Chicago native Mack "Mini-Mack" Herron used money he made playing professional football to help buy a house for his mother on the city's West Side in the 1970s.
The prospect of losing the home to an alleged reverse mortgage scam may have contributed to his death at age 67 last month, according to relatives.
"He was packing his bags," said Barbara Herron, younger sister of the former Farragut High School great. "I didn't know he was packing his things until after he had passed."
Herron first burst into prominence at Farragut, where he starred in baseball, basketball and track in addition to his gridiron heroics.
He continued to stand out at Hutchinson Junior College and Kansas State University, finishing fourth in the nation in touchdowns in 1969. He played professionally for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL and the New England Patriots, where in 1974 he set a single-season record for all-purpose yardage.
He used some of the money from his football career to help purchase the home in the 1800 block of S. Hamlin Ave.
Herron's years on the gridiron took a toll on his body, as did his drug use that led to repeated arrests. Barbara Herron said that at the time of his death her brother was diabetic and dealing with memory loss caused by a football-related head injury.
But he was also impacted by the strain of potentially being homeless, she said.
In 2010, Herron's mother Effie Herron had taken out a reverse mortgage on her home, which had been paid off for years.
Reverse mortgages are HUD-backed loans that allow homeowners 62 years or older to cash in on some of their home's equity. The mortgage is not due until the homeowner dies or the house is no longer used as a primary residence, but mortgage holders must pay insurance premiums.
Chicago businessman Mark Diamond allegedly convinced the elder Herron to take out the loan.
She was suffering from dementia when she signed the document, according to her daughter.
Diamond has been the subject of dozens of mortgage-related lawsuits stretching back decades. Many of the cases alleged that he targeted elderly black homeowners, many of whom were women, on the city's South and West Sides.
A number of the complaints stated that Diamond carried out a home repair scam in which he would convince his victims to take out a reverse mortgage to carry out needed repairs without explaining the terms of or responsibilities associated with the loan. He would then maneuver to get all of the money from the reverse mortgage and do little, no or shoddy repairs.
Other alleged Diamond victims include Lillie Hopson, a blind woman in her 60s, and Clyde Ross, a key figure in the Contract Buyers League on the city's West Side in the 60s who was caring for his son Tim, a wounded U.S. Marine.
Diamond could not be reached for comment, but through his lawyer Dennis Both had previously denied wrongdoing.
The elder Herron did not tell her children she had taken out the loan, so they were shocked to learn shortly before her death that the balance would come due, according to Barbara Herron.
Reverse Mortgage Solutions, Inc. was the mortgage provider.
Since 2012 the company has become the nation's third largest reverse mortgage provider after Bank of America and Wells Fargo largely left the market in 2011. The number of these loans Reverse Mortgage has granted has exploded from about 300 in 2012 to more than 3,000 in 2014, according to an analysis of HUD data.
After a series of letters the company initiated foreclosure proceedings against the Herron family.
The possibility of losing the home that had been in the family for decades troubled the former football legend deeply, according to his sister.
High levels of stress have been associated with negative health impacts in a number of academic studies.
Reverse Mortgage Solutions declined to comment.
Diamond had his own troubles last year.
The FBI raided his office in March.
In June Judge David Atkins granted an injunction requested by the Office of Attorney General Lisa Madigan against Diamond while a 2009 case her office filed on behalf of dozens of homeowners moves through the court system.
Still, some question why he has yet to face criminal charges.
In August Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law a bill filed by Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-16) that required counseling by government agencies and a three-day cooling off period between the lender committing to the loan and the homeowner signing it.
The law, which took effect on Jan. 1, also stated that in most cases the people who broker the mortgage will not be able to directly receive the money.
Herron said those measures could help others avoid the same predicament she and her older brother endured.
In December went to court and got a continuance until February.
Although expressing optimism that the case could be resolved, she noted that the change came too late for her brother, who died the week before the court date.
And her anxiety about the home that has been her family's emotional center and financial legacy remains.
"All our mother wanted was for us to have a house that she gave to us," Herron said. "Mack was able to help her to have a home. To lose it is saddening."