Ex-Bears RB Rashaan Salaam found dead: ‘It’s just tragic’

SHARE Ex-Bears RB Rashaan Salaam found dead: ‘It’s just tragic’
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RASHAAN SALAAM BREAKS INTO THE OPEN FOR A 20 PLUS YD GAIN AND A BIG 1ST DOWN......12/8/96....PHIL VELASQUEZ

Dave Wannstedt was watching a Cubs game last summer when a man walked up and handed him the phone.

On the line was the man’s friend, Rashaan Salaam.

The two hadn’t spoken in years. In five minutes over the Wrigley Field din, they teased each other and caught up.

“It was great to hear his voice,” Wannstedt said Tuesday.

The former Bears coach still couldn’t believe the news: that the former Heisman Trophy winner was found dead in a Boulder, Colo., park late Monday. The Boulder Daily Camera reported his death was being investigated as a possible suicide. The University of Colorado, his alma mater, said there were no signs of foul play.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Rashaan Salaam’s family, friends, and former teammates,” the Bears said in a statement.

The Bears drafted Salaam 21st overall in 1995 after he ran for 2,055 as a college junior. The 20-year-old missed more than two weeks of training camp after holding out for a contract, though, and didn’t make his first start until Week 4.

He starred the rest of the season, finishing with 1,074 rushing yards.

“NFC Rookie of the Year,” Wannstedt said. “We kinda thought he would be the next Walter Payton. Then he gets hurt and he never really recovered after that.”

Salaam broke his leg in the third game of the 1997 season and was cut the next year.

Salaam later said marijuana use contributed to his troubles in Chicago, telling ESPN then that it “probably had me out there lackadaisical instead of going out there 100 percent” and was “just as potent as cocaine.”

Salaam was an eager learner, Wannstedt said. He remembers Salaam losing a fumble at Soldier Field — one of his 14 as a pro — and engaging in a conversation with an encouraging, retired Payton on the sideline.

“He loved that,” Wannstedt said. “Anything he could do to become a better player when he came into the league, he was willing to do.”

Like Wannstedt, agent Mike McCartney remembers Salaam’s smile. The ex-Bears college and pro scout first met Salaam when the former eight-man football player at La Jolla (Calif.) Country Day School played for McCartney’s father Bill at Colorado. The day Salaam surpassed 2,000 rushing yards, Mike McCartney called the press box 10 times from an airplane for updates.

“I love Rashaan,” he said. “I’m heartbroken.”

Salaam bounced between the Raiders, Browns and Packers, but recorded only one more carry after leaving the Bears — a two-yard run with Cleveland in 1999.

“As far as having an injury where you’re going to miss considerable amounts of time and you can’t play, it affects different players different ways,” Wannstedt said.

“I don’t have an answer. I don’t know. It’s so sad. He was a so young. It’s just tragic.”

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