Warren Wells got busted for violating terms of his probation. That meant big trouble for the all-star Raiders receiver, the most prolific deep threat in professional football history and possibly the best player most people have never heard of.
He got stabbed at a bar in Beaumont, Texas, where he was being recognized among a large number of professional football players from his hometown after the NFL 1970 season.
Wells wasn’t viewed as the victim there. He was in an establishment that primarily served alcohol, and therefore violated probation resulting from a no contest plea to aggravated assault in 1969.
It didn’t matter that he was there on a Sunday, when serving booze was prohibited. The incident put him in front of Oakland-based Superior Court judge Leonard Dieden, and changed his life forever.
Few know exactly what happened to this awesome talent before or after that pivot point when he went off the rails and never truly recovered.
Ted Griggs provides the answers in his documentary, “Split End: The Curious Case of Warren Wells.” The president of programming for NBC Sports regional networks, a Hayward native who formerly ran NBC Sports Bay Area spent roughly four years on this passion project, which premieres Saturday at 7 p.m. on NBC Bay Area.
“Split End: The Curious Case of Warren Wells,” a one-hour documentary about former #Oakland #Raiders star, debuts Saturday (Jan. 12) at 7pm on NBC Bay Area (@nbcbayarea). Encore presentation airs Jan. 24 at 8:30pm on NBC Sports Bay Area (@NBCSAuthentic). #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/UfoANXgI3D— Jay dela Cruz (@delaCruzNBCS) January 7, 2019
Griggs also joined the Raiders Insider Podcast to discuss the making of the documentary and provide further insight into a fascinating story without a happy ending.
“He did make mistakes,” Griggs said, “but I think he paid for them more than most people would.”
Dieden ordered Wells enter Synanon, a controversial organization that sold itself as a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center but was more like a cult operating without government oversight.
He was also, inexplicably, forced to sell his Cadillac.
Wells had his troubles before that decision, but he was never the same after spending six months at a Synanon facility.
“That’s where Warren was sent,” Griggs said. “I don’t think he was in good condition when he got there, and was in worse condition when he left.”
Wells wasn’t the same person or the same player. He tried and failed to make the Raiders roster in 1972, and never played professional football again.
“There are a number of things that all worked together,” Griggs said. “Warren did have an alcohol problem. I do think he went into Synanon with pre-existing psychological issues, but I think they were exacerbated and made worse by that experience. I think the worst thing for him, was to be out of football and not have that grounding.
“… (Former Raiders tight end) Raymond Chester said he was like Picasso, and I think that was really (apt) because he could do things normally, but Warren was transcendent when he broke the rules on a football field. To take the paintbrush away from Picasso is the greatest punishment of all. To take football away from Warren was the most debilitating thing you could do to him.”