The recently-released 511-page book “Intercepted: The Rise and Fall of NFL cornerback Darryl Henley (University of Nebraska Press),” the product of years of research by contributing Sports Illustrated writer Michael McKnight, is far from light reading if you’re looking for some more context to the USC-UCLA rivalry game.
Yet it’s a powerful “fall from grace” page-turner for anyone still trying to put the pieces together on how the former Bruins All-American defensive back continues to serve a 41-year sentence at the low security federal prison in Seagoville, Texas, with no possibility of parole, after a conviction for cocaine trafficking, heroin dealing and a double murder plot that included the assassination of a federal judge and a witness in his case.
With a four-year, $1.2 million deal, he was the team’s defensive rookie of the year, a starter for four years . . .
Long Beach Press Telegram columnist and former L.A. Herald Examiner UCLA beat writer Bob Keisser is quoted in the book: “When I think of Darryl Henley, I don’t think of everything they said about him in the mid-nineties. I think of an 18 year old kid with braces who always had a lollipop in his mouth, running around laughing.”
McKnight’s interviews include former UCLA teammates Karl Dorrell and James Washington, as well as Chris Hale, the former USC cornerback and Henley’s childhood friend from Duarte (Henley graduated from the private Catholic school Damien High).
There’s a brief mention of the 1988 USC-UCLA game, with the Rose Bowl on the line for both the No. 2 Trojans and No. 6 Bruins and best remembered as the contest where USC’s Rodney Peete lead his team to victory after recovering from the measles.
McKnight writes that Henley played “one of his more forgettable games” as Hale “played the game of his life” – including a hit on Henley on a punt return that forced a critical fumble. Fans of that game may remember Henley trying to hand the ball off to teammate Marcus Turner after he caught the punt in the fourth quarter, a turning point in the Trojans’ 31-22 victory. Henley was also deked out of a tackle on a second-quarter touchdown route by USC receiver Erik Affholter.
Most of the this book, of course, is devoted to the converging storylines that led up to Henley’s 1995 legal spiral, where he was once represented by Roger Cossack, the current ESPN legal expert analysis.
McKnight said he began working on the book in January, 2003 and “peeling open a 10-year-old drug trafficking conspiracy, with multiple characters involved, was an uphill climb.”
He knows of so many people who remember Henley as the friendly kid at UCLA rather than the one who got in way over his head.
“That’s why this story is so compelling,” said McKnight. “Darryl isn’t from South Central. He didn’t grow up around this stuff – which is what most folks assume about him.