By Zach Brown
Courtney Robinette has no memory of her dad being able to walk. She was eight years old when multiple sclerosis left him wheelchair bound. Now 23, that’s the only way Robinette remembers David Humm.
Humm, however, often has no memory of his most recent conversations with his daughter. He’ll call to tell her something, and then call her back 30 seconds later to relay the same message. He has sticky notes scattered throughout his house in Las Vegas along with a “reminder binder” to help him keep track of daily obligations. He forgets to take his medicine, and occasionally, his 24-hour nurse has to remind him to eat.
Robinette said she started seeing the signs five years ago, but in the last year, Humm’s memory has gotten significantly worse. Just talking about it for a few minutes leads to tears.
“He’s everything to me,” she said.
Humm, 61, is one of more than 4,000 players suing the National Football League, charging that the league withheld information about concussions and brain injuries. The two sides reached a settlement of $765 million in August of 2013, but U.S. district judge Anita Brody rejected initial approval of the lawsuit on Jan. 15, asking both sides for more financial information.
“I played in the NFL, and I was happy to be there,” Humm said in a phone interview. “Anything that will help any of our guys, I’ll be happy for us. I’m appreciative of anything they’ll do for us. I just don’t want to damage our league, but I appreciate the judge trying to help us.”
Humm was Nebraska’s starting quarterback from 1972 to 1974 and played in the NFL for 10 years as a backup. He has three Super Bowl rings from his time with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, playing behind Ken Stabler and Jim Plunkett. He also spent two years with the Baltimore Colts and a season with the Buffalo Bills.
He got to play in two of the Raiders’ three Super Bowl victories. The coaches he played for include Tom Osborne at Nebraska and John Madden with the Raiders. As a sophomore with the Cornhuskers, he threw passes to Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers.
To this point, he still has those memories.
“I love this game so much,” he said. “There was never a day that I wasn’t in awe of what I was getting to do. I got to play in two Super Bowls. I wouldn’t trade a single thing in my career with anybody. I love this game.”
Robinette loves the sport as much as her father. She was born six years after Humm retired. Her parents divorced in 1994, and her mom, she said, has never been a major part of her life.
She said in a phone interview she talks with Humm 15 to 20 times per day, and at some point or another, most of those conversations lead to football. They discuss last weekend’s games or memories from Humm’s playing days.
That’s where most of Humm’s discussions lead to regardless of whom he is talking with. Even after retiring in 1985, Humm never truly stepped away from the game. In 1992, he started calling the NFL game of the week for the Mutual Broadcasting System radio network. In 1995, he started co-hosting the Raiders pregame and postgame radio broadcasts with former teammate George Atkinson.
Despite the multiple sclerosis putting him in a wheelchair in 1997, Humm got former Raiders owner Al Davis’s approval to continue hosting the show after he had a studio set up in his home.
“Honestly, I think that’s what keeps him going,” Robinette said. “You can see he loves football so much, and he loves the Raiders. The radio show has been really good for him.”
After 17 years of hosting the pregame and postgame broadcasts, the station moved Humm and Atkinson to a Wednesday night time slot in 2013, to Humm’s dismay. The station gave the pregame and postgame shows to two other broadcast teams, but Humm vows to get the shows back.
“I don’t even have the words to describe his passion for football,” Atkinson said in a phone interview. “That’s what he’s about. He loves football. To play this game, you have to love it. He’s definitely shown his love for the game by his dedication to his broadcasts, too, the way he prepares for it.”
That passion isn’t fading. His short-term memory is.
The blows to the head started coming at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas and continued at Nebraska and in the NFL. He specifically remembers two of them — one with the Cornhuskers when he chose to keep the ball on an option against Missouri in 1974 and another with the Raiders when Chicago Bears defensive tackle Richard Dent sacked him in 1984. He said he was knocked out on both of those plays.
Ask him what he had for dinner last night, though, his 24-hour nurse Claudette Rullo said, and he’ll likely have to check that “reminder binder” she has set up for him.
Rullo spends five days a week with Humm but often is around on weekends or whenever he needs help. She started working with him three years ago to help him get through his day. She bathes him, helps him use the bathroom and takes him to his doctor’s appointments among other daily tasks.
The exact causes of MS are still unknown, but according to nationalmssociety.org, gender, genetics and ethnicity, among other things, have been identified as factors in the disease. Humm said doctors told him concussions and past head trauma are not linked to his MS in any way. Symptoms of MS can include memory loss, but Dr. Charles Bernick, the associate medical director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center For Brian Health, diagnosed Humm with early signs of dementia in 2013.
In turn, helping Humm remember things has become a big part of Rullo’s job. She has seen him forget to eat, take his medicine, deposit checks and pay bills. She has even had to rush over to pick him up off the floor because he forgets he has MS and tries to get out of bed in the morning.
Five of Humm’s former teammates said they admire him for how positive he has been despite dealing with MS for the past 25 years. It hasn’t been as easy to stay positive with the memory loss.
“I can’t remember the most mundane, easy, stupid stuff,” Humm said. “I get flustered. I forget things. It’s just the most frustrating thing. The easiest, most simple things. I was a quarterback. I’ve always been in control. I got in this wheelchair, and it didn’t stop me from doing the broadcasts. Now, I’m sitting here, and I can’t remember yesterday.”
He needs an alarm now to remind him to call his daughter in the morning to make sure she’s awake. Robinette goes part-time to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and works part-time for her uncle’s broadcasting company.
She visits Humm whenever she has the time, but sometimes those visits are lost on Humm. Rullo said he occasionally forgets his daughter stopped by minutes after she leaves.
Robinette has never known her dad without a wheelchair. She basically served as his nurse before Rullo came around and still helps whenever the nurse isn’t there. The physical disability does not faze her as much as the memory loss has.
“It’s hard for me to talk about …” she said. “He’s my whole family.”