When Carl Eller was inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame in 2004, he didn't dwell on his glory days as a member of the legendary Purple People Eaters; nor did he go on about the thrill of appearing in four Super Bowls. Instead, Eller reached out to young people caught up in gangs and drugs.
"Young men of African American descent, hear me now," said Eller. "It breaks my heart and it breaks all of our hearts. This is not the future your forefathers built for you. This is not the future we fought for in the '50s and '60s and '70s. What breaks our heart is to see you involved in gangs, and selling drugs, and killing each other."
Eller spoke with authority and from experience. Shortly following his retirement from football in 1979, Eller admitted his own problems using cocaine. He became clean in 1981 and worked to help others do the same. Eller helped establish an NFL drug program and worked as a drug treatment counselor.
I've seen people who've gone out for a night and used, and then decide to stay clean the next day and never go out again. And then I've seen people that once they get started, they can't stop. And it might take years for them to come back to recoverGeorge Lewis, counselor
For those who admire Eller's work on and off the field, news of the charges filed against came as something of a shock. Like former Star Tribune columnist Jim Klobuchar, who covered the Vikings in the '60s and '70s and has authored several books on the team. Klobuchar got to know Eller, and even participated in some of Eller's anti-drug and alcohol dependency activities.
"He's a very impressive figure in front of a group. He spoke a lot to young people, and I think deserved the respect he had," says Klobuchar.
Like Eller, Klobuchar has had problems with substance abuse. For him, it was drinking. Klobuchar says it took him three or four tries to give it up before the treatment took.
"I have great sympathy for the place he's in today," Klobuchar says. "I'd just like to go in and hug him for a while and say, 'Hey look, it's not the end of your life. You've been here before and you can come back.' That's what I want to tell him."
Some chemical dependency counselors say relapses aren't uncommon -- though less common after many consecutive years of being sober.
George Lewis, a counselor who works with several different treatment agencies, doesn't know Carl Eller, but he says in his experience a slip in sobriety can lead to a big fall.
"I've seen people who've gone out for a night and used, and then decide to stay clean the next day and never go out again -- or at least not that I know of," says Lewis. "And then I've seen people that, once they get started they can't stop. And it might take years for them to come back to recovery."
Lewis says recovery from alcohol and drug dependency is an ongoing process. A former heroin user, Lewis has been clean since 1995, but he still goes to Narcotics Anonymous meetings several times a week.
Lewis says addicts also need to be aware of the triggers that can lead to a relapse. He says joy as well as depression can lead one back to old habits. But one of the most effective ways to maintaining sobriety, says Lewis, is associating with the right people.
"One of the biggest things is to develop a network of people who stay clean," Lewis says. "So that you can get information; use them for support. That's probably the biggest thing, because you have to develop a lifestyle that's clean."
Law enforcement officials say if Carl Eller is found guilty of the charges, he will likely face fines and probation, but no jail time. Jim Klobuchar says Eller may lose some respect from some who looked up to him. But he says it's not too late to get it back.
"He can reclaim it," says Klobuchar. "I went into treatment when I was 64, I guess, which is the age he's at right now. So it's not the end of the world for him. But he's got to come to grips again with it."
Eller is scheduled to make a court appearance later this month.