The Edmond Sun

May 21, 2009

NFL star found fame on field, alcohol and painkillers off

Mark Schlachtenhaufen

EDMOND — On a fateful day in 1985, Jim Riley realized how many people had been hurt by his behavior. He was the subject of an intervention.

Athletics opened many doors for Riley, today an established Edmond resident. It also opened him to temptations.

Enid High School has produced many great athletes, including the NBA’s Mark Price, wrestling’s Gary Breece, Major League Baseball’s Ray Hayward and NFL players Lydell Carr, Ken Mendenhall and John Holt.

Enid also produced Riley, an All-State football player and prep All-American in 1963.

An intense, physical player, Riley played both offense and defense in high school, and positions including center and tackle on offense and noseguard and end on defense. He then headed to play football for legendary coach Bud Wilkinson at the University of Oklahoma.

Off the field, Riley started drinking alcohol.

In 1967, Riley was drafted as a defensive lineman in the second round by the Miami Dolphins.

At Miami, Riley was an original member of the Dolphins’ notorious “No Name Defense.” He also played in two consecutive Super Bowls and was part of the only undefeated team in NFL history, the 1972 Dolphins.

Football is a contact sport, and athletes often play with pain. When he played with Miami, prescription painkillers were legally available in the Dolphins locker room, Riley said.

Like other players, he took them.

In 1972, a knee injury ended Riley’s football career. What ensued in his personal life was an addiction-driven downward spiral.

In 1968, Jim and Robin Riley became husband and wife. By the beginning of 1985, Jim’s alcoholism, his disease, was progressing, Robin said. It seemed to be affecting his children more. His son’s anger was growing toward his dad.

Robin said years earlier she had heard about interventions, but at the time she didn’t think the tactic would work for Jim. She called a professional interventionist and prayed, asking God if this was his will for her husband.

The situation deteriorated to the point where Robin worried Jim might die if he didn’t get help.

Experiences with an Edmond church, an Edmond woman who was injured by an alcohol-impaired driver and a friend helped convince Robin an intervention was the right thing to do.

Later that year, the intervention was held in the Rileys’ home, arranged so that when Jim awoke he would not be drinking and find the group, which included family members, a business partner and his high school football coach in his home.

Robin said that moment was for her a frightening experience, filled with questions and concerns about how Jim would react.

His former football coach told Jim what had led to the intervention. His daughter, 11, addressed Jim and said, “Daddy, I love you. I don’t want you to die. I want you to get help.”

Then the interventionist asked Jim if he would be willing to get treatment.

All ears listened for his answer.

FOR THE CONCLUSION OF RILEY’S STORY, see the Weekender edition of The Edmond Sun