Skip to main content

A hand for The Odd Couple

Chris Henry

The things that Rusty Guy thinks about nowadays are pretty much the same things he thought about as he held Chris Henry's lifeless hand.

A year ago Friday morning, Carson Palmer broke the news to his teammates in a locker-room huddle that Slim had died.

Unbelievably, Henry, the Bengals wide receiver with nine lives whose effortless strides and No. 9's long ball made the nine route their very own, was gone. At 26.

But if you ask Guy, it wasn't until nighttime that Henry passed. After Guy held the hand that really summed it all up. Lifeless, but still beating with so much hope that machines kept him alive for the organ donors.

It was in the morning when Guy arrived at the Charlotte, N.C., hospital, not quite a day since Henry suffered massive head injuries falling out of the back of a truck. He was gone; brain dead, but the family asked Guy if he wanted to see him. He stayed for 12 hours, until they unhooked Henry from the respirator and took him away for the organs, alternately holding Henry's hand and listening to his mother Carolyn tell stories of her baby boy.

"There wasn't a scratch on him," Guy says a year later. "He was peaceful. He was sleeping. He was breathing. It looked like he could get right out of bed and play football."

Guy is the self-described "middle aged white cop" that delivered one of the eulogies at Henry's funeral in New Orleans. They were the odd couple, he said. Here was Guy, the Bengals director of security, a sandy-haired Pittsburgh native who starred for the Duke golf team before working on the Raleigh, N.C. police force. Here was Henry, black, tattooed, and dredlocked, one of the pictures on the NFL's Most Wanted poster.

Guy does a lot of thinking these days about what he was thinking holding Henry's hand that awful day in Charlotte. Like he does now, he thought back to his first meeting with Henry. It was a meal and Henry paused to bless himself before he ate. This, Guy asked himself, is the notorious Chris Henry?

The beauty and sadness of it all is that Henry turned his life around. Beautiful because he found purpose in the loving arms of his fiancée and children while spurning the seductive old ways. Sad because it lasted so briefly.

"Chris got it," Guy says.

But then, so did Guy.

"We all come into situations with preconceived notions," Guy says. "But Chris was the kind of guy that didn't see differences. He didn't see color or anything like that. He was a very caring person. Once he trusted you, you could see that."

They had some tough times together. By the time Bengals president Mike Brown brought Henry back for one last shot in August 2008, there had been four arrests. A third NFL suspension waited him to open the season. But Guy knew Henry was going to be OK this trip. He could tell. Before he came back, there had to be a meeting with head coach Marvin Lewis.

"He won't take my call, he won't talk to me," Henry fretted to Guy.

Guy counseled, " 'Keep trying. Like water dripping on a rock. Marvin is a fair man. He'll listen to what you have to say. But make sure you take a specific incident and tell him how you know what you did was wrong.' And he did."

Henry's rehab is usually credited to Brown's belief that his enormous talent could flourish with some guidance, which came on a daily basis from Guy, associate strength coach Ray Oliver and Bengals director of player relations Eric Ball.

"At first with Rusty, it was a love-hate relationship," says T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the former Bengals receiver now with the Ravens. "It was like, 'Rusty, get off me, always on my back.' Honestly, it was two things. He was white and that made some guys hesitate a little. And Chris wondered if he was going to run back to management and tell them every little thing. But then Chris began to see it. 'Rusty, this dude is really trying to help me out.' Rusty earned his trust. Slim was a really good guy, but he needed to trust you."

When an uncle died, Henry took note that Guy was accompanying him to the funeral in New Orleans.

"Why are you going?" Henry asked casually.

But Guy knew that Henry knew. And Guy could sense Henry's displeasure. There were those in the organization that thought it best Henry not go back to the old stomping grounds alone. But when it came time for a meal at the reception, Henry approached him.

"Come on," he said to Guy. "Let's get something to eat."

"It was a very generous thing to do in what was an awkward situation," Guy says. "That was just one of the things that showed me the kind of guy he really was. He was really very kind. That was his way of welcoming me."

Guy could take Henry's hand and think back to the days he was struggling and under house arrest at One Lytle Place, so close and yet so far from the stadium. When the Bengals drafted Jason Shirley that spring, Guy took him to two appointments. One was to the sprawling new Indian Hill home of defensive tackle John Thornton. You can have this, kid, or have this, and Guy took Shirley to see Henry.

"Never once did I hear Chris complain during that time," Guy says. "He didn't point fingers. He wasn't bitter. He was always upbeat."

He thinks about No. 15 a lot, just like it is that last night in Charlotte. On every Bengals road trip, Guy wears the No. 15 pin on his lapel that he wore to give his eulogy that ranged from selections from Jim Valvano to Vince Lombardi to Galatians. When the Bengals played at Charlotte this September, Guy arranged for Henry's fiancée, Loleini Tonga, and their children, to eat with their friend Adam Jones at the team dinner the night before the win over the Panthers. When he deals with players and their problems, Guy has the vast experience with Henry to fall back on.

"The guy who did it. The guy who changed his life around. The guy who should get the credit is Chris," Guy says. "He made the changes and it was basically moving away from the bad influences."

Guy remembers, too, a moment last season on the sidelines. It may have been the last time he saw Henry before he took his hand. His arm was in a cast, broken, his season ended. Guy asked him how he was doing and Henry simply said, "Fine."  Guy could hear something in his voice. He meant it.

"And he was fine," Guy says.

A year later, and the old white cop is still holding his hand.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.