Updated: 9:15 p.m.
The Ravens, the last team that Chris Henry played against, didn't know he had died Thursday morning when they began their morning meeting in Baltimore. But they knew he was in bad shape and head coach John Harbaugh called up quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson to say a few words and lead a prayer.
"He had a gleam in his eye when I saw him that last time. I was so proud and excited of what he'd been able to do," Jackson said after the Ravens practiced Thursday. "That's why it's so tough. The last time I saw him he was hurt and getting carted off the field. A good guy. And those guys who played with him will tell you that."
That was back on Nov. 8 when Henry dislocated his forearm in the Bengals 17-7 win over the Ravens. But it was none tougher than Wednesday afternoon after Jackson's quarterbacks meeting when he got the heads-up, sickening text from Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.
There was a similar reaction around the teams where Henry has former teammates and they echoed the same sentiments his currents mates did. He had, indeed turned the corner. *The Buffalo News *got one testimony.
"It was very sad. Tragic news. I think for the guys that know him, it's very different than the public perception of him," said Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw two touchdowns to Henry last season. "The trouble that he got in the past and all that, everybody knows that he's a great guy. He really had his share of problems but really got his life on track. Obviously, everybody's hearts and thought and prayers go out to his family, his fiancée, his kids … . I can tell you that everybody loved him in the locker room. He was a great teammate. It's going to be really hard for those guys because of how much they really cared for him."
Like all quarterbacks, Fitzpatrick liked to throw to Henry.
"He was such a talent. Carson likes to call him 'The next Randy Moss.' That's what he called him," Fitzpatrick said. "The way he played on the football field, the passion that he played with, how much he loved the game and really the chance that the Bengals gave him because they knew what kind of person that he was and the talent he possessed. I'm still trying to grasp what really happened because it's such tough news and a shock to hear."
If you don't think the NFL is a brethren, you know now as Fitzpatrick described the scene in the Bills locker room.
"When the news broke, everybody was gathered around the TV, watching. It's always something you never want to see happen, especially somebody in the NFL brotherhood. It affects everybody more than people realize," he said.
The Vikings, who just beat the Bengals last Sunday in Minneapolis, have two former teammates who also saw Henry change his life.
"The guy had a good heart, even though he didn't always use the best judgment," said safety Madieu Williams to The Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "He always had a good heart. He was a guy who loved life, loved his family, loved his kids. He was an extremely hard worker and loved the game of football. It's sad to see that he won't get to see his kids again.
"A lot of the guys in Cincinnati said he was going down the right path. There were a lot of guys rooting for him. He matured a lot over the years. You saw the maturity and the way he handled himself at the end of last season and this season. You saw the growth and hoped that it would continue for him. It's unfortunate that it won't."
Fullback Naufahu Tahi was in the same agency with Henry and got to know him through his cousin, Bengals draft pick Fui Vakapuna.
"During the offseason, we hung out. Our agent did a client weekend in Vegas. [Henry] was there with his fiancée," Tahi said. "I was there with my cousin, Fui who was with the Bengals, and has the same agency. We hung out and that same weekend went up to Salt Lake for Fui's wedding. We hung out and had a lot of fun. It was fun to hang out with him. You could tell he made a lot of changes in his life. His demeanor and his attitude was different. This is a horrible thing to hear about. He was doing great. He was a lot happier and more excited to play football. Just his personality, he was a great guy."
Justin Smith and Ahmad Brooks of the 49ers, defensive players that overlapped Henry's time in Cincinnati, weighed in from the Coast.
Smith: "It's sad. He was a talented guy. When I played with him he was a good guy, quiet in the locker room. He kept to himself for the most part. From everything that it sounded like, he was getting back on track and this happens. My feelings go out to him and his family."
Brooks: "It was sad to hear. You hate to see somebody go. He was a good guy. We've all made bad decisions throughout our life, but he grew from it, he learned from it and he had a family, so I'm definitely sad to hear that happen. I knew him very well. I'm just sad to hear that and I'll pray for him, I'll pray for everybody."
Also affected by the news were the Redskins, a team that lost the leader of their defense two years ago during the season when Sean Taylor was shot to death in his home during a robbery.
"It's just something another team has to go through," said cornerback Carlos Rogers in the Washington locker room Thursday. "With Sean, we were close. He was like a brother and it was hard to get over. You play harder for that person and let your actions speak on the field."
But it was Jackson that may have known Henry best.
"This was a young man that struggled, but he wanted to do right," said Jackson, Henry's position coach his first two years. "I've been reading the quotes from the Bengals and they hit it right on the head. He needed to be directed and they had a lot of people bend over backwards there because they wanted to see Chris Henry succeed."
Jackson ticked off the list. Ray Oliver, the Bengals associate strength coach. Eric Ball, the director of player relations. Rusty Guy, the director of security "who I don't even know but must have done a hell of a job." Lewis. Bengals president Mike Brown.
Jackson could have added himself. When he scouted Henry at West Virginia, you could probably say that Jackson was a bit more enthusiastic about Henry than others in the process. Greg Seamon, the Bengals East Coast scout, also had high grades on him. The kid scored a touchdown per game in his last two years at WVU and there wasn't a criminal record. There were enough misgivings about his temper and maturity that his first-round talent fell into the third round. But no sign he would be arrested four times in half a year.
"Mike Brown wanted to know if he could come in here and work in a professional environment and produce and I thought so and I spent some time with him before the draft," Jackson said. "And if you look at it, he never had any problems at the facility. There were never problems around the team. Everything that happened to him happened away from football. When he was here, Chris Henry practiced hard and played hard."
Jackson doesn't sugarcoat it. It was at that team Christmas party in 2005 when he got wind that Henry was arrested for possession of marijuana the night before. He confronted him, found it was true, and then went to Brown and Lewis.
"I felt like I had let them down," Jackson said. "Chris needed to grow up, and we had a lot of people help. Eric Ball was my confidant when it came to Chris. I think you have to give Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis a lot of credit. Not a lot of people know what it takes to get the ins and outs of what people need to succeed in an environment. But Mike Brown never flinched. He never said to me, 'Hue, let's get rid of this guy.' Marvin had a lot of patience. It says a lot about them."
It says a lot about Jackson, and the last two days have been miserable. He says he has received calls from everyone who was in that receivers room in '05 and '06. He even heard from Reggie McNeal, a guy he hasn't heard from for a while.
"That room raised him. Chad raised him. T.J. raised him," Jackson said. "Chris is not a bad guy. The fact that all those guys called me or texted me, I think it shows that."
Jackson can still see the film from '05.
"Unbelievable hand-eye coordination," he said. "Tall. Lean. Big hands. Long strider. It didn't look like he was going fast, but the next thing you know, he was."
At some point Thursday, Jackson stopped himself.
"It's hard," he said. "It's hard to talk about him in the past tense."