July 29, 2017

SAN DIEGO (AP) Jeff Staggs loved telling stories about playing linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, in the city where he also played high school and college football.

Just as importantly, he was a strong family man.

''Jeff and I were married for 38 years when he passed,'' Sarah Staggs said. ''We were deeply in love with one another. He made a lot of friends and had a great reputation for being a kind, thoughtful person. He was really proud of being a Charger. He loved having been a pro football player. We raised three beautiful, very athletic boys. You'll never find a kinder person.''

Staggs was 70 when he died suddenly in his sleep of arrhythmia in September 2014.

He had struggled with his memory in the years before he died and his brain was donated to a Boston brain bank that studies chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a debilitating brain disease that can cause memory loss, mood swings and depression. A study published this week found the disease in 110 of 111 brains from former NFL players.

Staggs was one of them.

''He knew the last few years before he passed that something just wasn't right,'' Sarah Staggs said. ''Thankfully he ended a very happy person. I hear these stories about these poor guys who have personal problems and anger issues.''

She said her husband suffered some depression and was having memory issues. ''He couldn't remember his sons' girlfriends' names and things like that. He would pay the bills and pay $2,300 instead of $230. I'd come home and the car would still be running in the driveway. He knew, and I knew, something was up.''

Sarah Staggs said her husband began forgetting about appointments, including one to have his brain studied after he joined a lawsuit against the NFL. He eventually had a thorough exam, but didn't want to know the results.

''Now that we know he did in fact have CTE, that makes sense,'' she said.

''I met him after he had just retired from playing football, but he would tell stories of having his bell rung so many times, and end up in the other team's huddle and they'd turn him around and send him back, and the whole three fingers up,'' she said. ''It's how it was in those days.''

Sarah Staggs said her husband had 17 operations during his career and wouldn't let their sons play football before their high school years. Even then, they decided to play sports such as baseball, basketball and soccer. One of them, Nathan, played minor league and independent league baseball.

Staggs played in the NFL from 1967-74, mostly with the Chargers but also for the St. Louis Cardinals. He played for coach Don Coryell at both San Diego State and with the Cardinals.

When Staggs was inducted into the San Diego State Hall of Fame in 2009, Coryell, the father of the ''Air Coryell'' offense, was having health issues and wasn't able to speak. He wrote out some remarks and one of Staggs' sons read them. ''It was really lovely,'' Sarah Staggs said.

Coryell died the next year.

Sarah Staggs encouraged former players to arrange to have their brains donated after they die. And then she grew emotional.

''He was the best husband, just a wonderful man, such a great guy. He was a hugging, kissing dad,'' she said. ''For such a big dude, he was the guy who wrapped his arms around the guys he golfed with and would tell them he loved them. They all showed up at his funeral and balled their eyes out. He mattered, and made a difference in life.''

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