Donald ‘Reche’ Caldwell died Saturday night after being shot by multiple assailants in Tampa. The six-year former NFL wide receiver was 41.
Tampa police said the murder “does not appear to be a random act.” The shooting took place just before 11:00 p.m. Eastern. Officers arrived on the scene and provided aid until a fire-rescue team arrived to take Caldwell to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Caldwell was a star player at Tampa Jefferson High School and the University of Florida before becoming the No. 48 overall pick by the San Diego Chargers in the 2002 NFL Draft.
Caldwell was the Florida Class 5A Player of the Year as a junior after leading his team to the state semifinals in 1996. He was a second-team All-State selection in 1997.
Caldwell also starred in baseball at Jefferson High. According to the Tampa Bay Times, he owns five schools records, including most career doubles (25), triples (six), steals (67) and runs scored (76). That’s a prep program that was also attended by former MLB players like Fred McGriff, Tino Martinez and Luis Gonzalez.
The Cincinnati Reds drafted Caldwell in 1998, but he stuck with his football commitment to UF and Steve Spurrier’s program. After playing quarterback in high school, Caldwell wanted to move to WR where he thought he’d have a better chance at making it to the NFL.
Rex Grossman, who finished second in voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2001, racked up monster numbers throwing to Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney. Grossman tweeted for the first time in 10 months and only the third time since 2016 upon hearing of his former teammate’s death:
As a junior in 2001, Caldwell had 65 catches for 1,059 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was a second-team All-SEC choice and a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award.
Caldwell is eighth in career receptions at Florida with 141. His collegiate career ended with 2,088 receiving yards and 18 TD catches.
“I hated to hear that,” Spurrier told Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun. “He had no problems when he was with us at Florida. He and Jabar Gaffney and Taylor Jacobs, they were about as good as Ike (Hilliard), Reidel (Anthony) and Quezzie (Jacquez Green) during those 1995 and ’96 years.
“It’s sad to hear.”
Jacobs told the Sun’s Dooley, “I’m really still trying to process it. He was a great guy, a great friend. It’s just so sad. My heart goes out to the family. I’m at a loss for words.”
His younger brother, Andre ‘Bubba’ Caldwell, played for the Gators from 2003-2007 and was a third-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Caldwell played for the Chargers from 2002-2005. He was signed by the New England Patriots in 2006 and enjoyed his best season as a pro.
Caldwell doubled his previous season highs for receptions (28) and receiving yards (352) by catching 61 balls for 760 yards and four TDs in 16 regular-season games (14 starts).
In a 37-16 home win over the New York Jets in the Wild-Card round, Caldwell had five catches for 50 yards. Then in San Diego against his former team in the AFC semifinals, Tom Brady found Caldwell for a four-yard TD pass to tie the game at 21-21 with 4:36 remaining.
With 1:10 left, Stephen Gostkowski’s 31-yard field goal proved to be the game-winning points in a 24-21 victory.
However, things didn’t go well for Caldwell at Indianapolis in the AFC Championship Game. The Colts rallied from a 21-3 deficit to win a 38-34 thriller.
Caldwell had four receptions for 46 yards, but he had two costly drops in the second half. Here’s one of them on YouTube.
Caldwell only played one more season in the NFL. He finished his pro career with 152 catches for 1,851 yards and 11 TDs.
The drops in Indianapolis never left his mind, though. In an ESPN The Magazine feature in May of 2016, his brother Bubba told David Fleming, “He heard all the jokes and criticisms, and it broke his heart. The way the game kicked him to the curb like an unwanted stepchild hurt him mentally and haunted him.”
In 2015, Caldwell was sent to a minimum-security prison in Montgomery, Alabama, for a 27-month bid after he was arrested four times during a 10-month span in 2014 and ’15. The most serious charges were for running an illegal gambling house and attempting to import and distribute MDMA (Molly or ecstasy).
Caldwell told ESPN that an FBI agent from Boston knew who he was during an interrogation and said,“‘You’re that guy who cost Tommy anudda Soupa Bowl,’” Caldwell imitated.
Caldwell added, “What else can I do? It’s not like I was trying to drop those passes.”
A CBS Boston report by Michael Hurley from 2016 defended Caldwell for the blame he took for the infamous game against the Colts. Hurley pointed out how the Patriots still scored a TD on the drive when he dropped the first pass, and they still scored a go-ahead field goal after the second.
Caldwell got into more trouble this past December when he was one of a slew of former NFL players that were charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud. He pleaded guilty in January and was due to be sentenced in August.
Tom Brady paid homage to Caldwell on his Instagram account Sunday:
Bill Belichick, Ben Watson and the Patriots also paid their respects:
None of Caldwell’s crimes were of a violent nature. He was a good dude who just made some knucklehead mistakes that he owned.
He told ESPN in 2016, “I’m not gonna blame football or concussions like everybody else for my mistakes. I don’t blame my education or my hometown or my family. I have a great family. I had a great childhood. I grew up in a great place. This is about losing my way, being around bad people and making bad choices, and that’s all on me.”
If anyone has information on Caldwell’s murder, they can call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-TIPS (8477).
RIP: Reche Caldwell (1979-2020)