Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Gaines Adams was ready to take the NFL by storm in 2007.
Adams finished his stellar college football career as one of the best pass rushers in Clemson Tigers program history.
Adams, an unheralded prospect who played eight-man football in high school, wreaked havoc on quarterbacks and offensive linemen alike.
Before long, Adams tied a program record with 28.0 career sacks.
There’s little wonder the Buccaneers made him the fourth overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft after JaMarcus Russell, Calvin Johnson, and Joe Thomas.
Regrettably, Adams played below expectations during his two-plus years in Tampa Bay.
Adams received a second lease on life with the Chicago Bears in 2009.
He never had a chance to build on his career in the Windy City after his life was tragically cut short following his first season with the Bears.
This is Gaines Adams’s remarkable gridiron journey.
Gaines DeMario Adams IV was born to parents Gaines III and Linda in Greenwood, SC on June 8, 1983.
Gaines has two sisters, Lashonda and Yazmine, and a brother, Stanley.
Adams attended Cambridge Academy in his hometown. He played wide receiver and defensive end for the Cambridge Cougars’ eight-man football team.
Adams helped the Cougars win the state title in 2000. Cambridge was so dominant, they held four teams scoreless that season. They even beat one opponent with an unbelievable score of 80-0.
Adams racked up 4,394 receiving yards and 65 touchdowns on 158 catches as a high school wide receiver.
He also had 33 sacks, 341 tackles, and 10 interceptions as a defensive end.
Adams’s dominance helped him earn All-State honors twice during his high school days.
Cougars head football coach Steve Taneyhill tried to put in a good word for Adams as the latter’s college days drew near.
Taneyhill reached out to the USC Trojans but they showed no interest in Adams. He also tried piquing the interest of South Carolina’s college football coaches to no avail.
Taneyhill admitted to The Associated Press‘s Pete Iacobelli (via GoUpstate.com) in July 2006 that their cold-shoulder treatment of Adams hurt him.
Taneyhill then called Clemson Tigers head football coach Tommy Bowden, who thought Adams could have a place on his roster.
As Adams’s high school football career neared its conclusion, he whittled down his college short list to the Virginia Cavaliers, South Carolina Gamecocks, North Carolina Tar Heels, Maryland Terrapins, Georgia Bulldogs, and Clemson Tigers.
Gaines narrowed down his top two choices to the Tar Heels and the Tigers. He committed to Clemson after North Carolina abruptly withdrew its scholarship offer.
Gaines Adams eventually became one of the best pass rushers the Clemson Tigers football program has ever produced.
College Days with the Clemson Tigers
Gaines Adams attended Fork Union Military Academy, a college preparatory military school, in Fork Union, VA in 2001.
Adams played tight end and defensive end for the Fork Union Blue Devils that year.
Adams played lights out on both sides of the ball. He was a menace on defense who feasted on quarterbacks. Adams had 22.0 sacks in his lone year at Fork Union.
It was a precursor of his stint at Clemson University in Clemson, SC.
Adams transferred to Clemson in 2002. After redshirting his true freshman campaign in 2002, he went on to suit up for Clemson Tigers head football coach Tommy Bowden for the next three seasons.
Gaines burst onto the college football scene spectacularly in the 2003 NCAA season.
Gaines Adams Clemson highlights pic.twitter.com/1qXNXmTgr0
— Clemson Highlights (@ClemsonRT) May 12, 2022
Adams thrived as an edge rusher who made life miserable for quarterbacks and offensive tackles.
He had four tackles and one sack in the Tigers’ resounding 26-10 triumph over the third-ranked Florida State Seminoles on November 8, 2003.
Adams gained momentum as the years went by. His five sacks tied him for second on the Tigers as a redshirt sophomore. It was an impressive feat considering Adams had started just one game the entire season.
Clemson averaged eight wins per season in Adams’s first two years with the team from 2003 to 2004.
The Tigers upset the sixth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers in the 2003 Peach Bowl, 27-14.
Two seasons later, Tigers head football coach Tommy Bowden named Adams as a defensive starter at the beginning of the 2005 NCAA campaign.
Adams did not disappoint. He had 45 combined tackles, 8.5 sacks, and 11.0 passes defended in his redshirt junior season.
Behind Gaines Adams’s emergence, Clemson won eight games in 2005. The Tigers beat the Colorado Buffaloes in the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl, 19-10.
Adams called his high school football coach, Steve Taneyhill, and asked him his thoughts on declaring for the 2006 NFL Draft.
Taneyill then asked Adams what his plans were after he retired from pro football. The latter told him he wanted to become a part of his coaching staff.
Taneyhill told Adams he needed to earn his college degree in order for that scenario to happen.
With that, Adams decided to return for his senior season with the Tigers in 2006.
One of Adams’s most memorable games was the Week 6 game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on October 7, 2006.
With the Tigers behind 17-3 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Demon Deacons attempted a 42-yard field goal.
Unfortunately, Wake Forest’s sloppy execution made it impossible for sophomore kicker Sam Swank to even make an attempt.
The holder, Jon Temple, then recovered the loose ball. Adams then slammed into Temple, who lost possession of the football.
Adams recovered the pigskin and rumbled 66 yards the other way for a special teams touchdown.
Adams’s heroics sparked Clemson’s fourth-quarter comeback. The Tigers scored 24 unanswered points on their way to an improbable 27-17 victory.
Adams’s special teams touchdown eventually became one of ESPN’s top plays of 2006.
Getting Ready for a Pro Career
Clemson finished with an 8-5 win-loss record at the end of Adams’s senior season.
Regrettably, the Tigers lost to the Kentucky Wildcats in the 2006 Music City Bowl, 28-20.
Despite the crushing defeat, Adams earned his bachelor’s degree in December 2006. He had taken that crucial first step in becoming a football coach once he retired from the gridiron.
That, in a nutshell, was the influence of his mentor, Steve Taneyhill.
“He helped me out a lot,” Adams told The Associated Press‘s Pete Iacobelli (via GoUpstate.com) in the summer of 2006. “Every time I see him, I thank him for what he’s done for me.”
Adams made an indelible mark on Clemson Tigers program history. He finished his four-year stint with a school record of 28 sacks. He had as many sacks as former Clemson Tigers defensive lineman Michael Dean Perry.
Adams also had six forced fumbles, two blocked kicks, and 21 pass deflections during his four-year stint for good measure.
To nobody’s surprise, Adams won the 2006 ACC Defensive Player of the Year honor. He also became a Unanimous All-American and First-Team All-SEC selection that year.
Adams was also a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award and the Ted Hendricks Award following his senior at Clemson.
Gaines Adams overcame obscurity to become one of the best pass rushers in the SEC.
He was primed to become an elite pass rusher with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears in the next phase of his gridiron journey.
Unfortunately, Adams’s life would tragically be cut short in the prime of his pro football career.
Pro Football Career
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Gaines Adams with the fourth overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft.
Adams followed Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, and Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas in the draft order.
According to the Buccaneers’ official website, Adams was the highest pick among the franchise’s defensive players since 1990.
The Bucs selected former Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Keith McCants fourth overall that year.
It was also the first time Tampa Bay used its first selection in the draft on a defensive player since 1976.
The Buccaneers made eventual Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon the first overall pick of that year’s draft.
The Bucs signed Adams to a six-year, $46 million contract in the summer of 2007. The deal included $18.6 million in guaranteed money.
Tampa Bay loved Adams’s explosiveness off the line of scrimmage. He also can change directions quickly and smoothly.
The 6’5″, 258-lb. Adams made excellent use of his height and huge wingspan to break up passes and prevent pass blockers from latching onto him during his college days at Clemson.
Adams made good use of those intangibles in his first two seasons with the Buccaneers.
He suited up in all 32 games and started 24 for Bucs head coach Raheem Morris in 2007 and 2008.
Adams had 12.5 sacks, 110 tackles, and two picks during that two-season time frame.
Tampa Bay averaged nine wins in Adams’s first two pro football seasons. Unfortunately, the Bucs could not get past the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the 2007 NFC Wild Card Game, 24-14.
During Adams’s short, two-year-plus tenure in Tampa Bay, Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris challenged him to rack up double-digit sack numbers. Otherwise, pundits would consider Adams a bust.
Adams took that challenge to heart. He felt he had needed Morris to call him out so he could perform at a higher level.
“In football, you need that,” Adams told ESPN. “Players tend to get in their own element and do things that they want to do. They need to be called out sometimes. He’s the coach. Whatever he says, goes.”
Alas, Gaines did not exceed expectations in the Bucs’ first five games of the 2010 NFL campaign.
He had just one sack, 10 combined tackles, three tackles for loss, two passes defended, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery during that five-game stretch.
The Buccaneers eventually traded Adams to the Chicago Bears for a second-round draft pick on October 16, 2009.
Adams had seven combined tackles, one forced fumble, and two passes defended in 10 games for the Bears in the 2009 NFL season.
Chicago had a below-average 7-9 win-loss record and missed the postseason for the sixth time in the past eight years.
Inspiring Another Tiger
Gaines Adams had developed a close friendship with Clemson Tigers defensive end Da’Quan Bowers over the years.
Adams struck up a short conversation with Bowers after Clemson’s 21-13 win over the Kentucky Wildcats in the 2009 Music City Bowl.
Adams told Bowers he felt the younger player would have a breakout junior season in 2010. If Bowers worked hard enough, he would exceed expectations.
Adams’s prediction came true. Bowers’s 15.5 sacks led all pass rushers in 2010. He won a slew of accolades, including ACC Defensive Player of the Year, the Ted Hendricks Award, and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.
Bowers, who went on to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2011 to 2015, told The Associated Press‘s Pete Iacobelli (via GoUpstate.com) in the fall of 2020 that he considered Adams a “big brother.”
Alas, unspeakable tragedy rocked the football world just one month after Adams’s memorable conversation with Bowers.
Gaines Adams’s Untimely and Tragic Death
Sadly, Gaines Adams passed away on January 17, 2010. He was just 26 years old.
Adams went into cardiac arrest at his residence early that morning. According to an autopsy the Los Angeles Times obtained, Adams had an enlarged heart—a possible precursor to a heart attack.
Investigators ruled out hard drugs as a possible cause of death.
However, a source told the Chicago Tribune‘s David Haugh that Adams’s blood alcohol level was .02 at the time of his death. Toxicology findings also revealed Adams had trace amounts of marijuana (.03) in his blood.
An anonymous doctor confirmed to Haugh those levels of alcohol and marijuana did not play roles in Adams’s cardiac arrest.
The autopsy Haugh obtained showed Adams’s heart weighed 550 grams, which was 200 grams heavier than the average heart.
A source also told the Chicago Tribune both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears believed Adams had no reason to undergo an echocardiogram because he had never displayed any signs or symptoms.
Adams’s longtime girlfriend Charo Slappy told the Chicago Tribune she could not believe a website recorded her frantic 911 call on the morning of his death.
“So it’s just for the world to hear?” Slappy said through her tears. “I just can’t believe they would do stuff like that.”
Slappy was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher for 15 minutes trying to revive Adams, to no avail.
Broken Hearts Left Behind
She told the Chicago Tribune that he was always present whenever she needed something from him. Regrettably, she could not revive him on that fateful day. It was a very painful and tragic moment for her.
Prior to Adams’s untimely death, the couple had discussed their wedding plans. Slappy also had plans to relocate to the Windy City with their son Gaines V during the 2010 NFL season.
Clemson Tigers head football coach Tommy Bowden told Rivals.com that he thought it was Gaines’s dad, Gaines III, who had passed away.
Bowden said he would always remember Adams for his pleasant disposition and patience.
“I will always remember the smile he had on his face and I will always remember his patience,” Bowden said. “To go from eight-man football, to prep school, then to redshirt, he waited his time, but proved it was worth the wait.”
Adams also made a great first impression on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
“He seemed like a very genuine nice man,” Goodell told the Los Angeles Times. “He seemed focused on being a good person, not just an NFL player. “I was always taken with him.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coach Todd Wash echoed Goodell’s sentiments on Adams.
“He was ten times a better person than a football player,” Wash told the Independent Mail‘s Mike Ellis.
Adams left behind Slappy, a son, Gaines V, and a daughter, Avery Michelle.