Today Sam Hurd is sitting in a federal detention center in Seagoville, Texas, awaiting sentencing after he pleaded guilty in April to a single count of conspiracy to traffic narcotics. The alleged amounts of cocaine and marijuana in his case are so massive, the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services Department has recommended that Hurd—husband to his college sweetheart, father to their one-year-old girl, still unanimously loved by friends and former teammates throughout the NFL— be sentenced to life in prison without parole when he next appears in federal court, on Nov. 13. Had Hurd received the 50 kilos per week he suggested at Morton’s, he would have poured nearly three tons of cocaine onto Chicago’s streets each year.
But let’s go back to a time before things got hairy, before the disastrous decisions that placed Hurd in the crosshairs of federal law enforcement. And long before Hurd became entangled with the two men whose lies, he says, have pushed him to the brink of spending the rest of his days behind bars. Among the few things not in dispute as his sentencing approaches is that Sam Hurd played for the Cowboys from 2006 through ’10 and for the Bears in ’11. 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.
Early in his career Hurd had been entrusted with a secret known by only a few of Dallas’s veterans: Tests for marijuana occurred at roughly the same time each year. Hurd’s main concern was not getting caught as he imported two to 10 pounds at a time from California for himself and for friends, relatives and teammates. As the 2011 NFL lockout dragged on, he thought about flying to Los Angeles to buy a bit more.
On July 1, 2011, Hurd flew from Dallas to L.A. with one of his best friends—former Cowboys safety Patrick Watkins—and a marijuana dealer he’d just met whom we will call Capri. Watkins had blown out his knee while playing for the Chargers in ’10 and was weighing a move to the CFL. (He’s currently a defensive captain for the defending Grey Cup champions, the Toronto Argonauts, and last week was named to the CFL East all-star team.) Capri, for his part, looked like a pro cornerback—shorter than the 6-3 Hurd and 6-5 Watkins, but lean and fit.
The three handsome black men emerged from the Burbank airport, where a friend of Hurd’s, a 27-year-old Armenian-American marijuana broker known as V, picked them up in a white Range Rover and drove them to a home in the San Fernando Valley. Soon, marijuana growers began rolling through the house like Tupperware salesmen, showing V’s wealthy guests some of the finest cannabis the Golden State had to offer. Hurd sampled various strains and negotiated poolside.
One day earlier Hurd had withdrawn $55,000 in cash from two banks in Dallas, most of which he gave to V in exchange for roughly 20 pounds of the best of the best. The order included a couple pounds each of Hurd’s personal favorites: Louis XIII (aka Louie, his daily smoke, which he says allowed him to function and even “practice better and study film better”) and Mr. Nice Guy (a purplish hybrid that Hurd and his teammates found eased the headaches common among NFL players).
Two days after the deal Hurd flew home to Dallas and withdrew another $50,000, right out in the open, just like before. On July 5 he flew back to L.A. with Capri and ordered even more weed. Dozens of text messages between Hurd and V that summer provide a clear window into these events, which would tumble toward late July and the most pivotal days of Hurd’s life.
June 29, 2011
12:51 a.m. Hurd (after receiving a photo from V): What kind is that.
12:57 a.m. V: Louie
3:47 p.m. Hurd: We get in at 12:15 burbank . . . .
12:24 a.m. Hurd (upon flying back to Dallas): Made it tell [redacted name] and everyone merci. Great time beautiful can’t wait to c yall again.
12:25 a.m. V: Coool
12:35 a.m. Hurd: Hey tues we there and plz b ready …
12:36 a.m. V: I got u
On July 13 a U-Haul box weighing 16 pounds was shipped from a North Hollywood address to a house in suburban Dallas where a teammate of Hurd’s had lived when he was with the Cowboys.
3:20 a.m. V: Did u get the box
8:25 p.m. Hurd: We good got a box . . . .
But V had even more marijuana to deliver and Hurd needed it yesterday. Word from the players’ union was that the lockout could end any minute. Hurd knew the drug tests administered during training camp weren’t for marijuana, so teammates would be looking to stock up on relaxation for the compressed post-lockout workdays ahead.
3:04 p.m. Hurd: Yall have to b here by tomorrow and not to late cause I have fb [football] starting up…
At 9:09 a.m. on July 25, police in Denton, Texas, responded to a complaint about marijuana smoke wafting from room 217 of a Courtyard by Marriott hotel. There, officers encountered a sleepy-eyed foursome, including a man with an Eastern European accent who was called V and seemed to be the group’s leader.
When Hurd learned the next morning that V and his friends had been jailed for marijuana possession, he persuaded a reluctant friend to make the half-hour drive from Dallas to Denton and bail them out. Hurd wanted to stay out of the picture, but Denton police had already begun gathering evidence that would place him at the center of it. Extracting data from the Californians’ cellphones, authorities had found incriminating texts sent to and from a phone with a 210 area code.