ASHBURN, Va. -- After Jeff Alm committed suicide Tuesday, reports out of Houston labeled him as a man with a death wish, but Pat Eilers said that wasn't the person he knew.
"I didn't see that side to him," said Eilers, a Washington Redskins safety who was a teammate of Alm's during their four years at Notre Dame. "I know he was an emotional person. Anybody who plays football has to be emotional. He played with a lot of intensity and had a great love for the game. He gave his all all the time.
"I knew him really well. He was a good player, a good guy, a good student, a good guy to be around. He never got into any trouble."
Eilers said he didn't see Alm as being an abnormal person. And that's why he was so stunned that the Houston Oilers defensive tackle shot himself after his car hit a freeway guardrail in Houston and his best friend, Sean Lynch, was thrown through the passenger window to his death.
"It's a shock to everybody that knows him," said Eilers, who is on injured reserve with a knee injury. "It shakes anybody when someone you know takes his own life. I think it shows you how vulnerable a lot of people are. I have nothing but positive things to say about him.
"He was a normal guy, a fun guy, fun to be around."
Both players arrived at Notre Dame in 1986. Eilers had transferred from Yale after his freshman year, and Alm came in as a heavily recruited freshman from Orland Park, Ill., near Chicago.
The two savored the Irish's 1988 national championship and became good friends, and now Eilers is upset to see Alm portrayed as anything but a good guy.
"I just think, plain and simple, it's a tragedy," he said. "It's something that there weren't a whole lot of indicators, and that's why it's such a shock.
"He was a good guy. He worked hard. You hate to see someone get to that point in life when they think that ending it is the best thing. But there's no dirt to dig up."
Although Eilers said he didn't know that Alm carried a shotgun in his car, he said, "I don't look at that as abnormal. The NRA [National Rifle Association] is one of the biggest lobbies in the world. We probably have more people with handguns than anywhere in the world.
Eilers said that it's easy for fans to forget that football players are human beings who are vulnerable.
"Football players are supposed to have a certain persona," he said. "For someone to do what Jeff did, he must have been vulnerable. Unfortunately, with all their promotional and marketing schemes, football tries to build up that football players are something different than normal human beings."
Eilers, who last talked to Alm earlier this season when Alm was holding out, said he wished he could have been with Alm before he committed suicide.
"Jeff was a real rational person [but] we all succumb to irrationality at some point because of all the different circumstances that are thrust upon us," he said. "He obviously wasn't rational. You just wish somebody could have been there to say, 'Jeff, relax.'
"You're amazed it gets to that point with anybody, not just Jeff, not because he's a football player. You look for answers. I don't think there are any. Only God knows."
Two Redskins assistant coaches, offensive line coach Jim Hanifan and offensive coordinator Rod Dowhower, were with the Atlanta Falcons in 1988 and 1989 when three players -- David Croudip, Brad Beckman and Ralph Norwood -- died. Croudip died of a drug overdose and Beckman and Norwood were killed in auto accidents.
"It was a numbing experience," Dowhower said. "The first thing you think about is your own kids. You see they're really vulnerable at that age to all the strange things that can happen. Maybe it's just the age."
Hanifan, who was the Falcons interim coach at the time of Norwood's death, said he died on Thanksgiving Day and the players paid their last respects on a Saturday before flying to New York for a game.
"I can still remember it. You're standing there looking at this vibrant young man, [thinking] 'I was just with him' three days prior. I thought he was going to be a great football player. He was a hell of a guy. The team could not come out of that one. It was too hard, too soon."
The Falcons, who went 3-13 that year, lost to the New York Jets, 27-7, that Sunday.
Hanifan said it's a shock to the players when one of their peers dies.
"Youth thinks of themselves as invincible," he said. "Youth doesn't understand the fragility of life, how fragile that baby is. That's a tragic thing, tragic."
NOTES: The quarterback position remains controversial for the Redskins. Cary Conklin, still the third-stringer after the latest shuffle, is frustrated he was only allowed to play one full game this year. "That's not a fair evaluation," he said. Coach Richie Petitbon said Conklin has a problem with accuracy, but added, "If he feels upset, I can understand that. If I was Cary, I'd probably say the same thing." . . . Meanwhile, Mark Rypien, who'll start this week, suggested the decision on his future with the team "has been decided already." But Petitbon denied it, saying, "Absolutely not." Petitbon said it was difficult to judge Rypien yesterday because the players practiced in the rain.