bad energy. I can feel it.
"Everybody has energy. When you're speaking, that's energy. When you're walking, that's energy."
These entities drift through us, he continues, via our etheric bodies and essentially get what they want in our physical world. Watkins knew there was something deeper to him than being a man, an African American, a football player, any outward appearance. What kept him up until 4 a.m. studying was the need to "tap into the true power" of himself, and that power, he now realizes, is feeling his and others' energies—interacting with those spirits. And, Watkins adds, to him, knowing evil exists is a good thing.
If he's able to radiate positivity, he'll get only positivity back. The universe, he's certain, "gives you what you put out."
"And all I put out is love," Watkins says. "So if there's any entity around me that's negative, or that's evil, I couldn't care less about it. If it's in me, I couldn't care less about it."
So, why fret? He stares ahead for a moment and then casually drops a bombshell: We all die constantly without ever knowing it. Wait...what? He chuckles. It's simple, really. Sleep is not just sleep. Dreams are not just dreams. Watkins believes we enter another dimension where, he explains, some humans have mastered the ability to manifest outcomes into the physical world. Watkins? He's getting there. He knows all NFL games are actually played the night before in dreams. On the eve of January's AFC championship, he says he told his wife that he'd have exactly 114 yards. He let that number sink in, repeated it aloud, dozed off and dreamt of catching the same pass on the same route he did a year ago against New England, only, this time, without tripping over himself.
"You can go out there and just be happy," he says. "Just play along. I can see s--t before it happens. Sometimes I feel it."
That feeling is out-of-body. On Sundays, now, it feels like he's watching himself with a bag of popcorn.
Skeptical? Watkins is used to that. So time and time again he prefaces his stories by staring at you for a good three seconds before then raising his voice and swearing to it with an emphatic, "I'll put this on my kids."
Then, he dives into another one: His Week 1 eruption for 198 yards and three touchdowns this past season in Jacksonville? Whatever Watkins told his body to do, it did—and whatever he told a defender's body to do, it did. He remembers saying "no, no, no, no" to one player and seeing those words cast a spell, freezing the defender in place.
He had one of the best games for any receiver all season and was a spectator to it all.
So is it like you're, uh, possessed? He shakes his head. He doesn't think so.
"There's dark s--t around us," he says. "Dark s--t in us. It's up to you."
Hence, heaven and hell being around us, in us, right here on Earth. Good. Evil. It's all balancing out the universe. You know when you wake up and you feel like garbage? Downright mean? This is a negative entity, he says, "that parasite." So, OK, sure. We are possessed, he decides.
"That energy, that thing that wants to live through you, wants that experience," Watkins says. "So you can give it that experience. And when you're not giving it that experience, it leaves, and it'll find somebody else."
He wasn't conscious of this in Buffalo, back when he was drunk and high and depressed.
He lived fearful then, and bad entities feed off fear. He knows this now. Has seen this.
He's convinced some players and coaches get joy out of seeing others suffer injuries. Their raw adrenaline ramps to an "I'm going to kill this motherf--ker!" level—a demon inside getting precisely what it wants. Watkins? He's messed up for days if anyone—on either team—gets injured. Watkins? A Chiefs teammate once decked him in a padless seven-on-seven session at practice, and when everyone expected him to start throwing haymakers, he tapped the player on the back of the helmet, said, "Good hit!" and jogged back to the huddle.
The way Watkins puts it, repeatedly, is that he'll never "fight dark with dark." He will not exchange bad energy. Think about the person you're closest to, he says, like your spouse. You two transfer energy to each other so much, 24/7, that you'll practically share the same exact mood.
So why be negative, to anyone, if the darkness is going to boomerang back to you?
Head hurt yet? He's just getting started, juking in a new direction every minute:
From there being two of him, two Sammy Watkinses: "Maybe I'm not even playing."
To other dimensions. He can't see them yet, but he can feel them. After one of his teammates scored a touchdown last fall, another Chiefs player stormed in Watkins' direction to shout, "Good s--t, Sammy!" Watkins looked at him, dumbfounded. His interpretation for the mistaken identity? His soul had leaped into the player who actually scored.
To the idea that he should be long gone himself. It freaks him out that so many friends and so many family members are dead, and he's still here. But he knows there's a reason for it. Watkins still remembers a voice in his head telling him not to go out with two friends one night as a teen. Those two friends were killed.
To the Dark Age arriving. To "shape shifters" he believes are changing life as we know it.
So there's no free will? No one is responsible for their actions?
Challenge Watkins' beliefs like this, say that if you don't want to knock over the glass on this table, you have the power not to, and he just smiles. Something is inside of you, he promises. Whether it's good or bad, "it's there," guiding you. Always.
Minutes later, he knocks over the full beer bottle in front of him.
"See! Out of nowhere! You see that?" he says, clearly spooked. "That's f--king nuts!"
This isn't the first time he's spooked himself either. This takes him right back to his belief that he can manifest outcomes—but those outcomes aren't always positive. More times than he can count, Watkins explains, he's said something and...then "the s--t happens. Right in front of my face." Take the first Chiefs-Titans game last November. The Chiefs were losing, and Watkins was fuming. Open three times, he didn't get the ball. He hurt his hip. He took himself out, pouted and told teammate LeSean McCoy, "We're going to f--king lose." Moments later, Watkins reentered the game, dropped a pass, told a nearby coach this time, "We're going to f--king lose!" and grew angrier and angrier. And the next thing he knew, the Titans blocked a kick to win the game.
He blames himself for that loss.
"My intentions were, 'I want us to f--king lose,'" Watkins says. "I was that mad."
So maybe he hasn't come as far as he thinks. Maybe the story arc of Savior to Depressed to Awakened to Champion to Happy isn't so clean as he can make it seem.
Watkins admits it here at the Big Easy: He is not happy. At least not fully.
Not with his future hanging in limbo.
IV. Fighting demons
Initially, he is emphatic. On this March day, the Chiefs front office may be treating his salary-cap number as an albatross (despite the fact that Watkins won them the Super Bowl), but he makes his intentions clear.
Hell, yeah, he wants to be back in Kansas City next season. The No. 1 reason? Head coach Andy Reid.
Reid is like another father. Reid gets him.
Applaud Watkins for not giving into Pat Riley's "Disease of Me," for not craving numbers, and he cuts in.
"But I do."
Without warning, he's boiling.
He will not play third or fourth fiddle on this team anymore. Not that he's said a peep about it to the team. If anything, Watkins believes he's been the one keeping other young receivers in check. He taught selflessness. He put others in position to score and was the first teammate on site, in the end zone, to celebrate.
So, briefly, Watkins daydreams of a career with Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa—"I'll follow one of them!"—and building a Super Bowl winner as The Guy somewhere else. He didn't like how the Chiefs left him out of so much of their marketing, either—the fact that he wasn't on the marquee next to Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.
Nor did he like hearing questions, constantly, from friends around the league about why he disappeared in the Chiefs offense.
Everything came to a head in that first Titans game. When he manifested a loss.
He vows to tell the Chiefs where he stands. He won't take a pay cut, and he needs his 100 targets, 1,000-plus yards, 12 touchdowns this season. Because just like he did before that AFC title game, before the Super Bowl, Watkins knows what's coming next for him: eight more seasons, two more Super Bowls, one gold jacket. Book it.
So this team had better be ready to feed him the ball. "I'm praying and hope they do right by me if I go back," he says. "If they don't, it's going to be World War III. Seriously. Because I feel like I've been doing everything in my power to stay positive, to continue to uplift everybody on the team. To put myself last, to literally always put myself last."
And he knows there are those on the Chiefs who haven't appreciated this all. He won't name names, but he could sense bad energy, from players and coaches alike. He could see it in one person's eyes, in the hallway, when that person then did a 180 to walk the other direction. He felt it when someone told him during one game that he could injure himself if he entered, and, "Boom," Watkins says, "I get hurt." He thinks one coach, at times, was playing for the other team. He thinks there are some on the staff who'd rather lose than see him succeed.
"It's sad. It's sad. It's unbelievably sad," Watkins says. "I've been exposed to it."
He wishes he could ignore it all. If he could go back to being "unconscious" while also living righteously, he'd do it. In a heartbeat. Because darkness, he's learned, is everywhere. Even on a team that hoists the Lombardi Trophy.
Old Sammy is back. New Sammy is gone. A dark entity, briefly, seems to be getting exactly what it wants inside of Watkins right now.
He's fighting darkness with more darkness. And on this day, he's clearly done in Kansas City.
Time passes. March grinds on. And New Sammy takes back control, overwhelming any bad memories with good ones. Only good ones.
They all come rushing back.
He thinks about his relationship with Reid. It's the best he's ever had with a coach. It started with 11 p.m. phone calls his first year in Kansas City. "Hey, Starship! How you doing?" (Reid calls him "Starship 14.") Reid would ask about life, about his two girls. (Watkins' daughters love Reid.) Their energies match. Reid gets him. Once, in a team meeting, Watkins leaned back to stretch a sore neck, and Reid, out of nowhere, yelled at him. "Sammy, stop! Stop talking to your people! They've been visiting me in my sleep! Stop!" Confused, Watkins asked him what he meant. "You know, Mars, Neptune…"
When the rest of the world freaked out over Watkins talking retirement mid-Super Bowl Week, Reid never even brought it up to him. He knew Watkins was fooling around. And whenever Watkins was frustrated last season, Reid called him into his office to tell him he was elite and his time was coming.
"Every word that he's said," Watkins says, "has turned true. Every single word."
He thinks about Mahomes. He loves his quarterback. The two have thrown back many a beer. Pat knows everything about him, and he knows everything about Pat. There's no bad blood here.
He thinks about the wide receivers. This isn't the loner afraid to speak to anyone in his far corner of the Bills locker room or the guy in Los Angeles juuust starting to open up. In Kansas City, he's himself, and, man, what a feeling that is. He peppers all the wide receivers with theories. They've learned that if you choose to go really in-depth with Watkins, then Watkins will go really in-depth with you. Once you're in, you're in. There is no escape. Every conversation is a "roller coaster," Mecole Hardman says.
"He could be in one of his days when he's tapping into a whole other area code. Other dimensions," Hardman says. "He's one of a kind. You have to love him for that. He's Sammy. What he's saying, is it true? At the end of the day, it's what you believe in. Sammy, he has a whole different set of beliefs. That's what makes him Sammy."
He thinks about the coach who tells him he's using 35 percent of his brain when the rest of us are just using 10. And the trainer who told him he's "a little seed" who hasn't yet bloomed into what he's meant to be.
He's revered, not dismissed as a ranting locker-room distraction.
His chilling eyewitness accounts even get some around him to believe. When receiver Felton Davis heard that Watkins, like him, believed in teleportation, he made a point to sit down with him one-on-one, and his mind was blown.
Not only did Watkins believe. Watkins told him he once witnessed someone teleport.
Before Davis knew it, they were talking about spaceships. (Watkins says he's seen one.)
And aliens. (Watkins believes he himself is one.)
"This is how I view Sammy," Davis says. "He's a very quiet guy. But if you ever saw the old guy that may be homeless who—you're like, 'He doesn't know anything'—and he literally may know everything. You'll walk past him, and he'll hit you with a quote, a quick little quote, and you're like: 'Man…what? What Sammy?'"
One Watkins speech still gives Davis chills: "Think about it," Watkins told the receivers in August. "All your life you said you're going to the NFL. You say it as a kid. You say it every day you wake up. You go work out, and you say it. Look at us. We're here now. We can make anything happen."
Funny thing about that first Titans game: Hardman doesn't remember Watkins losing his cool. No, he remembers Watkins telling him he had a vision: "You will change the game." And Hardman did. The rookie took his one target 63 yards to the house. Then in the playoffs, against Houston, Watkins said those magical words again, and, "I'll be damned," Hardman says, "the s--t just happens." His 58-yard kick return helped resuscitate the Chiefs' season.
And the simmering fury? A teammate unhappy with his role and all those demons and prepping for WWIII? Davis never saw any of that. Whenever negativity entered Watkins' world—an injury, a two-target game—Davis didn't sense a tick of irritation. The exact opposite. Watkins would immediately start talking to himself in the third person to refuel positivity. Most striking wasn't anything Watkins said either. To Davis, it was his energy. That word Watkins uses himself so often. He lit up on demand. As if flipping a switch.
All relapses, all moments of rage like that outburst at dinner, are now brief. He wasn't taking his own advice, he later admits. There was fear inside of him. An entity sensed that fear, latched on, and, yeah, he fought darkness with darkness.
Any lingering, smoldering defiance chills to bliss as Watkins declares, repeatedly, he'll always be at peace.
There's no doubt in his mind: He is in control. Even when McDermott's Bills show interest, Watkins vows he could make that work if he wanted to, easily, because he now knows how to navigate through all dark energy. But why run? Why hide?
Instead of staring in front of a mirror and praying for a trade—for greener pastures somewhere else—this Sammy, New Sammy, agrees to a restructured, incentive-laden contract to stay in Kansas City. He can still make up to $16 million if he delivers. And he knows he'll deliver.
Make no mistake. Droplets of truth were marinated into that anger. He still wants the ball. Eight years, two Super Bowls and one gold jacket is still the plan.
Laugh, again, if you must.
"I'm going to talk to the guardians of the galaxy, talk to the true aliens," he says, "and try to work it out."
VI. The answer
This is what he vows: He will never be depressed again. Not when the same neighborhood where he survived so much may now name a street after him. Not when he can give all kids back home a reason to avoid gangs and drugs and violence. Not when he has a loving wife and two daughters of his own.
At first, his wife was worried about how deep he took all this research, this new consciousness. His parents too. Now, those closest to Watkins get Watkins.
But for those who don't get Watkins, for those who'd trash him as a weed-smoking "f--king idiot," as one ex-Bills teammate does, fine. Watkins says everyone's entitled to their opinions. He does, however, want people to understand him. And he thinks anyone who's had an out-of-body experience can.
Ever felt weightless, like you've lost control of your body? Watkins smacks his hands together, nods. Anyone who's felt this, even for a split-second in a car crash, can relate. That was him against the Jaguars. He describes the feeling as "controlling from the outside."
"Imagine if you were feeling like that all the time?" he says. "You'd be too powerful. I can make myself feel like that all the time."
And he loves it. He's ticked he ever questioned this.
Even in the throes of a pandemic, Watkins is utterly devoid of dread. As so many of us worry about life never being the same again, Watkins is remarkably calm. Whatever force is pulling the strings and using "evil tactics against humanity," he says, is feasting on our fears. But don't worry. Watkins promises that this demon will soon take off to Mars or the dark side of the moon.
We can "cleanse" ourselves of it, he explains, by not being so obsessed with the artificial—weight, looks, etc.—because the physical body is a "cloak" that covers the soul, and the soul is what holds our unlimited power. The good spirits will guide him, he says. The dark ones? Wherever they linger—Little Pakistan, Buffalo, Orlando, Kansas City—they don't matter.
He'll forever be a passive observer to those.
And this, he punctuates, is "true power."
Is what Watkins believes real? Nonsense? How did that bottle fall again? Is that "parasite" the reason I'm so prickly this morning?
None of this is really the point. Watkins isn't trying to convince anyone of anything. His point in sharing, rather, is to show that he's no different than you. Everyone has vices and trauma and demons. Watkins' all struck at once—alcohol, injuries, a racketeering case, death, depression—and somehow he found a way to get to the other side.
He is happy. He's found his purpose, his answer to the doubt that once had him in tears. And now he's here to pump as much positivity as humanly possible into the world.
"You can make the world treat you how you want it to treat you," he says. "You can be the villain or everybody loves you. It's up to what you choose to do. … Everything is mental. Nothing is physical. The mental is telling everything in the physical world to make it happen.
"The war is on your mental."
So, no, Watkins is not worried about the pandemic. We'll get past it, he says with confidence. When we do, he plans on leaving for Saturn, of course, to "break the rings" and "crack the ice" that surround us.
Then he'll head on back to Kansas City to win another Super Bowl. Make that two.
Tyler Dunne covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TyDunne.