Golden Richards was once the blond-haired boy on “America’s Team.” He was known for his handsome smile and the fact that he never refused to sign autographs for his fans. This is how most football players want to be remembered. Unfortunately, it was Richards’ life off the field that has received the most attention, not the plays he made on it.
He can’t change that now. The past still haunts him.
To look at him today, it’s hard to believe his shaking hands once caught a touchdown in Super Bowl X. His trademark blonde hair has now faded to brown. Divorce, drug abuse, Parkinson’s disease and disassociation with the NFL have taken him to hell and back.
The drugs have ravaged his body, but it was those vicious hits, game in and game out, that doctors now believe are the cause of his Parkinson’s. He was diagnosed 15 months ago.
But Richards is still fighting, ready to move on, ready to outsmart his demons the same way he used to blow past defenders.
If only escaping his past could be as easy as running, one of those natural abilities that is now just a memory. It was Cowboys player Bob Hayes, “the fastest man who ever lived,” whom Richards chose to honor while playing at BYU. He wore Hayes’ number 22 during his two-year football career. But while in the NFL, even Richards couldn’t run fast enough to escape the pain of taking hits, both in practice and during games. Eventually the hurt was too much for him, and he turned each Sunday to percodan, a prescription drug that would bring him some relief and help him get ready for “show time.”
“I’ve made my mistakes, and I’ve owned up to them,” Richards said.
Eventually, he cleaned himself up. He did it for himself, but mostly, he said, for his two boys, who are from his third marriage. The drugs cost Richards his first two marriages. The third marriage didn’t last either, but he has his boys, ages 19 and 16, and they mean everything to him. They are the two good things that came from so many other mistakes.
“What did it cost me? A lot. To get those two boys of mine I would do the same stuff over and over again. They’ve made everything worth it,” he said.
Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Richards, now a resident of Murray, lives with his two sons, Goldie (19) and Jordan (16), whom he credits for the reason he can be so optimistic about his future.
“The love for a child is indescribable for me,” Richards said. “In life the only thing that matters for me is Goldie and Jordan, alive and smiling and doing the right thing.”
Family has been everything for Richards. Richards was especially close to his father, who would throw the football around with him and never pressured him to join an organized team. As a result, Golden was never on an official football team until he attended Granite High School.
Although he had many scholarship offers both in track and football, Richards chose to come to BYU after his bishop gave him the ultimatum to either go there or on a mission. Today Richards cheers for the Utes every week out of the year except when they play the Cougars.
At BYU, Richards proved to be a star player and was known around the nation for his punting and speed. Through his time at BYU, Richards met and became close with former Granite High School coach and future BYU Head Coach LaVell Edwards.
“He was a very sincere, very genuine person,” Richards said. “Who wouldn’t go there (BYU) when your head football coach gave you a priesthood blessing? That has to be pretty special, in my opinion. He has done many of those. He kept his priorities correct and in place.”
Richards transferred to Hawaii his senior year because of the school’s good passing game and the fact that he didn’t have to wait a year to start playing again. A month into the season Richards was wearing a cast from his groin to the tips of his toes. He got out of his cast in January, the same month of the NFL draft in 1973. The Dallas Cowboys drafted Richards in the second round.
“I was absolutely stunned,” Richards said. “I had told my dad before the draft that I didn’t think I would be drafted, but if I could just get the opportunity to be a free agent I would be happy. All I wanted was a chance. If I had told my dad that I wanted to get to the moon first, he would have supported me 100 percent.”
Richards describes his family as close-knit and credits them for helping him through his dark times. From divorces to drug abuse, Richards can’t peg his rock-bottom moment but knows that without the help of his family he couldn’t be where he is today.
“They have without a doubt allowed me to continue to live,” Richards said. “I’ve had some rather non-happy situations in life, and it’s been tough physically and emotionally. I’m glad they were there. They were there because they loved me, because I’m a brother, and not for the things that I could do for them.”
Richards played with the Cowboys from 1973 to 1978 and quickly developed a relationship with the media. What Richards is often most remembered for during his five years as a Dallas Cowboy is his touchdown in Super Bowl X against the Denver Broncos, although he does not consider that a climax of his career, rather a special play he was honored to be a part of.
“I took off (after the huddle) and did my thing, and as I was running down the field I couldn’t see because of where the lights were,” Richards said. “I had a feeling that I was going to catch it, and all of a sudden the ball materialized and I could see.”
Although he was a talented player, Richards was always the first to deflect his triumphs to the team effort.
“I was a company man,” Richards said. “The team was always before my individual success. I put my success behind that of the team’s. They asked everything from me, and I gave them all the effort that I had. I gave them everything. I was grateful to be there.”
When Richards was traded to the Chicago Bears in 1978 he felt betrayed, as did the people of Dallas. Telephone lines were jammed with complaints. During his time as a Cowboy, Richards did everything he could for the fans, the people, he believed, who signed his paycheck.
Some would describe the years of drug addiction Richards faced as war, but unlike charging an opposing team, he would have to fight it alone. He was released from the Bears in 1980 after being on the injured-reserved list for his right knee.
“It was hard,” Richards said. “There was nowhere to turn. If you were to tell your team, you’d be packed and shipped out of there, and eventually I was. It’s a lonely, lonely place to be at. It derailed me.”
Through all of Richards’ dark times he says he never left the LDS Church or lost his testimony of Jesus Christ, although there were points in his life where he felt alone because he pushed God away. Richards today is an active participant in his LDS ward in Murray and is at the church at 5:15 a.m., Monday through Friday, speaking to the less fortunate about drug abuse and how to get out of the vicious cycle.
“I might not have spoken to him in prayer enough, but I am so grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Richards said. “I am so grateful.”
Although he does not solely blame the NFL for his involvement with prescription drugs, Richards is part of a group of retired NFL players seeking redress for injuries sustained by concussions on the field both at games and practice sessions. The class action lawsuit involves more than 2,000 former players who hold the NFL responsible for long-term health problems.
“It was a very satisfying, gratifying, exciting time to have played in the NFL,” Richards said. “My mistakes, most of them, have been self-inflicted. If I had known the outcome I might have changed them. I’ve dealt with it, and am going on in spite of it. I’m fine. I’ve got two boys that woke up this morning that are happy.”