Mondays are depressing but today was a little more depressing than most Mondays. Today Chris "Slim" Henry would have been 27 years old. Instead of celebrating a birthday, we are mourning the loss of one of the more naturally gifted wide receivers to ever grace the field of Paul Brown Stadium. He wore number 15.
Henry's five year career was filled with turmoil and controversy. When he was drafted by the Bengals in the third round of the 2005 draft, he was considered a very talented player with "character issues". From the time he was drafted to the time he was released from the team in 2008, Henry was in trouble with the law on more than a few occasions. Most people of Cincinnati did not like Chris Henry.
When Bengals receivers were banged up in the 2008 preseason, Mike Brown saw this as a sign, and an opportunity, to do what he does best. Give troubled players a second chance. That is exactly what he did for Henry. The Bengals signed Henry to a two-year contract. Most Bengals fans were, understandably, not happy.
Then something changed.
Henry showed all of us that people can change. Gone was the Chris Henry who hung out in the wrong crowd, got in trouble and made the Bengals a punchline for a good criminal joke. The new Chris Henry stayed out of trouble. He was devoted to the Bengals and to his family. He changed the minds and hearts of Bengals fans everywhere and from my vantage point in the stands, I could see more and more people wearing Henry jerseys.
Then, just as suddenly as he changed, he was gone. Chris Henry passed away on December 17, 2009.
For the short time he was back on the team, Henry built a rapport with Carson Palmer and during Henry's funeral in New Orleans, Palmer was one of the people in attendance who gave a eulogy.
According to ESPN.com, Palmer said:
"He walked past my locker every day to shake my hand as I said, 'Good morning,' and every day he said, 'What's up, cuz,'" Palmer said. "We've all seen and experienced different sides of Chris, and with every side he showed us, we saw just how kind and gentle his heart was."
Joe Reedy wrote today about Henry's death and added a quote from Henry about his second chance given to him by the Bengals:
Said Henry last year at this time: "This is a great opportunity for me that I’m going to make it work. I just got tired of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I had to do it for me and my family. I love to play football and I don’t want to blow it. It’s totally different. I’m not worried about anything negative going on in my life. I’m out here practicing with my teammates and go home to my family."
Henry did much more than change our minds about the kind of person he was. He paved the way for guys like Matt Jones and Adam Jones. If Henry had never turned his life around, the Bengals might have not taken the chance on these guys and you never know, maybe these guys help lead the Bengals to a Super Bowl. In that sense, Henry will always be a Bengal.
Chris Henry will be missed by those close to him and to those of us who never met him but watched him on Sundays. He wore number 15.