EL CAJON, Calif. -- The widow of former SDSU linebacker and Hall of Famer Jeff Staggs believes football led to the premature death of her husband.
Sarah Staggs filed a lawsuit so that other wives, parents and players may not suffer the same pain and loss.
“He was one of those people that people gravitated towards,” Sarah said. “He was a sweet, thoughtful, very kind person.”
Sarah still remembers how she met Jeff, the love of her life.
"We had been introduced in 1975," Sara said from her home in El Cajon. "I heard he was a good kisser and so I met him on New Years eve in 1976 and we were married that year."
That kiss led to a marriage between Jeff and Sarah Staggs that spanned 38 years.
"I wasn't looking to marry a football player, he was just the right guy," Sara said.
By the time they met, Jeff had ended his football career which started at Point Loma High School. He then went to BYU, San Diego City College, followed by two years at SDSU where he played linebacker for coach Don Coryell in 1965 and 1966.
Staggs also went on to play parts of eight seasons in the NFL including six with the San Diego Chargers.
Sarah said she never watched Jeff play in person, but she has seen video, and she describes how he played.
"He was a hard-playing football player," Sarah said. "He was passionate. He put his all into everything he did. Loved the sport, loved playing and loved the camaraderie."
SDSU enshrined Staggs in its Hall of Fame in 2009, five years before he died at the age of 70 -- a death Sarah believes was premature and caused, in large part, by playing football.
She said Jeff's suffering started with memory loss.
"In the last probably 10 years prior to him passing, I would come home from work and the car would still be running in the driveway," Sarah said. "He had forgotten to turn the car off."
Then it got worse.
"He was nervous and frustrated and scared," Sarah said. "He was literally scared and he went through some bouts of depression."
Sarah filed a lawsuit August 28 against the NCAA claiming that the NCAA had knowledge, and information, of the dangers of football but did not share it with the players.
"The NCAA had medical information and studies dating back to the 1900s regarding the impact of concussions in football-related injuries," said representing attorney Alfred Murray of Chicago-based Edelson PC. "The complaint alleges that the NCAA withheld that information, recklessly ignored that information and ultimately was to the detriment of student-athletes such as Mr. Staggs."
"He loved playing football," Sarah said. "When you play a sport like football, you expect there to be some injuries involved. But this is not a rotator cuff or a knee replacement in late life, this is brain damage. And because it was being withheld from the players and the families, that is why Jeff decided to be a part of the lawsuit."
Sarah says that Jeff asked to have his brain donated to science and doctors found that he had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopothy, or CTE, a progressive degenerative brain disease often caused by repeated blows to the head.
Sarah also says that while Jeff loved football, he forbade their three sons from playing the game.
"He knew that the game was so brutal and that he was suffering from whatever the ill-effects were in his brain, that he wasn't going to subject his children to," Sarah said. "So my hope is that the information will get out there so that parents will pay attention to the medical evaluation of what this is all about, and have their children take up golf."
Sarah point out she has not filed a lawsuit against SDSU, but rather the NCAA, and she and her attorney both anticipate the lawsuit will not conclude for quite some time.