Commentary

Sam Hurd shows we just don't know

Shocking arrest on federal drug charges contradicts receiver's pious, affable demeanor

Updated: December 16, 2011, 9:52 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

My last memory of Sam Hurd with the Dallas Cowboys has nothing to do with anything he did on the football field.

[+] EnlargeSam Hurd
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesIn five seasons with the Cowboys, Sam Hurd never came across as anything but a devoted receiver and special teams contributor striving to improve.
Sometime late last season at the Cowboys' Valley Ranch training complex, I saw Hurd walking toward the showers with a towel wrapped around his waist, though it didn't hide the scriptures tattooed along his rib cage.

Hurd, a frequent visitor to my church in southern Dallas, was singing a gospel song.

As usual, he was off key.

So I teased him.

"God don't care about your voice as long as you're praising him," he said with a hearty laugh.

Like just about everyone else, Thursday morning's news that Hurd, a San Antonio native, had been arrested Wednesday night in Chicago on federal drug charges surprised me.

Sam Hurd? A drug kingpin?

Was he trying to be a real-life Stringer Bell, a notorious drug dealer who fancied himself an educated businessman, from the acclaimed HBO series "The Wire?"

After all, Hurd signed a three-year deal worth $5.1 million, including a $1.35 million signing bonus with the Chicago Bears in the offseason, and earned a base salary of $685,000 this season.

Of all the players I've met in 17 seasons of covering the Cowboys, Hurd never, ever would've popped up on my radar as an alleged drug dealer.

Read the government's affidavit, and the person described sounds nothing like the Hurd I've known since he arrived at the Cowboys' training camp in July 2006 as an undrafted free agent.

That guy was a shy, likable, confident player who dedicated himself to making the team.

Shortly after training camp started, Hurd began spending extra time after practice working on his release off the line of scrimmage and running routes. Then he'd catch chest-high passes from a Jugs machine at close range for about 30 minutes.

Sometimes, he'd sit on the ground and have one of the equipment managers throw him passes. Anything to improve his hand-eye coordination.

Hurd also took advantage of his access to Terrell Owens. Say what you will about T.O. as a teammate, but he dominated the NFL for a decade -- and Hurd picked his brain clean in a never-ending quest to improve.

T.O., thrilled to have an apprentice, taught Hurd everything he knew from training to diet.

Hurd played five seasons with the Cowboys, primarily as a key special-teams performer, catching 45 passes for 630 yards and two touchdowns with the Cowboys.

He never caught more than 19 passes in a season but distinguished himself as a solid contributor, the type of versatile, all-around player who can have a 10-year NFL career.

The kid from San Antonio and Northern Illinois just wanted to be the best.

Based on the complaint filed by the federal government, Hurd also wanted to be the best drug dealer.

Undercover Homeland Security agents arrested Hurd after he attempted to set up regular purchases of 1,000 pounds of marijuana and five to 10 kilograms of cocaine to expand a drug distribution system he'd already established.

The complaint says Hurd and another co-conspirator currently distribute four kilograms of cocaine per week in the Chicago area, but that the supplier could not supply him with enough quantity.

Hurd met with the undercover agent for the first time Wednesday night, saying he only focused on "high-end" deals.

The complaint says the agent on the case believes Hurd violated federal statute from last July through Wednesday night.

The person described in the complaint sounds nothing like the person I knew.

We're talking about one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, a person I never heard utter a profanity. A man I once spent 30 minutes talking to about the strategies he used to succeed in the popular video game Halo.

Then again, we don't really know anyone. And every time we forget, we get reminded by an incident like this that leaves us wondering what clues, if any, we missed.

Aside from your spouse, some relatives, and your two or three best friends in the world, you don't know anyone.

Sad, isn't it?

Folks show us what they want us to see. They show us what they think we want to see.

Or should see.

Twenty years in sports journalism has taught me to never be shocked by anything.

Even an alleged drug-dealing receiver who often sang gospel.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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