Sam Hurd was never destined for the Cowboys record books. An undrafted wide receiver out of Northern Illinois, he recorded a modest 45 catches and 630 yards and excelled on special teams during four seasons with the team before he was traded to the Chicago Bears in 2011.
What Hurd will be better remembered for is his involvement in a sizable marijuana and cocaine-distribution ring. He was busted by the feds in 2011 after trying to set up the purchase of a half ton of marijuana and five to 10 kilos of cocaine every week at a Chicago steakhouse. He pleaded guilty in April and on Wednesday was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.
"I regret not thinking about the consequences -- the consequences of my selfish actions that have caused harm to my family. ... I regret my actions that caused me to lose my football career," Hurd said at yesterday's hearing, according to The Dallas Morning News. "My life is made up of good fortune and the train wreck of bad decisions that I made."
The other thing Hurd will be remembered for is his undying passion for smoking chronic. That's been the main local takeaway at least from Michael McKnight's profile of Hurd for Sports Illustrated this week:
For the last three or four years of his NFL career he smoked high-grade California marijuana "all day, every day, and I didn't want to hear anyone trying to tell me I had a problem," he says.
"Whatever was considered the loudest weed in California--I wanted a notch above that," Hurd explains in a white cinder-block interview room in Seagoville, with only a hint of the pride he used to express on the subject. "I had educated myself on different strains and potencies and growing techniques. I was very selective. It was like wine."
Most of the marijuana Hurd had shipped in from California, he says, he smoked himself or shared at cost with friends, including 20 to 25 teammates spanning his five years with the Cowboys. A two-year federal investigation into Hurd's activities conducted by the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division has produced no evidence that Hurd made a profit selling this marijuana. "I was what you call love," he explains, using the slang for those who provide marijuana to friends without keeping score. "I'm in the NFL, and I'm gonna ask people for a few hundred dollars on top of what I paid for it? Nah. Slide me what I got it for and take it. Enjoy it."
Hurd's is the voice of a postmodern NFL in which "at least half" of all players, by Hurd's "conservative estimate," smoke marijuana at some point during the season, and members of two teams, the Broncos and Seahawks, live and pay taxes in marijuana-legal states. Players smoke (or vaporize) cannabis for various reasons, according to interviews with NFL veterans: to get out of bed easier, to manage stress, to relax, to alleviate pain or simply to get high. Hurd began smoking heavily while rehabbing after ankle surgery in 2008. He never knew a day when his job wasn't on the line, so once he got healthy again he smoked to reduce stress. But mainly he smoked to get high.
The reason Hurd tells all this to a reporter is to explain that, while he has pleaded guilty, he isn't the cocaine kingpin the feds are making him out to be. It's a complicated story that takes McKnight several thousand words to explain, but Hurd essentially insists he was set up. He did arrange a cocaine purchase in at the Chicago steakhouse, but he was doing it on behalf of a friend, Toby Lujan, whose job managing a North Dallas Firestone wasn't quite enough to make ends meet.
The charge that, several months after the initial bust, Hurd teamed up with a cousin he barely knew several to peddle cocaine, was fabricated by dealers hoping to curry favor with the feds.
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Hurd's story is more believable than it seems at first glance. The Hurd that emerges in the SI piece is a likeable guy, a bit overly fond of weed, perhaps, but a good person. Similarly, McKnight provides evidence suggesting that prosecutors' evidence of Hurd's eye-popping cocaine deals is thin.
"Sentence me for what I did," Hurd told SI. "Moving weed and getting caught up in this stupid cocaine thing with Toby--I am ready and eager to be sentenced fairly for those things. ... All this other stuff, though...Don't you think if I really did that, I would have confessed and gotten my sentence knocked down as soon as they started talking about life in prison?"
U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis didn't buy it. "He's the spoke," he said Wednesday. "It all led to him."
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.