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The Tragic Death of Former Notre Dame and San Diego Chargers RB Rodney Culver

He and his wife couldn’t wait to return home to see their young daughters. Rodney Culver, a former Notre Dame running back who was now with the San Diego Chargers, had taken his wife Karen on a cruise in 1996. They were even more excited when they were able to switch their flight to an earlier one so they could be home for supper. Then tragedy struck.

Rodney Culver’s football career

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Rodney Culver played four years of college football at Notre Dame. The 5-foot-9, 224-pound running back took a while to get rolling with the Irish as he was playing behind Jerome Bettis and Ricky Watters during the early part of his career. He became a starter as a junior and led the Irish in rushing with 710 yards. He also had 145 yards receiving and scored seven touchdowns.

Culver played through nagging injuries in his senior year and finished with 550 yards and two touchdowns. He was selected in the fourth round of the 1991 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts. Culver was a short-yardage back with the Colts. He had his best season in his rookie year when he rushed for 321 yards and seven touchdowns. He added two more touchdown receptions and had 210 receiving yards.

Culver was cut by the Colts after his second season and was picked up by the San Diego Chargers. Like he did during his early years at Notre Dame, he was playing behind a strong running group that included Natrone Means, Eric Bieniemy, and Ronnie Harmon. He only played three games in his first year in San Diego. He saw more time in his second year, playing in eight games.

Culver’s tragic plane crash

According to ESPN, Rodney Culver had taken his wife Karen on a cruise on a much-needed getaway. With two young girls at home, ages 2 and 1, they needed some time to themselves. It was the day before Mother’s Day in 1996 and the Culvers were anxious to return home to see their young children. Their ship docked earlier than planned and they were able to get a flight on ValuJet Flight 592 that had some open seats.

The Culver girls, Jada and Briana, were waiting at the airport with their grandmother, Wanda Hammond, who was there to pick them up. The wait for Rodney and Karen grew longer. Hammond then noticed there were people in the airport sobbing. She knew something was wrong. The three were escorted to a back room where they were told Flight 592 had crashed and all 110 people on board were killed.

Culver had it all. He had two beautiful daughters and a dream job in the NFL. Culver was healthy and ready to play a bigger role with the San Diego Chargers. He was never given the chance.

The children have so many questions

According to ESPN, when Jada was about 12, she wanted to tell her friends that her father used to play in the NFL. She Googled his name for the first time. Jada then saw the ValuJet crash and their names. She cried. Even as an adult, she cries. “I’m sorry if I start to cry,” Jada said. “I’m usually good at being able to keep my composure.”

Jada asks questions – a lot of questions. She also plays the ‘what if’ game. “They switched their flight to get home to see my sister and I,” she said. “If they could’ve just stayed on their regular flight, who knows? I have thought about that. Would I live in Georgia? Would I live in San Diego? What would I like? What would I dislike? Who would I be?”

Unlike Jada, Briana can’t get herself to thumb through family albums or Google her parents’ names. She won’t watch YouTube videos of her father playing football in the NFL. “I think I’m too sensitive to watch it,” she said.