CHICKASHA, Okla. - Brian Burdex said he needed a hand, so Sam Rayburn extended one. Burdex needed a family. Rayburn, the former Eagles defensive tackle, said he invited the 18-year-old into his home to live with his own family.
One day, Rayburn said, he asked Burdex for a favor. The favor got Burdex arrested.
Rayburn, who played for the Eagles for four seasons, said he became so addicted to prescription painkillers after he was out of football that he forged prescriptions, filled them himself, and asked Burdex and another young man in town to fill them for him.
Asked how he knew Rayburn, Burdex said: "My best friend is his brother-in-law."
Burdex and Chad McLemore were teammates on the Ninnekah High basketball team. McLemore, who just graduated, is the brother of Ashley Rayburn, Sam's wife. Brian Burdex has another year of high school.
In 2003, Burdex said, his mother signed papers giving custody of him and his sister to a family that the mother knew. He said his mother really has not been part of his life since.
Burdex said he didn't feel like part of the other family - "I didn't have any privileges," he said - and one day, he didn't have a ride home from basketball practice. Rayburn gave him a lift and, aware of his situation, asked if Burdex needed a place to stay.
"Two or three weeks later, I did," Burdex said of deciding to make the move.
Legal custody isn't an issue. Burdex turns 19 later this month. He said he appreciated being able to live with the Rayburns.
"They make sure I'm getting an education," Burdex said. Referring to Sam, Burdex said: "I've got a lot more opportunities with him, to actually be something."
"He's a good kid," Rayburn said.
One morning soon after Burdex moved in - on March 19, according to court records - Rayburn asked Burdex if he would go to a local pharmacy and get a prescription for a painkiller filled. It would be in Burdex's name.
"He was in pain," Burdex said. "I said, 'Sure.' "
Rayburn said he could tell by Burdex's expression that he didn't really want to do it. But his own addiction overwhelmed that concern, Rayburn said. He needed more pills.
"I couldn't keep up with the amount I was taking," Rayburn said.
The pharmacist said she recognized Burdex from church, wondered why he needed such a strong painkiller, and checked with the doctor, who said he didn't write the prescription. The police came immediately.
Asked if he was angry at Rayburn for the trouble this caused, Burdex simply said, "No." He let the word hang in the air, not trying to elaborate.
Did he know Rayburn had an addiction?
"I didn't think it was that bad," Burdex said. "I just thought he was in a lot of pain. I understood his knee hurt all the time."
The arrest snapped him awake from his own ordeal, Rayburn said.
"I started trying to fix it," he said, relating how he went to the police and told them the pills were for him, and what he had done. Within days, Rayburn went to a treatment center.
Rayburn was charged with two felony counts of obtaining or attempting to obtain a controlled substance by forgery or fraud. Burdex was charged with one count of the same crime. Also facing one count is 23-year-old Nathan Ballinger of Chickasha. Rayburn said he hoped the charges against Burdex and Ballinger will be dropped.
Repeated calls to District Attorney Leah Edwards were not returned.
Rayburn said he knew Ballinger from town, but declined to elaborate. He said he gave Ballinger a forged prescription to fill for him "a long time before" and said he didn't find out that Ballinger had also been arrested March 19 until two days later.
Ballinger couldn't be reached for comment. A woman who answered the phone at Ballinger's house and identified herself as his mother said: "You can leave us out of the paper. I don't want you talking to my son."
People interviewed in Chickasha generally take the line that they hope something good comes from this, that more people understand the addictive powers of painkillers. Friends of Rayburn's say he never acted like the big-time NFL star who didn't care about anybody else.
Nate Crawford, who manages a car lot on Choctaw Avenue across from the Dairy Queen, called Rayburn "a great guy - he'd help anybody out. A good old country boy."
Crawford also said he knew Rayburn well enough to notice how Rayburn was really concerned that he would be perceived as just another druggie when news of the arrests came out. It did matter to Rayburn, Crawford said, that little kids came up to him for autographs.
"There were days he couldn't walk, he was in so much pain," Crawford said. "People don't understand, he took on two 300-pound guys every day, in practice and in games."
As a sports town, Crawford said, "Chickasha's football, and everything else is underneath." He further described it as "laid-back. Everybody knows everybody. Country life. No rush."
As for what people do for a living, he said, "everybody here is working class. Farming, cattle, wheat. A lot of oil rigs. A lot of roughnecks."
Rayburn wasn't a superstar growing up. His old coach at Chickasha High, Tim Reynolds, said Rayburn really improved in his senior year, but he couldn't get Oklahoma or Oklahoma State even to watch film of him at that late point, so Rayburn went to Tulsa, much lower on the Division I rungs.
"Sam came into his own senior year - he finally grew into his body. He became a real force," said Reynolds, who owns a real estate and appraisal business in town but coached football for three decades, including stints as an assistant at Oklahoma State and Northern Illinois.
Reynolds said the Rayburn he knew had discipline.
"Always where he's supposed to be, when he's supposed to be there," the coach said.
Of this recent mess, Reynolds focused on the pain.
"I've had seven knee surgeries. I understand that," Reynolds said. Of drugs such as painkillers, he said: "It doesn't matter if it's prescription or street, it's addictive."
Rayburn sounds determined not to have his local legacy be that of the former NFL player who came back and got two kids and himself in trouble. He's got another end game in mind for Burdex.
"We're going to get him into college somewhere," Rayburn said. "I've got to figure out where."