Harrison’s favorite son writes about battles with painkillers
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Ray Lucas makes no bones about where he’s from. He’s Harrison through and through.
If you have a lengthy conversation with the former Jets quarterback and current television and radio football analyst, Lucas is bound to mention his hometown a dozen times.
“Growing up in Harrison, playing sports was everything,” said Lucas, who just released a poignant and powerful memoir, entitled “Under Pressure: How Playing Football Almost Cost Me Everything and Why I’d Do It Again.”
“The way Harrison sports were, if you weren’t tough, you didn’t survive,” Lucas said. “Sports were the equalizer in Harrison. Harrison football was the right of passage. You got the right to wear your jersey to school on Friday before the game. That was huge. I got to do it as a freshman. That’s what shaped me.”
Lucas, who went from Harrison High School to Rutgers to the NFL and stints with the Jets, New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins, now works as an announcer on the Rutgers radio network and on SNY covering the Jets, was talked into writing a book about his life by his agent, Mark Lepsetter.
“He said it like three years ago that I should write a book,” said Lucas, who worked on the book with author David Seigerman. “After everything I went through and where I came from, I started thinking about it. I talked to my wife (Cecy) and we decided to do it.”
The book, released recently by Triumph Books and found in bookstores and on line at Amazon.com, enables Lucas to tell his remarkable tale from growing up in Harrison, coming from a controversial family background to eventually tackling the demons of severe drug addiction to prescription pain medications.
Lucas was born in 1972 out of wedlock. His father was serving in Vietnam when his mother became pregnant by another man, an African-American.
“Out popped the chocolate boy wonder,” Lucas writes in his book.
When Tom Lucas came home from Vietnam, he married Ray’s mother and raised Ray as his own.
“My Dad is the greatest man I’ve ever known,” Lucas said. “I still try to be half the man he is.”
As Lucas got older, he heard the talk from people in town.
“I was in the sixth or seventh grade and I used to get beat up in school,” Lucas said. “I was the only black kid around. I didn’t know any better. He was my father and my mother was my mother. My sister was my sister and she’s white. I never had the guts to ask my Dad what happened. The man’s not my biological father, but he’s my Dad. He told me that he loved my mother too much to leave her be alone.”
Lucas became an All-State football and basketball player at Harrison High, eventually earning a scholarship to Rutgers to play football. At Rutgers, under head coach Doug Graber, Lucas flourished as the quarterback in one of the best offenses in the East. It led to a tryout with the New England Patriots, earning the respect of head coach Bill Parcells, who wrote the forward to Lucas’ book. Parcells took a major liking to Lucas and gave him a spot on the Patriots’ roster, even if it meant Lucas had to play special teams.
It opened the door for Lucas’ six-year career in the NFL, but it also led to more serious problems. Lucas had neck and back injuries that led to a host of surgeries and forced him to take any and all kinds of painkillers.
“I have a four-inch plate and eight screws in my neck,” Lucas said. “I’ve had three neck surgeries, two back surgeries, three right shoulder surgeries and one right elbow surgery. I’ve also had four right knee and three left knee surgeries.”
Four years ago, Lucas’ addiction to painkillers became totally out of control.
“I couldn’t look in the mirror anymore,” Lucas said. “I didn’t know who I was. I was taking 1,400 pills a month. Oxycontin, Percocet, you name it, I’d take it. I made sure I always had enough. I was down to 168 pounds. I was sick, really sick.”
Lucas was getting assistance from P.A.S.T. Retired Athletes Medical Resource Group after he had another surgery.
“They asked me to tell my story in Dallas,” Lucas said. “I didn’t want anyone to know my story and to know I was an addict. I made the decision to go to Dallas and when I got there, I knew I wasn’t alone.”
Lucas went straight to a drug rehabilitation facility in West Palm Beach for six weeks.
“I don’t even remember the first three days,” Lucas said. “I took 30 pills right off the plane and another 20 before I got to the place. The first day, I went through withdrawal and I wouldn’t ask that on anyone. It was extremely difficult.”
Lucas said that he went to rehab very defensive.
“I couldn’t trust anyone,” Lucas said. “I was extremely guarded. I didn’t have any of my friends around. I didn’t see my wife for four weeks. Once she came to see me and opened up to me, it was so good to see her. It was like seeing her for the very first time.”
Lucas’ courage in writing the book is incredible. It can’t be easy being a public figure, especially a beloved sports hero in his hometown, where he lives once again with his wife and three daughters, and opening up his private life in print.
“I feel blessed,” Lucas said. “When you screw something up so badly, you want to know how to fix it. I wanted to be a great father, a great husband, a great son, a great friend. I worked my tail off to get better. Now, everything tastes better and looks better. I love what I’m able to do now.”
Lucas realizes that he will never be pain free ever again. But he won’t go back to pharmaceuticals to cure the ills.
“My knees hurt, my back hurts, my neck hurts,” Lucas said. “But I’m choosing to deal with it. None of the pain is bad enough that I have to reach for something. I’m not afraid of a gun or a knife, but I am afraid of a little white thing. I know I don’t take my wife and kids for granted anymore.”
Lucas, now 42 years old, discussed the motivation for writing the book.
“I think it was something for me to do to reach someone who is suffering in silence,” Lucas said. “When you go through everything I went through, you want people to know that everything gets better. I never thought in a million years that I would become an author. It’s insane. When I started this, I wanted to make sure it was in my voice. That meant everything to me. It’s just another way for me to reach people.
Added Lucas, “The book has something for everyone. There’s a football aspect to it. There’s a life aspect to it.”
Lucas also spoke about getting Parcells involved in the book.
“Bill Parcells is the second greatest man I’ve ever met, next to my Dad,” Lucas said. “We’ve had some good times together and some tough times. I love the guy. He had no problems with me coming in and playing special teams for him. We talk still all the time. He always calls my wife the wrong name. But he truly cares about me. I knew that early on. I guess it was the Jersey Boy connection. We had mutual respect for each other from the very first day.”
Just like Ray Lucas has respect for himself nowadays, after all he endured, as written in his excellent book.
“Under Pressure: How Playing Football Almost Cost Me Everything and Why I’d Do It All Again,” by Ray Lucas and David Seigerman, is out in book stores and on Amazon.com.