In the upscale Chicago suburb of Orland Park, there are few things that cannot be bought or sold. Friendship is one of them.
"Friendship is big-time here," said Dan Schumacher, a local mortgage broker who still plays touch football with high school pals. "You and your best friend are close forever."
Even in death, as the sports world was horrified to learn yesterday after Houston Oilers reserve defensive tackle Jeff Alm apparently shot and killed himself shortly after his best friend was killed in a one-car crash in which Alm was the driver.
Alm and Sean P. Lynch, both 25 and from Orland Park, were found dead about 3:05 a.m. along an interstate highway near a major interchange in southwest Houston.
Lynch, who was not wearing a seat belt, had been thrown through the passenger window of Alm's black 1993 Cadillac Eldorado when it went out of control and struck barriers on either side of an elevated exit ramp, according to police.
Police said that Alm, upon discovering his friend's body approximately 20 feet from the vehicle, at the bottom of an embankment, returned to the car and pulled out a 12-gauge shotgun that he constantly carried with him.
Investigators believe Alm fired twice in the air.
"Then he sat down and put the gun to his mouth," said Robert Hurst, spokesman for the Houston Police Department.
According to spokesman Alvin Wright, medical examiners have determined that Alm died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, but police are continuing to investigate. There were no witnesses.
Autopsies were performed on both Alm and Lynch yesterday, but toxicology reports, which would indicate if the pair had been drinking or using drugs, probably won't be available for at least a week. Wright said there was no evidence at the accident scene to indicate they had been drinking.
The death sent shock waves through an Oilers organization that has been through enough controversy this season to last several lifetimes.
"Jeff was an emotional guy with highs and lows," said Oilers coach Jack Pardee. "He evidently thought he did something wrong and tried and convicted himself."
"That's the bad thing about having a gun handy sometimes," Oilers defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan told reporters. "Because all at once you make a decision that you wouldn't have, probably, if you had thought about it a little longer."
Alm, 6 feet 6, 272 pounds, was a former second-round draft pick from Notre Dame. He had played in only two games this season because of a preseason holdout and a broken leg he suffered Nov. 14 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
In parts of four NFL seasons, he started eight of 44 regular-season games.
His nickname among teammates was "Snappy" because of his short fuse. Teammates who knew that he carried a shotgun in his car begged him to leave it at home.
"He was an emotional guy," running back Spencer Tillman said. "Anyone who knew Jeff knew he was a live wire, easily fueled."
But nobody said they could have predicted yesterday's events. Upon hearing the initial reports that Alm had shot himself after an unidentified companion had died, the only thing friends at Orland Park agreed upon was that the companion was probably Lynch.
"You cannot find two better best friends, you never saw one without the other," said Schumacher, a classmate who played with both men at Carl Sandburg High in Orland Park. "They even drove the exact same type cars, and then would argue about whose stereo was louder."
In 1985, Alm and Lynch were part of a team that advanced to the state semifinals. Seventeen of the 19 seniors on that team earned college football scholarships.
Those players have remained close ever since, and had planned a reunion banquet in February.
Alm was going to be the guest of honor. He spoke to the Sandburg athletic director three weeks ago to finalize plans.
"There is something us coaches call chemistry, and that 1985 team had it," said Tom Seliga, the coach then. "They all stuck together, and picked each other up. And then after they left school, they all kept coming home. They even got closer. Jeff and Sean were part of that."
While Lynch did not play college football, deciding instead to work at his father's restaurant, he remained close to the game through Alm. Both were single and had no children.
Lynch often visited Alm at Notre Dame, attended the Fiesta Bowl with him one year, and frequently visited him in Houston. With Lynch being nearly a foot smaller and 100 pounds lighter than Alm, they were a noticeable pair.
"Every time we saw Sean, he told us about Jeff," recalled Seliga. "And every time we saw Jeff, he told us about Sean."
That didn't make it any easier to understand yesterday, when some of the talk was about the horror of guns.