The hidden side of politics

A fatal accident, jail, alcoholism and addiction: An NFL exec tells his story

Reported by ESPN:

HINGHAM, Mass. — The young woman was dying at his feet. Terry McDonough could see her curled up on the ground, some 35 years later, as if he had just slammed that station wagon into a telephone pole before it struck the low stone wall across the road.

Are you OK, Leslie? Are you OK? McDonough repeated the words he first spoke on a cold winter night in 1982 while revisiting the scene on a warm summer day in 2017. When he pointed to the spot on Gardner Street where he had found his friend, Leslie Messina, his voice cracked, his eyes blinked back tears and his face tightened like a fist.

Some former high school football stars return to their hometowns in middle age to try on their old varsity jackets and to bask in the memories of touchdown runs and school dances and first kisses in the back of their buddies’ cars. McDonough, an Arizona Cardinals executive, returned to Hingham on this day because he was preparing for the first time to share publicly the story of how he caused a classmate’s death, and of how that fatal accident left him a badly damaged human being who would later lose a marriage and nearly lose his NFL career and his life by abusing alcohol and pills to medicate his pain.

McDonough, 53, is the son of sportswriting royalty; the late Will McDonough was the pioneering football columnist at The Boston Globe who led the parade of newspaper insiders into the world of network TV. Terry is the younger brother of acclaimed broadcaster Sean McDonough, who has called Monday Night Football and major college games for ESPN, and the older brother of former NBA executive Ryan McDonough, who became the general manager of the Phoenix Suns at age 33. Terry is the scout who has worked in the NFL for the better part of three decades, who was hired as a kid by Bill Parcells and Bill Walsh through his father’s connections and later by Bill Belichick on his own merits.

More than anything, Terry McDonough sees himself as a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 21 years, since the day he embarrassed himself and his employer, the Baltimore Ravens, in a drunken episode at the NFL combine that ultimately saved him. He wants to stand as an example of why people who feel hopelessly lost and alone should never give up on themselves. He wants his story to be about overcoming the most forbidding of odds. He wants to inspire anyone within earshot who might be drowning in his or her own guilt and shame, and he knew he first needed to expose his considerable sins and flaws in the public square to make it work.

McDonough had told his employers, NFL officials and friends in the league about his past. He described Cardinals president Michael Bidwill as being very supportive; Bidwill, who would suspend and fine general manager Steve Keim last summer after he pleaded guilty to “extreme DUI,” arranged a meeting between McDonough and Debbie Weir, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, two years ago. McDonough, who drank beer on the day of his fatal accident but was cleared of driving under the influence by a jury, said that he was part of two victim-impact panels, and that he has spoken before various groups about his addictions, including a recent gathering of about 150 priests, seminarians and business leaders in Minnesota, with more private appearances to come.

But in his heart, McDonough knew at some point he had to reveal himself to reach as many troubled souls as possible. He had to go back to that place and that time when he was a cocksure teenager who turned a joyride into a hell-on-earth experience. He had to relive the night that he ripped the heart right out of Hingham, a quiet harbor town founded by 17th-century Puritans that all but sent him to jail wearing Hawthorne’s scarlet letter.

Terry McDonough grew up on the water, in a modest house on a hill that allowed a stunning view of the Boston skyline to the north. He would occasionally sneak into the members-only Hingham Yacht Club at the bottom of that hill, a forbidden place to the children of a sportswriter who had yet to make some real money in TV.

Will McDonough was the youngest of nine children of Irish immigrants, raised in the working-class bowels of South Boston, or Southie, among the descendants of those who fled the Great Famine. His first wife, Wilma, was an alcoholic who was in and out of foster homes as a child and who couldn’t rise above her turbulent upbringing. Will was granted full custody of their three children — Sean, Erin and Terry — after their divorce, a rarity for a traveling father in the 1970s. As a young boy, Terry had watched two police officers haul his mother out of their Malcolm Street house, a home she no longer belonged in. One cop had her by the ankles and the other by the wrists, and Terry punched one of them in the leg. “Your mother’s an alcoholic,” the cop told him. It was the first time Terry heard the word.

Will was busy breaking stories at The Globe and needed help raising the kids. He asked his sister, a nun, to return home after many years spent teaching in Japan, and Sister Mary Martina talked about Jesus Christ with Terry every night before tucking him into bed. As a 12-year-old, Terry grew angry when his dad announced his plans to marry a younger schoolteacher, Denise Layton. Terry’s mother was out of his life for good, he feared he was losing his father, and he staged part of his rebellion on ballfields all over town.

One of his first coaches, Bubba Thorne, would work in youth baseball in Hingham for 50 years and never see a better player than Terry McDonough, a pale, freckle-faced kid with blue eyes who ran the bases as if his reddish-blond hair were on fire. Thorne still has the book that shows Terry hitting 29 Little League home runs for the Hingham Buffers in 22 games, and easily recalls the kid playing with a Pete Rose and Ty Cobb ferocity. Once, against rival Hingham Lumber, Terry obliterated the catcher on a play at the plate and knocked the ball loose to score a run. Some enraged Lumber parents stormed onto the field and headed for young McDonough before Thorne, an imposing figure, stepped in front of his player to protect him.

On the football field, Terry, a running back, carried the ball the way his old man pursued a story — relentlessly. Father and son enjoyed the full-contact nature of their jobs, and Will was a fixture at Terry’s games. Of the five McDonough children — Will would have Ryan and Cara with Denise — Terry would go down not only as the finest athlete, he was also the one who looked and acted most like Will, who told it straight and without apology. Around the time Terry was pancaking tacklers in a youth football league, Will ended up in a confrontation with All-Pro cornerback Raymond Clayborn in the New England Patriots‘ locker room. An annoyed Clayborn shoved his way through a knot of reporters and poked McDonough in the eye, and Will, a former two-sport athlete at Northeastern, responded like any self-respecting Irishman from Southie would — with a two-punch combination that dropped Clayborn on his ass.

At 6-foot, 188 pounds, Terry grew into a Division I prospect in both sports at Hingham High. He had everything going for him as a junior coming off a starring role in a 9-1 football season — rugged good looks, an increasingly famous father, a smart and attractive girlfriend and a newly obtained driver’s license. Terry was a big man on a little campus and he knew it, and so on the night of Wednesday, Dec. 29, 1982, a month after he turned 17, he decided to remind everyone just how big he was from behind the wheel of his girlfriend’s father’s car.

McDonough said he drank a couple of Miller Lites from a case illegally purchased at a nearby deli before taking off with his girlfriend, Ann Gilbert, and some schoolmates to catch the Hingham-Marshfield hockey game at Pilgrim Arena. Billy Morin, John Barker and Leslie Messina sat in the back seat. Messina, her younger brother, Frankie, and his best friend, Rocco Amonte, were the last passengers picked up and would be in the car only for an estimated two minutes. Frankie and Rocco were dispatched to the cargo area in the rear of the car, along with the remaining bottles of beer in the case. The boys and girls were all out of school on holiday break, and the radio music was on full blast. Terry had driven only seven or eight times before that night. He had started driving so fast earlier that a frightened Morin asked if he could get out of the car.

Terry turned right onto Main Street, which Eleanor Roosevelt had called one of the most beautiful in America, a tree-lined street framed by well-appointed white colonials with black shutters and guest cottages in the back. Terry was showing off by stepping hard on the gas, and he recalled a concerned Barker asking him to pull over and let him drive. They were running late for the hockey game, so McDonough wasn’t giving up the wheel. From the back seat, according to Terry, Leslie told him to take a shortcut. “It’s quicker if you go right,” she said. So he turned on Gardner, a narrow, winding and treacherous street.

Leslie was Gilbert’s best friend and basketball teammate, an outstanding student and athlete. In a Hingham yearbook memorial to come, Leslie would be pictured wearing a shag haircut, a small crucifix around her neck, a white blouse and a lilac skirt. She had a radiant smile and a generosity of spirit that made her the most popular kid in her class, and just about every guy had a crush on her. “The perfect girl,” Terry called her.

McDonough was doing about 55 mph in a 30-mph zone when he hit a sharp left turn about 1,000 feet from Main. Suddenly the station wagon swung wide on a road with no shoulder. “Terry, watch out!” McDonough’s girlfriend, Ann, shouted from the passenger seat. At 7:30 p.m., the car crashed into one telephone pole that was holding up another on the very edge of the street. The right side of the vehicle was ripped open “like a tuna can,” Morin said later, and the passengers were sent flying through the void and through the windows as the station wagon headed for the stone wall in front of 46 Gardner St., just more than a mile from Leslie Messina’s home.

Morin woke up near a wooded area covered in blood from cuts to his head. The two 14-year-olds in the cargo area, Amonte and Frank Messina, would end up in intensive care at South Shore Hospital, with Amonte in critical condition after suffering a fractured skull, punctured lung, broken ribs and a broken wrist. Police officers found beer bottles in the car and all over the crash scene. Among the first responders were Gilbert’s mother, a nurse, and Detective Joseph Mayer, who recalled finding Terry with shards of glass in his forehead. As sirens blared and emergency vehicle lights cut like red and blue sabers through the night, Mayer found Leslie Messina, who had reportedly been thrown 27 feet, lying against the stone wall. He thought she was still breathing. When Terry stood over her earlier, asking if she was OK, he saw no blood and no obvious signs of severe trauma.

The cops took McDonough to the station for a breathalyzer, and when he blew .07, one of them told him he was a lucky man — .10 was the legal Massachusetts standard for intoxication, although a driver could still be charged at .05 or above. Soon enough, Terry heard on the police scanner the six words that gutted him. Leslie Messina, 17 years old, deceased. He began sobbing hysterically, before the detective stepped in. “It might not be until you’re 40 years old,” Mayer told Terry, “but I promise that someday you will forgive yourself.”

McDonough was charged with motor vehicle homicide and operating under the influence of alcohol. His father posted bail and took his son home. The following Monday morning, Terry didn’t want to leave the house to walk to the bus that took him to Hingham High. “This is going to be the hardest day of your life,” his old man told him. When Terry arrived for homeroom and took his seat directly in front of Leslie’s empty chair, his eye caught the roll-call sheet in the hands of his teacher and coach, Jack Kennedy. In the space under Terry McDonough, Leslie Messina’s name had been crossed out.

Terry’s fate wouldn’t be decided until Aug. 26, 1983, when six jurors — three men and three women — delivered their verdict inside a Hingham courtroom. Terry was represented by Tom Finnerty, who years earlier had opened his firm with Billy Bulger, the brother of notorious Southie mobster Whitey Bulger and a close friend of Will McDonough’s; Will once ran Billy’s successful campaign for a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

In a June bench trial, Terry had been found guilty of vehicular homicide and operating under the influence and sentenced to one year in jail by Judge Daniel Rider before appealing for a jury trial and remaining free on bail. On his final judgment day two months later, Terry just wanted the ordeal to end. The courtroom had been packed all week with familiar figures from Terry’s youth, and many of them wouldn’t talk to him during breaks, or even look at him during emotional testimonies from his friends, from first responders and from his own father. Terry had almost never seen Will cry before he wept on the stand when asked about Leslie, causing Terry to follow his lead. Judge Charles Black told the defendant he could take a break to gather himself, and Terry said as he left the courtroom, he turned to the Messina family and said, “I’m so, so sorry.” Leslie’s family members did not respond.

“It might not be until you’re 40 years old, but I promise that someday you will forgive yourself.”

Detective Joseph Mayer, one of the first responders to the accident on Dec. 29, 1982, to Terry McDonough.

“It was hell on everybody, her family, my family,” Terry would recall years later. As the trial was ending, Finnerty asked all to remember that this was an accident, not a murder, and that Gardner Street was an extremely dangerous road. He asked the jury to consider his client’s previously clean record, his “badge of good citizenship.”

The jury found McDonough guilty of motor vehicle homicide, of transporting alcohol as a minor and of failing to possess his license, but not guilty of operating under the influence. As much as Terry thought he deserved to be cleared of the alcohol-related charge — despite the police contention that he was driving drunk — he also believed he deserved to be convicted on the motor vehicle homicide charge. According to local reports at the time, Leslie’s father, Anthony, told the court that his “grief and pain is never-ending,” that McDonough hadn’t shown enough remorse, and that he needed to be severely punished “or my daughter will have died in vain.” The fiery Brooklyn-born prosecutor, Rob Sinsheimer, had actually recommended that McDonough spend only three months behind bars, but Black sentenced Terry to two years in jail; he would be eligible for parole after one year. “I’m sure that Mr. McDonough does not want to go to jail,” Black was quoted saying in The Patriot Ledger, “any more than Leslie Messina wanted to die.”

As he was being handcuffed, Terry never felt more alone. He could hear only one voice in the courtroom, the voice of the woman who raised him, Sister Mary Martina. It’s not your fault, Terry. It’s not your fault. It was an accident. Jesus loves you.

The police transported McDonough, still 17, to the Plymouth House of Correction, where he was strip-searched and put in a cell. Terry suddenly felt a sense of relief behind bars, he said, “because I didn’t want to be in that town anymore.” Hingham’s golden boy had become its Hester Prynne. Two nights later, the phone rang in the McDonough house, and the man on the other end asked Sister Mary Martina if her brother was home. “It’s Jimmy,” the nun told Will. James “Whitey” Bulger. According to Will, Whitey told him, “I want to let you know that nobody’s going to mess with your kid.”

The following day, Terry walked into the jail’s general population and was pulled aside by two men who seemingly stood 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds, most of it muscle. One of them told the youngest inmate in the county jail to let him know if anyone ever bothered him. “And nobody ever did,” Terry said.

McDonough spent seven months of what should have been his senior year of high school at the corrections facility, bailing hay on a local farm and working in the jailhouse canteen, before he was granted early release. He would finish up his high school education at one Maine prep school, Hebron Academy, and then another, Bridgton Academy, where he tore up his knee playing football and blew his chance at a major-college scholarship. Terry would attend UMass Amherst in the late 1980s and, with his father’s help, start his career in pro football as an intern who lined the field, cleaned the locker room and scouted some local schools for one of the greatest teams of all time, the 1989 San Francisco 49ers.

He was now living the promising life that had been stolen from his friend Leslie. And for that reason, he remained locked inside a maximum-security prison of his own design.

Terry McDonough took a chaotic path to the 1998 NFL combine, where he staggered into the RCA Dome as a man addicted to alcohol and anxiety-reducing pills.

As a UMass student in 1987, he had checked himself out of school and into a hospital after he experienced panic attacks, shortness of breath, muscle twitches and ringing in his ears, and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The following year, he was arrested over the July Fourth holiday in Atlantic City, New Jersey, after getting drunk, stealing pizza on the boardwalk and wrestling with a cop who had been sitting in an unmarked car. Terry landed in jail for a night before entering a 30-day rehab program in Norwood, Massachusetts.

Terry attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on campus, managed to stay clear of alcohol, and earned his UMass degree in 1990. He couldn’t land an entry-level job in the NFL, but caught a break when the new World League of American Football started hiring young scouts on the cheap to find useful players who weren’t good enough for the NFL. Andrew Brandt, general manager of the Barcelona Dragons, hired Terry as player personnel director, and two successful seasons later, he scored an interview with Bill Belichick’s Cleveland Browns. Belichick made McDonough a full-time scout, and at 26 Terry found himself in draft meetings with Belichick and Nick Saban, the Browns’ defensive coordinator. McDonough proved himself as a passionate evaluator who wasn’t afraid to express his informed opinion and counter the majority take on a certain prospect — a trait his boss loved in scouts.

Browns owner Art Modell fired Belichick after the 1995 season; McDonough was among the scouts and front-office officials who moved with the franchise to Baltimore. Over the years, Terry would scout future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, and lobby hard for the Ravens to draft future Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden over Lawrence Phillips. McDonough persuaded the undrafted Priest Holmes to take a chance on running back-needy Baltimore and sign for a lousy $2,000 while Holmes was considering larger up-front bonuses elsewhere.

Terry knew a football player when he saw one, said Eric DeCosta, then a Ravens scout and now their GM. DeCosta grew up in Taunton, Massachusetts, reading McDonough’s dad in The Globe. “[Terry] could outwork anybody in the profession,” DeCosta said. “He has so much conviction in what he believes. He’s got a great eye. He’s got instincts for people. He’s got people skills. He’s tough to fool. He can watch a player live, and see a kid in any kind of setting at practice, in the cafeteria, an all-star game, an interview, and see things others won’t necessarily see. That’s a gift in this profession, and not many have it.”

But as good as McDonough was at his job, he was performing it as a barely functioning alcoholic. Though he remained sober for about seven years after his 1988 trip to rehab, he couldn’t fully overcome his shame, his lack of self-worth. This was his life sentence, and he served it by drinking heavily and by using the drug Klonopin to great excess. McDonough was hurting, and self-medicating, and his wife, Jennefer, was preparing to divorce him and to take their three young children with her. DeCosta had noticed changes in his friend’s behavior. He saw Terry get distracted at work in 1997 and ’98, and at times act irrationally. He saw Terry grow angry and confrontational. “A couple things happened at all-star games,” DeCosta said. “It was obvious to me Terry had something going on.”

It became obvious to the entire NFL community inside the RCA Dome on a February day that changed everything. McDonough couldn’t fake it anymore. “The gig was up,” he said. Terry entered the building in no condition to time prospects in the 40-yard dash, and he accidentally sat in the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ row next to Bill Cowher. The Steelers’ coach shot a look at the Baltimore delegation in the row in front of him, and Phil Savage, the Ravens’ director of college scouting, realized what was happening. “If Terry missed one [40] time,” Savage said, “he must’ve missed 10 in a row. … When one of the groups ended, it was, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get you out of here.’ Terry couldn’t keep his head up. He was falling asleep, dropping his watch and then hitting it. It was quite the scene to say the least.”

McDonough was escorted back to his Indianapolis hotel, and he spent the next day in bed. Savage informed Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, who informed Modell. The owner summoned McDonough to Baltimore. Terry thought he was about to be fired, and he was consumed by the darkest thoughts. Was it really worth going through this? Had the time come to stop fighting this losing battle?

Terry called the one person who would always give him a straight answer. He told his father that he needed the misery to end, a revelation at first met with silence. And then Will McDonough said, “You’re not going to quit, are you?”

His son, too, fell silent. And then: “No, Dad, I won’t quit.”

Terry showed up in Modell’s office Feb. 12. “Don’t you ever do anything to embarrass me or your father again,” the owner barked. “I’m giving you one more chance. Do you understand?” Terry couldn’t believe Modell wasn’t firing him, and he promised the owner one more chance was all he’d need. “And the only thing I could comprehend,” McDonough said, “was, ‘Well, I’m not going to take my life today.'”

Modell called in his facilities manager, Chuck Cusick, himself a recovering alcoholic, and asked if he would immediately drive Terry to Father Martin’s Ashley treatment center. Terry would pray every morning in the center’s chapel, and when DeCosta visited him a few weeks into the 30-day program, he found a humbled but determined man. “It wasn’t the cocky Terry McDonough we all knew,” DeCosta said. “It was, ‘Hey, I screwed up. I let my family down. I let you guys down. But I’m going to beat this.'”

Terry left rehab, returned to work in Baltimore and planned to reunite with his family in Atlanta. But his marriage had been irreparably harmed. Jennefer moved out of the home, leaving a note for her husband on the fridge explaining that the divorce was final and that she was heading to her mother’s house in Texas with their two boys, Patrick and Brendan, and their daughter, Caroline. “The kids will always love you,” the note said. When Terry found it, he turned to a hanging picture of Jesus Christ — which was more than 100 years old — that Sister Mary Martina had given him and dropped to his knees. “I remember the strong presence of God in that room,” Terry said. “I knew I was going to be safe.”

Jennefer remarried the following year and moved with the children to North Carolina, inspiring her ex to pack up his things and find a place about a mile away. Terry decided to devote himself to fatherhood. He would even bring his kids to AA meetings, Brendan later said, “When it would have been easy for him to hide it and leave us at home. It spoke to how much he cared about his family and his sobriety.”

McDonough threw himself back into his work as Baltimore’s Eastern supervisor, helping mold the Ravens into a Super Bowl team. Terry wasn’t about the big names at the big schools. Super-agent Tom Condon was among the league’s heavy hitters who raved about McDonough’s ability to identify talent in relatively obscure places and who considered his evaluations gospel.

Before the ’99 draft, Terry fought passionately for Brandon Stokley, a moderately talented receiver from Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ravens took him in the fourth round, and Stokley rewarded them in Super Bowl XXXV by catching a 38-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring in a blowout victory over the New York Giants at the end of the 2000 season. Terry had won a championship with almost his entire family in the house, including his proud father, who would die of heart disease only two years later.

“You promised me that night that I might be 40 years old before it happens, but that I would forgive myself. I turned 40 today, and I just wanted you to know that I have.”

Terry McDonough to retired detective Joseph Mayer on Nov. 26, 2005, McDonough’s 40th birthday.

McDonough’s last stand in Baltimore unfolded in 2003, when he marched into the draft room uninvited to implore Newsome to call the Cowboys, who were on the clock with their third-round pick, and trade for that pick so the Ravens could select Jason Witten. (The Cowboys declined.) Terry would leave Baltimore for a big raise, an upgraded title (executive scout) and a shot at a quicker climb up the front-office ladder with Jacksonville, where he was ultimately promoted to player personnel director.

But long before he earned that promotion, McDonough made the most memorable phone call of what would be a 10-year run with the Jaguars. On Nov. 26, 2005, during a visit to the Weymouth, Massachusetts, home of his Aunt Peggy, who had helped Sister Mary Martina raise him, Terry called the man who offered him reassurance on the night he caused a young woman’s death. Detective Joseph Mayer nearly fell out of his chair when he heard McDonough identify himself on the phone; it was the only time in Mayer’s 47 years of policing that he’d received a call like this one.

“You promised me that night that I might be 40 years old before it happens, but that I would forgive myself,” Terry told the retired cop. “I turned 40 today, and I just wanted you to know that I have.”

McDonough has traveled to Hingham a few times in recent years. In 2014, he told his second wife, Lynette, that he needed to attend his high school class’ 30-year reunion to help out that 17-year-old boy within. McDonough walked into the banquet room with little idea of what to expect. A few people turned their backs on him, he said, but the overwhelming majority of his classmates welcomed him, laughed with him, cried with him. Terry was staring at some photos of Leslie Messina on a table when a woman named Debbie Reidy approached, wrapped an arm around him, and said, “I know it must be tough, Terry.” McDonough told one of Leslie’s best friends how sorry he was for what had happened, and the two men embraced. “I went from a hero to a villain in Hingham,” Terry said. “I went back there to heal the villain.”

Three years later, for the purpose of eventually telling his story publicly, McDonough returned to his hometown and made a stop at St. Paul Cemetery. He had visited Leslie’s gravesite numerous times over the years. “I knew she’d have the freshest flowers in here,” he said on that day. “That’s just her.” Terry once wrote a note to her on an American Legion baseball that he’d hit for a home run, and placed it near the elegant tombstone, which faces the South Shore Country Club golf course on the other side of a nearby fence. Another visitor had planted seven golf balls in a row in front of the tombstone. Leslie was great at just about everything, even the maddening game of golf.

Terry later took the same drive on Main Street that he took in 1982, and that same right on Gardner. He found what any motorist who made that turn would find today — a sign announcing the speed limit of 30 mph above a yellow sign signaling a sharp left bend to come, followed by the turn near a wooded area, and then, at the point of impact, one telephone pole right on top of the narrow street with no shoulder.

“I went from a hero to a villain in Hingham. I went back there to heal the villain.”

Terry McDonough, on returning to his hometown years later.

Wearing a striped golf shirt and dark shorts, his thick, athletic frame having softened with age, McDonough stepped out of his car and pointed to the spot where he hit the brakes as a teenager. The presence and positioning of a second pole so close to the road that night became an issue in lawsuits that were part of the case. Under a clear blue sky, with birds chirping above the otherwise silent, empty street, Terry walked up to the current pole and spread his thumb and index finger about 3 inches apart. “I clipped it by maybe this much,” he said. “Those 3 inches destroyed this town.”

He stood in the sunshine where he had stood in the darkness as a 17-year-old, above the injured bodies of his classmates, and recalled the shock and horror of it all. And then he decided he’d had enough of Gardner Street for the day.

Last fall, during a scouting trip to Boston College, McDonough stopped in Hingham and appeared unannounced at the door of his former girlfriend’s parents, who lived near Leslie’s old house on Paul Revere Road. The Gilberts invited him in, and listened as Terry apologized and explained how he has tried to be a good man over the past two decades to honor Leslie’s memory. Terry did not make the same trip to the Messina home.

“I’d love to meet with them,” he said. “But I would never want to hurt them.”

Terry said he wrote two letters to Anthony and Paula Messina in the first five years after the accident, including one from jail, and received no response. He stopped writing, he said, because he didn’t want to upset the family. He understands why Anthony Messina asked a jury to punish him to the maximum extent of the law. McDonough is a father, after all. When asked one night by phone if he could forgive a speeding driver who accidentally killed his only daughter, he whispered, “No,” and began to cry.

The people directly affected by the accident have different feelings for McDonough today. Frank Messina, Leslie’s younger brother, was among the station-wagon passengers who declined comment. Leslie’s older brother, Tony, a former hockey star and the highly successful coach at Hingham High, also declined comment and did the same on behalf of his parents.

“Not one day will ever go by that I won’t think about Leslie.”

Terry McDonough

Billy Morin, a former Marine and a survivor of Stage 4 throat cancer, said that the trauma from the accident caused or magnified some personal problems he faced, but that he never blamed Terry for any of it. “It was a bunch of kids being kids,” Morin said. “Just kids being stupid.”

Rocco Amonte was the most seriously injured survivor, and he has substantial scars on his forehead and neck from an accident of which he has no memory. He is the brother of Tony Amonte, the former NHL All-Star, and Kelly Amonte, who stands among the greatest women’s lacrosse players and coaches of all time. Rocco, who works for the equipment and apparel manufacturer STX, said he has rarely thought about McDonough and has no feelings for him at all. “Probably the only thing I could say about this is, if anyone else in that car had been driving,” Amonte said, “I think of those people a lot of them would have done more than [seven] months in jail. That’s saying his family situation got him out of a lengthy prison term.”

McDonough’s attorney at the time, Finnerty, countered that the two-year sentence and time served exceeded the prosecutor’s recommendation — three months — and that he suspected Will McDonough’s fame actually worked against Terry because the locals “were not going to be intimidated by the fact his dad was somebody special.” Either way, no matter who thinks what in Hingham, Terry knows one fact about the case cannot be disputed.

“Not one day will ever go by,” he said, “that I won’t think about Leslie.”

As the vice president of player personnel for the Cardinals, McDonough is no worse of a scout today — with the 3-13 Cardinals set to pick first in the NFL draft — than he was in 2015, when the 13-3 Cardinals reached the NFC championship. But he knows how the game works. He was among the finalists who lost out to John Lynch for the 49ers’ GM job after the 2016 season, and to ever realize his dream of running an NFL team, he will need Arizona’s likely top pick, Kyler Murray, to complete the rebuilding process at warp speed.

In a conversation over his near-miss with the 49ers, McDonough was reminded that one brother, Sean, is among the signature sports broadcasters of his generation, and that another, Ryan, became a GM at an absurdly young age. Terry was reminded that he’s the one McDonough son who hasn’t gotten to the mountaintop.

“Every single day since Feb. 12, 1998, I’ve been on the mountaintop,” he responded.

His wife, Lynette, marveled over the bond McDonough has with his grown-up children. Patrick graduated from Notre Dame, served on the Super Bowl-winning staff of the Eagles and now works as a player personnel assistant for the Ravens. Brendan graduated from Georgetown and, as a second-round pick in the most recent MLS draft, plays for the Vancouver Whitecaps. Caroline graduated as a special-needs student from the Wolfe School in Monroe, North Carolina, and remains by all accounts her father’s clear favorite. “My everything,” Terry called her. According to a school official, Cheryl Hawley, McDonough is responsible for funding Wolfe’s new sensory room, which provides a calming atmosphere for children with physical and intellectual disabilities.

Cara, Terry’s sister and a Harvard-educated executive at Under Armour, called her older brother “a great mentor for me.” Brendan, Terry’s youngest child, said that his dad has been “nothing short of an incredible father,” and that he was inspired by Terry’s winning battle with addiction. Eric DeCosta, Terry’s best friend in football, said that the man he knows now is a vastly improved version of the man he knew heading into treatment in 1998.

“He’s always been an amazing scout and football guy,” DeCosta said, “but over the last 20 years he’s changed quite a bit as a person. He’s now as good a person as he is a scout. It just took a lot longer for him to get there.”

Truth is, after tearing apart his own town, Terry will never be able to return to Hingham as an adored football and baseball star free to savor his childhood memories on the harbor, or on Nantasket Beach, or on the beautiful parkland known as World’s End. But all these years after causing an unforgivable accident, that damaged teenager has forgiven himself. And in that sense, at least, Will McDonough’s boy has finally made it home.