One early evening in Long Beach in the mid-1980s, back when he was in the throes of a wicked addiction to crack cocaine, former Pro Bowl linebacker Isiah Robertson says he found himself staring into the barrel of a shotgun.
The weapon was locked, loaded and ready to do him harm, he says, and the drug dealer pointing it at him already had administered a near-fatal beating that left the 1971 NFL defensive rookie of the year and former Los Angeles Ram bleeding from a head wound that would require 100 stitches to close.
Thirteen of his teeth, he says, lay broken in his mouth.
Even before that night, Robertson says, his addiction had cost him his family, his business, his cars and \o714\f7 homes. But \o7this\f7, he says, was the last straw.
"That was my wake-up call," Robertson, 57, says, adding that his life was spared only because the weapon jammed. "That was my breaking point."
Robertson, a flamboyant first-round draft pick who played eight memorable seasons with the Rams before he wore out his welcome and was traded to the Buffalo Bills in 1979, says he needed three years of rehabilitation to finally clean up his act but notes that he has been sober and drug-free since 1988.
In 1989, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound New Orleans native founded the House of Isaiah in Mabank, Texas, a nonprofit, faith-based, long-term residential drug and alcohol recovery center for men. To date, he says, more than 1,250 patients have been treated at the 180-acre facility about an hour's drive east of Dallas.
"I got involved in this program with every fiber in my body," says Robertson, a grandfather and remarried father of four living in Garland, Texas.
Grateful to be alive and calling this "the happiest time of my life," Robertson notes that, "On a 10-point scale, I'm a 12 as far as happiness. I am doing God's will, I'm at peace and I've been forgiven.
"I have a plan and I'm helping people in my life every single day."
First, though, he had to help himself.
Even while establishing himself as a cornerstone in a great Rams defensive squad -- never mind that Earl Campbell memorably bowled through Robertson on one of his more impressive runs -- Robertson partied like a rock star in Los Angeles.
"I experienced all the bright lights and beautiful women in California," says Robertson, who says he plans to attend Saturday's reunion of former Rams at the Coliseum. "I thought I was in heaven. I said, 'When I die, bury me right here on the sand in Newport Beach.' I was so happy, man. ...
"It was like a dream, a miracle. It was overwhelming. I mean, you meet one beautiful woman and the next day you meet a woman two times more beautiful than her, and the next day you meet one three times more beautiful.
"Man, I went crazy."
Robertson, though, says he never used cocaine until his last season with the Rams, when a dispute with the team led to his benching -- not to mention a bizarre incident in which he chased Herald Examiner reporter Doug Krikorian around the practice field in a fit of pique -- and left him out of sorts.
Still, "It was just a social thing," he says of his drug "dabbling."
When he returned to Southern California to retire after four seasons with the Bills, however, he says his drug use spiraled out of control.
"That's when I was introduced to crack cocaine," says Robertson, who had established a successful communications franchise in the Southland. "And, oh my God, 31 days in a row and about 25 grand later, I was strung out on it."
Later, after his wife kicked him out of their home, Robertson says he stopped cold turkey, "but I didn't treat the disease. It was all willpower, but the first time somebody [ticked] me off, I went looking for a high and I found it. I started smoking two and three thousand dollars of cocaine a week.
"I lived the life of Al Pacino for about 10 months," he says, referring to the cocaine-fueled drug lord played by Pacino in "Scarface." "I just got uncontrollable. And then I ended up with a shotgun in my face and almost beat to death."
In and out of rehab programs for about three years, Robertson says he finally got sober. But the power of addiction, he adds, is not easy to shake.
"This disease is like a psychological earthquake," he says. "It just sits around and sits around and then you end up in the wrong place with the wrong people ... and put yourself in position to not go to work for three days, or not go home for three days. You're lying, you're stealing, you're doing everything you can do to keep that high. You're like a greyhound running around the track chasing a rabbit."
Robertson, who notes that the rewards of his philanthropy are "almost like a high," says he felt compelled to reach out and help others.
"The need is so great," says the former linebacker, who also is a motivational speaker, "and I believe there's a calling that God had for me to give as many young men as possible the same opportunities that I was given. Being drafted in the first round by the Rams was like winning the lottery for a little black kid from the South. That's when my life began to take off."
It spun off course for a while, but it's back on track now.
"I wouldn't change none of it," he says, "because of what I've received from it."
"But of course," he adds, "I wouldn't want my son to go through it."