Perhaps the most amazing thing about Joey Ortiz at 40 is this: He's still alive.
"Really an amazing story because Joey should've died about 10 times seriously," said Max Miller, Ortiz's football coach at Cordova High School during the late 1980s. "Someone up above wanted Joey to survive so he could teach other people his lessons."
You think Charlie Sheen could party? Ortiz has his own stories of tequila, drugs, overdoses, blown chances and ruined reputations.
Recovering addicts never forget the details of their demise or the number of days of their sobriety. Ortiz has been sober since Nov. 27, 2008. He said he has emerged as a better man, a better father, "better, period," he said.
And Ortiz's recovery will include an athletic comeback. With his surgically repaired body he suffered severe injuries when he was struck by a car 20 years ago Ortiz takes the field Saturday in a Cordova alumni game.
"I'm an admitted knucklehead," Ortiz said. "All the scars on my face and body are from partying, and I'm a face only a mother could love. I ruined my scholarship dreams, and I still deal with that.
"Now I wear a $39 knee brace from Walmart and no tape on my destroyed ankle. But I am the king of comebacks. If I can do it, anyone can."
Ortiz blended his star receiving days at Cordova and Sacramento City College with intoxication, getting by mostly on charm. He sampled his first beer as an 8-year-old, and by his 20s he regularly downed 30 beers in one seating. By his 30s, Ortiz's diet consisted of tequila, cocaine and nightly cases of beer.
Ortiz ballooned to 305 pounds his old driver's license picture will make you wince but he has trimmed to 222 pounds. He will play left tackle in the alumni game, a far cry from his old wide receiver spot. There was a need at the position, and Ortiz pounced.
Ortiz wrote a book "Correcting a Wreckless Life" and he said producers are pondering a screenplay. But he seeks no glory. Instead, he offers a message.
"I'd tell people who think they're invincible, 'Don't be stupid like me, and don't waste your life,' " Ortiz said. "And the one time I should have died, I didn't learn."
It was 1991. Ortiz was standing outside a late-night party and was hit by a car racing at 75 mph. He bounced off the asphalt and lay in a pool of blood. He remembers someone saying, "He's dead!"
Ortiz had eight teeth knocked out and suffered lacerations across his face. He had a broken wrist, three broken ribs, a ruptured spleen and bladder, a blown knee, a crushed kneecap, a severed calf muscle, a separated shoulder, a broken leg and a dislocated kneecap. He stopped breathing twice on the way to the hospital and was in a coma for three days. It took multiple surgeries and 375 stitches to sew him back up.
Though Ortiz returned to football five months later at Sac City, he didn't consider sobriety, and the scholarship offers faded, then disappeared. "I was damaged goods," Ortiz said.
Ortiz got into car sales and flourished, but as fast as he earned the cash, he spent it on drugs. He attended friends' weddings drunk. Then his friends became only a lineup of beer bottles on his kitchen table.
Ortiz said his breaking point came in 2005. He was sprawled on his bed after a three-day binge, the room spinning, his heart pounding so hard and fast he was certain it would pop out. His marriage had collapsed. His two daughters didn't recognize him.
"Then I found religion, got healthy, got my girls back in my life and just changed who I was," said Ortiz, who dedicates his time to his continued recovery and daughters. "I've spent the last few years trying to redeem myself. If people teammates, coaches, family are still mad at me all these years later, I don't blame them. I deserved it. I'll put myself up with all-time great athletes around here who blew it, but I can be proud of what I've become now."
Max Miller is a fan again.
"I hear from Joey once a week," Miller said. "It reassures me that he's not involved in the things that brought him down. I know he's excited about this new life, and we're happy for him."