Football costly to ex-49er, Napa standout Hendrickson


Some Bay Area sports fans remember Steve Hendrickson as a two-sport standout at Napa High in the early 1980s, a player who was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 2000 for his all-league exploits in football and wrestling.

RELATED: Click to watch Steve Hendrickson video interview

Others know him as a standout linebacker with the Cal Bears, where he was a member of the 1988 Pac-10 All-Academic team and the MVP of the 1988 Blue Gray All-Star game before graduating with a history degree.

He was also a member of the 1990 Super Bowl champion 49ers, then faced them as a member of the Chargers in the 1995 title game.

But today Hendrickson is a reminder of the game's potential toll. He is one of an increasing number of football players suffering from rapidly declining physical health and short-term memory loss. The effects of seven pro seasons and the amateur days that preceded them have left him appearing much older than his 45 years.

Twenty years ago seems so clear to me, but yesterday seems just ... far away, foggy, he said recently.

Hendrickson was the subject of a stirring profile in the Napa Valley Register, the interview conducted during a visit to his mother and sister, who still live in the wine country, and 19-year-old daughter, Courtney,a field hockey player at Cal.

"He was full-speed all the time, said Les Franco, who coached the Napa football team throughout the 1980s.

Another quality of the 5-foot-10, 250-pounder that stands out to Franco: "His tolerance for pain was off the map."
Hendrickson told the paper that he sustained an estimated 20 concussions during more than a decade in college and pro ball.

I remember one time when I realized Bill Bates (of the Dallas Cowboys) was holding me up, so I asked Hey Billy, whats up? he said. And he said, You got knocked out.
Im holding you up so you dont fall over.

His toughness was once a point of pride. But now it is tinged with regret.

They called my brother Brunswick, said Linda J. Lewis, Hendrickson's older sister. He was like a bowling ball. He had no fear. And he got hurt a lot.

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