If you have time today, you really should read the story of former pro football player Vidal Mills and his obsession with finding and punishing the men who murdered his son.
The elder Mills is a classic tale of talent wasted. A high school standout from Tampa who had bad grades and became a father at 17, he played college ball at Bethune-Cookman, because going to a bigger school would have meant sitting out a year to work on academics. He left college without graduating and had two troubled stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Jacksonville Jaguars, before tearing up his ankle and washing out without ever playing a regular season down.
After bouncing around the lesser pro leagues for awhile, Vidal eventually went back to Tampa to help raise his now teenaged son, C.J., and turned him into a blue chip recruit. At 14, C.J. was already a hard-hitting, 6-foot, 240-pound monster, but like his father he found it hard to stay out of trouble. Being a football star made C.J. a target and his dad attempts to protect him only seemed to make that trouble worse.
At 14, CJ got in a fight at school over a girl. In retaliation, a young man named Allen Brooks punched CJ at WestShore Mall. Word got to Vidal. Allen Brooks was 18. To Vidal, that was an unfair fight ...
CJ called Vidal and said he was about to get jumped. Brooks and another man were on bikes, circling. Minutes later, here came Vidal. Without a word, he jumped out of his SUV and hit Brooks three or four times in the face. Brooks' eye swelled shut and his nose and lip ballooned. He passed out on his parents' front lawn. When police came, Vidal said he was just leveling the playing field. Brooks was an adult, CJ was a kid. He had no regrets for sticking up for his son.
The fights continued until one day, two men showed up at their house wearing masks and shot C.J. on his own front lawn. Since then, Vidal has thought of nothing but vengeance.
Parents of slain children held a rally in the neighborhood. Vidal told the crowd to step up, to come forward. He shook his fist at the crowd and called the shooters cowards. He told the other parents he wasn't afraid of anyone. Hide behind me, he said.
He listened to the streets for whispers of who shot his son. Names came in from all over. Vidal tracked down every tip he heard. An 8-year-old told his mother he knew who shot CJ. A father knocked on Vidal's door and said his son had names. He cried, saying he was afraid to put his own family in danger.
Sometimes, people Vidal grew up with said they knew who shot CJ and wanted to take care of it. Just say the word, they told Vidal. Vidal told them to wait - not to give police more time, but to be sure they had the right men. He kept hearing about two men who hung out on street corners. In the middle of the night, he would drive to intersections such as Cypress Street and N Boulevard. He never found them. But he believed he was sending a message.
He wasn't going away.
There's much more here and it's a haunting tale of someone who just wants to do the right thing, but can never seem to do it in the right way. He's still hoping to find his son's killer, but who knows what might happen if he actually got his hand on him.
"I think he's going to snap one of these days," Ernest Mills, Vidal's father, said of his son. "Even if they solve the case, I think it's going to get the best of him."
Former Buccaneer hunts for his son's killers [St. Petersburg Times]