When I think of Andre Waters, I think of that huge smile and laugh and how the guy who was so ferocious on the field was such a gentle soul off it.
When I think of Kevin Turner, I think of the quiet guy showing up at Lehigh every summer with an acoustic guitar, ready to strum some Waylon, Willie or Hank whenever he had a break between practice and meetings.
When I think of Charlie Garner, I think of the kid I did an appearance with in 1994 at a Bucks County restaurant who eagerly raced into the lobby during every commercial break to play Space Invaders.
Waters took his own life in 2006. He was 44. A study of his brain tissue revealed brain damage -- chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) -- caused by concussions he suffered during his 12-year NFL career.
Turner died last year, six years after being diagnosed with CTE and 17 years after his eight-year NFL career ended. He was 46.
Garner, drafted by the Eagles in 1994, spent five years with the Eagles and 11 in the NFL before retiring after the 2004 season.
In a Sporting News piece today, Garner revealed he's suffering from symptoms that certainly sound like CTE -- memory loss, sensitivity to bright lights, headaches, mood swings -- and although he hasn't officially been diagnosed with CTE, he said he's very concerned about his health.
"I don't have all my faculties anymore," Garner told writer Pat Yasinskas. "It scares the heck out of me."
Garner is just 45.
It just keeps happening.
That's just three former Eagles, who all played here during the 1990s. Multiply that by 32 teams and decades where nobody was keeping track of these things.
And, yeah, it's very scary.
Playing professional football is incredibly lucrative, and it's also incredibly dangerous. And it's painful and disturbing to see the guys we grew up watching, cheering for and getting to know suffering from brain damage caused by playing football.
The NFL has taken some measures to try to reduce brain injuries. There are doctors in the press box now looking for players who may have suffered concussions. The NFL has a concussion rehab protocol to make sure players don't return from concussions too fast. The league's rules committee reduced violent collisions on kickoff returns by moving the kickoff line of scrimmage from the 30 to the 35, resulting in increased touchbacks. Research has allowed helmet makers to design more protective helmets.
But we've seen that these measures aren't infallible. Players -- Malcolm Jenkins among them -- have talked about finding ways to beat the system and get back on the field despite knowingly suffering from a concussion. Other players have been allowed to stay on the field despite clear concussion symptoms.
Nobody who saw Stewart Bradley wobble around and fall down and try to get up against the Packers in 2010 -- and stay in the game -- will ever forget it.
I've covered the Eagles since the late 1980s and I have to admit I rarely think about CTE or concussions or brain injuries.
When a player you rooted for or a guy you knew passes away, you mourn him and feel terrible for the family, but then it's football season and it's a crisp fall day and the sun is out and there are 53 young, healthy football players ready to get after it, and you move on.
All is right in the world for the next 17 NFL Sundays and brain injuries are the farthest thing from your mind.
But this is bad. Really bad. Young men are dying because they played football, and the NFL is still not doing enough because concussions are still commonplace on the football field.
Concussions lead to CTE and CTE leads to premature deaths.
I'm sure we'll continue to see players retiring early like Eagles safety Walter Thurmond did last year at 28 years old after six NFL seasons.
And we'll continue to see the NFL tweak the rules to try to make the game safer.
But we'll also continue to see those ferocious late hits that leave receivers out cold. We'll continue to see quarterbacks lying flat on their back after a sack. We'll continue to see cornerbacks wobble off the field to the concussion doc on the sideline after getting flattened while trying to tackle a larger receiver or tight end.
And that means NFL players will continue dying way too young.
This is as serious an issue as the NFL has ever faced, and as much as we all love watching pro football for its fast pace, big plays, furious action and huge hits, those are the very things that are prematurely killing people.
I have no answers. I have no solutions. I have no idea if it's ever going to be possible to eliminate concussions or greatly reduce them while still maintaining what we love about NFL football.
All I know is the NFL has to continue finding ways to make the game safer and also do all it can to take care of those who are suffering from the after effects of concussions and from CTE.
We lost Waters, we lost Turner, and now Garner is struggling. We need to stop losing these guys.