Head Case

Experts say ex-football players with head injuries often end up in the criminal justice system. Former USC lineman Chris Brymer is exhibit A.

Not that Brymer's teammates were complaining. Up against some of the strongest, fastest, and most aggressive athletes to be found anywhere, players appreciated having a guy like Brymer between themselves and their opponents. He frequently "pulled" for USC's running backs, colliding at high speed with defensive players to clear a path.

"I'd say he was probably one of the toughest players I've ever played with — very physical, hard-nosed, just the type of guy you'd like to be next to you if you were ever in a tough situation," says Jonathan Himebauch, who played center at USC with Brymer and is now the offensive line coach for the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League. "He was always a guy who was looking to protect." Off the field, Brymer was well-liked, if known to have a stubborn streak. "I wouldn't say he would be a guy that's going to turn away from a fight, but he wasn't one to go out and start fights," Himebauch recalls.

Brymer played his last college season in 1997. The storied Trojans weren't at their best during his time at USC, but he played alongside some who went on to enjoy success and fame, including wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. After college, Brymer drifted among the practice squads on a few NFL teams, getting only a single active-roster game, with the Dallas Cowboys.

Brymer was a starting offensive guard at USC in the late 1990s, known for his aggressive style of play.
Getty Images
Brymer was a starting offensive guard at USC in the late 1990s, known for his aggressive style of play.
Brymer and his wife and son in December 2007. The couple had already separated as his actions grew more erratic.
Courtesy of Melissa Brymer
Brymer and his wife and son in December 2007. The couple had already separated as his actions grew more erratic.

In 1999 he began playing with the Rhein Fire, an NFL Europe team based in Dusseldorf, Germany. The team gave up the fewest sacks in the league during his second season. Former Rhein Fire offensive guard Craig Heimburger attributes that success to Brymer, who was now playing center, where he snapped the ball to the quarterback and directed adjustments to his fellow linemen's blocking formations. "A lot of [the offensive line's success] had to do with Chris," Heimburger says. "The center's really the one with the brains."

Heimburger and his wife were incredulous after reading accounts of Brymer's recent arrest in online newspaper articles, such as a San Francisco Examiner story that tagged him a "race-baiting drifter." The allegation didn't fit the Brymer he and others knew. While Brymer came from an inland California town that was mostly white, his roommates in college were black, and he liked to spend time off the field with black Rhein Fire players.

"He was usually the only white guy sitting and playing cards with our teammates," Heimburger says. Leonard Green, a former USC tailback, was likewise shocked at the allegations against his former teammate. "I can tell you right now that the guy has no racist bone in his body," he says. "I'm an African-American. We were the best of friends."

After NFL Europe, Brymer played for a year in the XFL, a short-lived pro-football sideshow with rules tweaked to enhance the sport's violent appeal. He then moved to San Juan Capistrano with Melissa and got into Orange County's then-booming mortgage business, founding a company called CMG Capital.

George Felactu, a former USC fullback who obtained his mortgage through Brymer, remembers his having a knack for home finance. "He wasn't the best student, but when I asked him about rates, it was like a Harvard MBA," he says.

According to Melissa, the Brymers owned two homes and an office condominium. Chris drove a Range Rover.

All of it was about to fall apart.

Most of Brymer's friends and teammates didn't know it, but something strange had been happening to him. It started when he was still playing pro ball, Melissa says. He began having trouble sleeping, often accompanied by irrational bouts of anger and paranoia that would fade as quickly as they arrived.

"He was accusing me of sleeping with [former Cowboys quarterback] Troy Aikman and random people," she remembers. "He would wake up in the middle of the night, tear the blankets off me, turn all the lights on, and say he knew I was lying there awake. And then the next day it would be fine." She pauses. "For me, it was like I was being mentally tortured for a long time."

In Orange County, Brymer began acting erratically — partying a lot, staying out all night. Then things got weirder. He would sit around the house instead of going to work, writing on notepads about delusions that he could control the weather, talk to birds, and teleport himself. Faced with questions from his wife, Brymer, thinking he could communicate telepathically, would respond, "You already know the answer to that," accusing Melissa of playing dumb. "He started saying he was God and stopped working," she says. "He would write down all his demands — 'God is going to deliver me $5 billion by 10 p.m. Eastern time.' He would just sit there in his office, watching the birds."

CMG Capital collapsed as Brymer lost the desire or ability to oversee the business. The Brymers lost both their homes. He took to walking the streets, setting out from San Juan Capistrano and wandering as far as downtown L.A., 60 miles across freeways and through suburbs. "I have witnessed him walking down the 5 freeway at one in the morning trying to part the cars," former neighbor and family friend Gina Milia says.

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My Voice Nation Help

Headaches, tell mle about it.  I played all four years of college football at USC with a headache. In fact, many people wondered why I did not try out for professional football, and that was it. I looked forward to the end of the headaches. Would I do it again? Yes, but that is because I seem to be okay, although some of my family and friends wonder about  that. I seem to be at my best when I am writing, so I blog political commentary a  lot. Keeps my mind in tune, I think.

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