Not every NFL player gets to play 20 years like Tom Brady. Most won’t play five seasons. But for a select few, they’ll have one season, game or play that is truly historic. This offseason, we’ll highlight those special NFL performances in our “Moment of Glory” series.
For about 20 years, when someone would ask Reggie Langhorne why he retired from the NFL, Langhorne would lie.
Langhorne’s retirement is unique in NFL history. According to Pro Football Reference, he’s one of only nine players to have 1,000 yards rushing or receiving in his final season. The other eight had multiple 1,000-yard seasons. Langhorne is the only player ever to have his first 1,000-yard season and then immediately walk away from the NFL. Langhorne had 85 catches for 1,038 yards for the 1993 Indianapolis Colts. Then at 30 years old, he vanished from the NFL.
He’d have the same lines ready when people asked. His body felt tired, he’d say. It wasn’t worth the pain anymore. He had nine NFL seasons between the Cleveland Browns and Colts, so it was feasible.
“It was all false,” Langhorne said. “It’s so hard to look people in the eyes and lie.”
The truth? Langhorne was having a career year on the field and spiraling into alcoholism off it. He said a DUI triggered extra random tests from the NFL. He failed a league drug test, which was going to lead to a four-game suspension in 1994. He was disappointed in himself and embarrassed. And he had another reason to not want the suspension to become widespread news.
“I didn’t want my mom to know,” Langhorne said. “If this got out, my mom would be somewhat shamed.”
So he walked away, fearing the shame from his family and small hometown. And for two decades, there were two constants in Langhorne’s life: drinking and lying about why he left the NFL.
Reggie Langhorne’s battle with alcoholism begins
How Langhorne became an alcoholic is unusual. He said he didn’t drink in high school and only a handful of times in college at Division II Elizabeth City State. And as he was establishing himself with the Browns after making it as a seventh-round pick in the 1985 draft, he wasn’t drinking to excess. He and his teammates were close and focused on their profession. And while Langhorne never reached 1,000 yards with the Browns, he was a good player. He started 81 games. He had seven touchdowns in 1988. He’s still well known there and is part of a local TV station’s pregame Browns coverage.
Then in 1992, Langhorne moved on to the Colts. All of his friends from those Browns teams were gone, and he says he was a loner. The start of a long battle with alcoholism sounds so innocuous. He was just bored. He’d find himself in a bar having a drink. Then the next night, more drinks and more bars.
“Before you realize it, you’re doing that all the time,” Langhorne said. “Before I realized it, that obsession with drinking was a problem.”
Langhorne said his partying started to get bad his first year in Indianapolis, then got much worse his second year. Statistically, he was peaking as a player. His two best seasons for catches and yards were his final two seasons. In 1993, with Jeff George looking his way often, he led the Colts in catches and receiving yards. He always played sober, he said, but was drinking whenever else he could. He still posted a fine season. Langhorne was sixth in the NFL in receptions behind some instantly recognizable names: Sterling Sharpe, Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, Cris Carter and Andre Rison. He was eighth in the NFL in receiving yards.
“He should have made the Pro Bowl,” his close friend and former Browns teammate, Eric Metcalf, said.
And then he was gone. Langhorne hid the real reason for his departure.
A failed drug test leads to 4-game suspension
Langhorne found out he was going to be suspended four games for a failed drug test. He was cut by the Colts, who were shedding many high salaries. But the team knew about the failed test, and Langhorne assumes the Colts knew about his lifestyle, too.
Langhorne said three or four teams immediately inquired about picking him up.
“There are a lot of teams interested in Reggie,” Langhorne’s agent Vern Sharbaugh told the Daily Press in March 1994, “and I know Marty [Schottenheimer] would like to have him in Kansas City.”
But Langhorne was done with football. He said he thought of his mom, his family and letting down the people of Smithfield, Virginia. He’s still the only NFL player to come out of that small town. Previously in his career some, including NFL quarterback-turned-broadcaster Joe Theismann, told him to get every year he could out of the NFL.
“But I was so determined to get out and do what I wanted,” Langhorne said.
He thought he had enough money put away, but “when you’re partying and drinking every night, that money goes away fast.” He thinks he could have played at least three or four more seasons. But he was done, stuck with curious questions about being one of the rare players who posts a 1,000-yard season and never plays again.
“It took me years to get over the depression and holding onto that secret,” Langhorne said. “It took me to a deeper hole.”
Langorne had ‘maybe 10 rock bottoms’
Most recovering alcoholics and addicts have a story about hitting rock bottom.
“I had maybe 10 rock bottoms,” Langhorne said.
He was hit by a car once while he was riding on his bike to buy liquor during the day. Once his neighbors found him passed out in the snow. He was hospitalized seven times in a 14-month stretch with a blood issue. He said he had three-and-a-half quarts of bile extracted from his stomach.
“People die from drinking alcohol every day. I was in a bad, bad place,” Langhorne said. “You think you’ll fix yourself. But then you go five years, 10 years, 15 years down the road and you say, ‘Whoa, I’m out of control.’
“I think now, ‘You must have been crazy.’ If it was anybody else, I’d think you have to be crazy to do this to yourself. But you can’t see it when you’re the one doing it.”
Some attempts at rehab didn’t work because he says he didn’t want to be helped. And then his path to recovery started as unplanned as the drinking itself.
Turning his life around
Over the holiday season in 2013, Langhorne said he went on a six-day bender. His old Browns teammate, running back Kevin Mack, helped get him out of it.
“He showed up at my door — he smiles all the time — he smiled at me and said, ‘Let’s try something different,’ ” Langhorne said.
Langhorne went to Lutheran Hospital in Cleveland, and admits he didn’t go in expecting to get sober. He got in a program. Something clicked. Finally.
“I started to listen. I started to take directions,” Langhorne said. “I got honest with myself and realized I had a major problem.
“When I got to Cleveland, I was coachable. I wanted it and put everything I had into getting it. That’s how I approach sobriety now.”
He says he has been sober for more than six years. He approaches it with focus and intensity. As he was speaking on the phone from his job as a sales and leasing consultant at a car dealership just outside Cleveland, he says he already had a Zoom meeting for his program at 6:45 a.m. and would join another at 7 p.m.
“I’m not fixed,” Langhorne said. “I’m always going to be an alcoholic. It takes an absolute commitment to be all-in. It’s a way of living.”
Langhorne was in Metcalf’s wedding and Metcalf said about Langhorne, “I love him to death.” He didn’t know the extent of his good friend’s alcoholism until he opened up about it. Metcalf said he is very proud of how his friend has turned around his life.
“Reggie has overcome all this, and he’s able to be himself still. Just without the extracurriculars,” Metcalf said. “He has moved forward. And he’s still Reggie.”
As for how his NFL career ended, Langhorne says he has moments of envy when he sees players today making $2 million “sitting on the bench.” He said for years he resented the NFL because he was looking for someone to blame. He is over that, and wants to share his story because he thinks he could help someone in a similar position. He said he has been volunteering for about five years at the detox unit at Lutheran Hospital. He has even thought about reaching out to the NFL and seeing if he could help current players.
There aren’t any more secrets.
“I don’t carry those resentments or burdens anymore,” Langhorne said. “My story is my story. I’m proud of where I am today.”
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