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​Former NFL player tackles homelessness after living under LA freeway

After years of living under a Los Angeles freeway, former NFL linebacker Terry Tautolo is turning his life around.

CBS Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES -- A former NFL linebacker is on the road to recovery after living in a tunnel beneath a Los Angeles freeway, with help from former teammates and his old coach.

Terry Tautolo began his football career at UCLA, where he was part of the 1976 team that won the Rose Bowl.

After graduation, he was drafted by San Francisco 49ers and won his first Super Bowl with the team in 1981.

As CBS Sacramento first reported in 2012, damage from concussions ended Tautolo's career after nine years, and he fell into homelessness.

After learning of Tautolo's living situation, former teammates put a call out for help and his old coach, Dick Vermeil, took action.

Forty years ago, Vermeil was the coach who recruited Tautolo to play for UCLA and also drafted him to play for the NFL.

Vermeil told CBS Sacramento Tautolo has always held a special place in his heart.

"Well, he came into UCLA with me. We were both rookies in big-time football," Vermeil said.

When he learned Tautolo was in trouble, Vermeil tracked him down. The reunion instantly re-kindled their connection.

"And you see him, and it startled me, and my wife Carol was with us and she had a great relationship and you see him and it startled us," Vermeil said. "And right away you've got to say we're getting involved in this thing, Terry. And we spoke that night, not a lot, but I said we're getting involved and we're going back to being what you used to be."

Tautolo is now living in a recovery house in Santa Monica, California and admits drug addiction once dominated his life. His transformation is remarkable -- he went from having sunken eyes and missing teeth to gaining muscle and looking clean-shaven with sparkling new teeth.

"I'm here now, and I'm grateful," said Tautolo. "It's such a bad word, addiction, alcoholism, but it really isn't. That's my truth."

That truth emerged only after Tautolo's story first aired. A documentary crew took him to doctors specializing in traumatic brain injuries. MRI's showed several spots in his brain that could be concussion related.

"I just said wow, it's a picture of my brain on a screen; two dots on it. And the doc says, 'These are your concussions,'" Tautolo said.

But Tautolo still won't say concussions led to his homelessness.

"They haven't," Tautolo said.

Along with a scholarship from the sober living house, Vermeil helped pay for Tautolo's treatment and he got the NFL Players Association to pick up part of the tab, despite Terry's belief football head injuries have not led him to a life of addiction.

"I asked him about that, 'Are you involved with the NFL lawsuit?' He said, 'No, football wasn't my problem,'" Vermeil said. "I do believe it was part of it, because he did experience a number of concussions. But he didn't want to use that as a crutch."

Four decades later, the bond between this coach and his player are proving unbroken.

"At my age, now I think back that, wow, he's still with me. And I'm not playing any more ball. He still calls me up," Tautolo said.

As part of his treatment, Tautolo is serving as a mentor and works with children living with autism. He now has a wide safety net of friends helping him to stay sober.

"What down is it? That's how I treat it," Tautolo said.