Jim Riley knows what it’s like to overcome long odds. When he joined the Miami Dolphins as a defensive lineman, they were a raw, new team that had never scored a winning season. Four years later they catapulted all the way to the Super Bowl.
But the statistic that means the most to Jim doesn’t have anything to do with football. He has logged thirty-seven years of sobriety. He’s grateful every day for his recovery and the opportunities he’s been given to help others.
A Bittersweet Victory
Jim became the first All-American player from Enid High School and was also an All-
American at OU. In 1967 he achieved every young player’s dream of being drafted by the pros,
spending four years with the Dolphins.
Miami lost that first Super Bowl. But the next year they not only won it, they also became the only team ever to remain undefeated in both the regular season and postseason. Jim was sidelined before that season due to a knee injury and spent a month critically ill with phlebitis. He retired the following spring. He was still honored as a part of the “perfect season” team, but he wasn’t in a state to enjoy the celebrations. He had bigger battles to fight.
Like too many teens, Jim began drinking in high school. College and pro football brought
more opportunities for substance. “Addiction is a progressive disease,” he says. “If one doesn’t stop drinking or using, it will get worse. Mine did until I was completely out of control. I even got into drugs for a few years, but stopped those because I thought they were causing turmoil in my life. When I did, my drinking doubled.”
In 1985, his wife Robin arranged a family intervention. “What really got to me was my ten-year-old daughter Marcie telling me during the intervention, ‘Daddy, I don’t want you to die. I want you to live and stop drinking,’” says Jim. He checked into rehab. “I believe God delivered me from my addictions. I’ve never looked back,” he says. “It doesn’t happen that way for everyone, but I’ve never had any desire to go back to that lifestyle.”
Bringing Hope to Others
A key part of Jim’s recovery included helping other men. His football credentials opened
doors for many speaking and mentoring opportunities. In 1986 he founded Jim Riley Outreach, a faith-based ministry serving people recovering from addiction.
In 1989 the Rileys’ son Blake was killed in a car accident. Even after this tragedy, Jim
didn’t relapse. The family’s strong faith helped them through their grief, and both he and Robin
continued helping people impacted by substance abuse.
Today Jim still takes calls from men who reach out for help, and he attends AA to keep
his recovery on track. His daughter Marcie took the reins of Jim Riley Outreach after Jim’s retirement. The organization has two homes in Texas, sheltering young adults who are homeless or have aged out of foster care. Jim Riley Outreach also included several OKC-area sober living homes administered by Joe Pellow, which are now called Pellow Homes and are still serving recovering addicts today.
In October 2022, Jim will travel to Miami for a fifty-year reunion with the undefeated
1972 team. They’ll attend a game, greet the crowds, and celebrate their success. Sadly, not all the teammates will be there. Several have passed away. Like Jim, some have struggled with
“I’ve seen people and families absolutely destroyed, but I’ve seen even more men
conquer addiction,” he says. “If I can be a part of helping someone else recover a meaningful
life, that means more than anything.”