While with the Bears, Larry Morris played under legendary coach George Halas and alongside Dick Butkus and Mike Ditka. In the 1963 Bears-Giants NFL championship game, Morris, a linebacker, intercepted a Y.A. Tittle pass and returned it 61 yards before being taken down at the 6. Chicago scored a momentum-changing touchdown moments later and went on to win, 14-10. Morris twice leveled Tittle that day, knocking him briefly from the game and otherwise diminishing his effectiveness. Morris was named the game's MVP.

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In the middle of the night, in a dark bedroom, Greg Koch pursues a defender who exists only in his mind. Twenty-five years after he retired from the NFL, Koch still dreams about football. But this is not normal dreaming. What he dreams, he does, often crashing onto the floor after he throws himself out of bed. More dangerous than his football dreams are his fighting dreams. He wakes up from those to his wife’s screams as he chokes and punches her.

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Ken Clarke shakes his head side to side, like he would as he walked off the field during training camp when he played in the NFL. Those were brutal sessions that left him with constant headaches. “I would think, ‘Man, my brain feels like it’s moving, like it’s knocking into the side of my skull.’ ”

He popped Tylenol after practice and took codeine before games to dull the pain. Now 55 and living in Atlanta, he estimates he suffered “130 or 140” concussions during his 14 years as a defensive lineman for the Eagles, Seahawks and Vikings.

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Joe DeLamielleure pulls a business card out of his wallet and puts it on his kitchen table. On the card is an explanation of his desire to donate his brain to science. He wants doctors to cut open his skull, take out his brain, slice it into pieces and study it. He says he knows what they’ll find: brain damage.

At 61, he has displayed several hallmarks of CTE—chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a type of brain damage common to people who have suffered head injuries. He bounces in and out of depression, he gets angry for little or no reason, and he has short-term memory loss. Until he recently started taking a controversial supplement, he hadn’t slept through the night in years.

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