'All His Dreams Were Coming True' Chargers' Griggs, Of Pennsauken, Killed In Wreck

Posted: June 21, 1995

Just last week, David Griggs was in San Diego to receive his AFC Championship ring, a symbol of last season's trip to the Super Bowl with the Chargers.

At 28, the Pennsauken, N.J., native had everything going his way. He overcame a discouraging start - a seventh-round draft pick in 1989, he was cut by New Orleans before his rookie season - to win a starting-linebacker spot on a championship team.

"All his dreams were coming true," said Vince McAneney, who coached Griggs at Pennsauken High School. "He was still a young guy, with so much to live for."

But yesterday morning, Griggs was killed when the 1992 Lexus he was driving slammed into a pole off the Florida Turnpike near Fort Lauderdale. The 6-3, 250-pound Griggs was alone in the car at the time of the crash.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Griggs was traveling at a high rate of speed when he apparently lost control of the car on an exit ramp that had a 30 mph limit, skidded across a grassy median and struck a large sign post. The impact wrapped the right side of Griggs's car around the pole. Griggs was found trapped in the car, barely breathing. Rescue workers pried open the driver's side door to remove him. The car's airbag had deployed, and he had been wearing his seat belt.

Griggs was taken to Broward General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

There was no evidence of drug or alcohol use, an investigating officer said.

Griggs lived in the Miami area. He played five seasons for the Dolphins before signing with the Chargers as an unrestricted free agent last year. He was the fifth-leading tackler for the AFC champions with 84, including the regular season and three postseason games.

"We thought we were a better team because of David," Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard said. "He had that kind of heart and pride that he was always striving to get better.

"It just hasn't sunk in yet," Beathard said, referring to Griggs's death. ''I don't know if it will until we're all together and he's not there."

Griggs was one of nine players from Pennsauken High to play in the NFL. His older brother Billy was a tight end for the New York Jets from 1985 through 1989. He now operates a Gold's Gym in Cinnaminson, N.J.

The Griggs brothers lived on the same block as the Taylors, John and Keith. John is a Pro Bowl receiver in San Francisco and Keith is a defensive back who one season had seven interceptions for Indianapolis. Todd McNair, a running back with Houston, lived around the corner.

The five youngsters played touch football in the street and occasionally in a nearby cemetery. Later, they would play against each other in the pros. In January, John Taylor and Griggs were on opposite sides in Super Bowl XXIX, which the 49ers won, 49-26.

"It was an exciting thing for the whole town," said McAneney, who is retiring after 25 years at Pennsauken High. "They put up a sign: 'Home of John Taylor and David Griggs, Good Luck in the Super Bowl.' It was done up in red, white and blue, the school colors.

"To see those two kids in the Super Bowl was like a dream come true. How many high school coaches get to see even one of their kids make it to the Super Bowl, much less two in the same year? It makes you feel really proud.

"All week, people asked me, 'Who are you rooting for?' " McAneney said. ''I told them, 'All I want is for David to play well and for John to play well. I don't give a damn about the final score. I'm rooting for my guys.' "

McAneney saw Griggs in March when Griggs was inducted into the school's hall of fame. Bill Griggs was inducted the previous year.

"David looked like a million dollars," McAneney said. "He built himself up so much. He was 195 pounds when he played here. He was, what, 250 last season?

"I said, 'David, what size is that jacket? It looks like a size 60.' He laughed. He was a great kid, very coachable. I never heard him say a word on the field. All he ever did was knock people down.

"He didn't play a down his junior year," McAneney said. "He hurt his back and there was some doubt whether he'd ever play again. I thought he might stick with basketball. But he was back on the field as a senior and was (South Jersey) Player of the Year."

Ironically, McAneney sat up Monday night, watching a tape of an NFL Films feature from 1991 that profiled the Griggs and Taylor families. McAneney was in a reflective mood, having just worked his last day at the school and looking ahead to tonight's graduation.

At 5:30 a.m., he was awakened by a phone call from a former player, Roy Wood, who heard a report of Griggs's accident.

"I couldn't believe it," McAneney said. "I didn't want to call the (Griggs) house at that hour. I waited until 9 o'clock and by then (David's) parents had already left for Miami."

Bill Griggs Sr., is a supervisor at the main Philadelphia post office. He was the one who steered his two sons into the Pennsauken Youth Athletic Association when they were 8 years old.

In a 1990 interview, the elder Griggs recalled how David had two of his teeth knocked out in his first season of organized football.

Said Griggs: "He cried a little and I wondered if that might be the end of football. But he said, 'Boy, I can't wait to get back at those guys.' All the kids from the neighborhood had that same kind of drive."

Both Bill Jr., and David Griggs attended the University of Virginia. David won All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors and was selected by New Orleans in the 1989 draft. He was cut by the Saints and claimed by Miami. In one year, he worked his way up from the Dolphins' developmental squad to the first-team defense.

Last season, Griggs started every game for the Chargers, playing the strongside linebacker position, which meant he lined up over the tight end. He was a major factor in the team's improvement from an 8-8 finish in 1993 to an 11-5 record and a conference title last season.

Griggs had his first career interception in a Monday night game against the Los Angeles Raiders, Dec. 5. He had an excellent game in the AFC final as the Chargers limited Pittsburgh to 66 yards rushing en route to a 17-13 upset win. He had six tackles, all unassisted, in that game.

In addition to his parents and brother, Griggs is survived by his wife, Amy Miller, and a 1-year-old daughter, Jasmine. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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