Before his suicide in 2013, Orbin Love had a clear vision for his son's future. Now on the verge of becoming a high pick in the NFL draft, Jordan Love is fulfilling it.
By Chase Goodbread | Published Feb. 10, 2020
"Whatever, Big O." That's how Orbin Love's fellow police officers would respond any time the Bakersfield PD sergeant told them his son would be a quarterback, and a darned good one.
Not a damned good one, because Orbin Love never cursed. He didn't drink, smoke, use drugs or even -- to anyone's notable recollection -- lose his temper. A doting dad like few others with a pipedream like a million others, Love saw something in his son that nobody else saw. Believed what nobody else believed. A former high school quarterback himself, Love was relegated to running back when he played for Bakersfield College and was determined to see his only boy, Jordan, throw a football better than he ever could.
Whatever, Big O.
Who could blame the doubters?
Jordan was tiny -- just 5-foot-6 and 130 pounds entering high school -- and by his own admission, couldn't throw a lick. His body was better suited for baseball, his skills better suited for basketball, and as a ninth-grader on the Liberty High freshman team, he was a backup quarterback with more confidence catching footballs than throwing them. Only seven years later, he enters the 2020 NFL Draft as one of its top quarterback prospects.
But Orbin Love isn't here to see it.
He committed suicide when Jordan was 14, a death that shocked a community and remains, to some, entirely misunderstood. He didn't get to see the growth spurt that sprouted Jordan to 6-2 as a high school junior, and a year later, to almost 6-4. He didn't get to see Jordan lead the Liberty Patriots to a state semifinal in 2015, or earn a scholarship to Utah State, or compel droves of NFL scouts to drive through the snow-capped mountains of Logan, Utah, to merely watch him practice.
Jordan looks at those accomplishments as gifts he never got to give his dad; gifts of thanks for a father's unbending encouragement, unwavering support, and unyielding belief in something Jordan himself never thought possible until after his dad was gone.
But any number of Bakersfield PD veterans can confirm Orbin Love was right all along -- he had a vision for it all.
And his vision has now become his son's.
The obituary didn't quite follow the typical template. Amid the standard inclusions listing the deceased's passions, survivors and funeral service details, Anna Love added something to her husband's final record rarely seen in obits: cause of death.
"Taken suddenly by a medical demon …"
Depression and suicide are nearly inseparable terms in pop culture; the former always the presumed predicate for the latter. Jordan Love says it's enough for him to know in his heart that his father did not suffer from depression.
But Anna wanted it in print.
"I just wanted the world to know this was not depression," she said of the obituary mention. "And to know that even though people would find out it was suicide, that it was because of the medication. There is no way Orbin Love would've ever considered taking his life. His medicine did this to his mind."
Love took his life, at age 51, in the couple's bedroom with his service weapon on July 13, 2013. Days earlier, his doctor changed his blood pressure medication, and a man known to be unfailingly positive and uplifting to those who knew him suddenly began exhibiting behavior that was bizarre, not depressed. Bizarre enough that, when Orbin didn't show up for one of Jordan's basketball games on the tragic Saturday morning, Anna was compelled to race home and check on him.
Earlier in the week, she'd awakened to 13 missed calls from Orbin's brother, who was concerned that Orbin was unintelligible on a phone conversation in which he went on and on about a pressing need to unnecessarily rip out piping that fed water to the family pool. She would later find the handiest man she'd ever known in the garage, flummoxed by how to separate a spare tire from its mount bracket -- something so simple she knew he could do it blindfolded.
None of it pointed to suicide, but all of it made it obvious that something just wasn't right. But toward the end of the week, his behavior got even more strange. That Friday morning, a little more than 24 hours before Orbin's death, Anna got an odd feeling when she awoke to see him standing over her as she lay in bed.
"He gets this weird, goofy grin, almost like the Joker, and says, 'I just wanted to say good morning,' " Anna recalled. "But it was just off. I told him he was acting strange, and that he didn't need to go to work."
Saturday morning, he sat at the end of the bed with a blank stare and twisted his hands together, unable to complete a sentence, and agreed to schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist. Out of concern that had year-old roots, Anna locked his gun in a lockbox. Later, when he dropped his daughter off at Jordan's basketball game, he drove onto a sidewalk outside the gymnasium to do so. He told her he'd forgotten something at home -- an inhaler for his asthma, she presumed -- and would be right back.
Anna didn't wait for him to come back.
Something was off -- he was never one to miss even a minute of Jordan's games -- so she sped home. At first, she thought he was sleeping on the bed and didn't realize he'd shot himself until she noticed bits of glass on the carpet, the blinds pushed through what had been a sliding glass door, and the gun she had locked up still in his hand. Anna would later learn her husband had a spare key to their lockbox on his keyring. He left no note behind.
MY DARKEST MOMENT WAS DEFINITELY THE DAY IT HAPPENED, JUST HEARING ABOUT IT RIGHT THERE IN THE CAR. I DIDN'T WANT TO BELIEVE IT. JORDAN LOVE
After the game, Jordan and his sister, Alexis, knew something wasn't quite right when their aunt picked them up and drove them to her house instead of theirs. In the driveway, she turned to them and braved the gut-wrenching task of being the first to tell them what had happened. She used straightforward terms, the only ones possible to break the news of a loved one's death.
Jordan opened the car door and immediately fell on the front lawn, sobbing. His father, his friend, his coach, his mentor, his role model and his spiritual beacon, all torn from him in an instant.
"My darkest moment was definitely the day it happened, just hearing about it right there in the car," Jordan said. "I didn't want to believe it."
As a courtesy, the Kern County Sheriff's Department took over the formal handling of Orbin's suicide so that some of his closest friends in the Bakersfield PD wouldn't have to. The entire Bakersfield Police Department dressed in Class A uniforms for funeral services. Then-assistant chief Lyle Martin was unable to give Love full burial honors because, by policy, they are reserved for policemen killed in the line of duty. But Martin wouldn't have his friend buried without any honors, either.
"My stance was that this one act did not negate 26 years of service to this community," said Martin, who retired at the end of 2019. "I had to take the pulse of people in the building, whether they were police officers or clerks or dispatchers, and decisions had to be made quickly. I might've had six hours to sleep on it. I knew we'd get criticized no matter how we handled it, and the chief and I didn't agree on some things, so we did a hybrid as far as burial honors go. In the end, I think we got it right."
Jordan was about 10 when one of the lasting memories of his father was made.
He'd asked his dad to take him out for pancakes on a Saturday morning, but Orbin had to take a quick detour to the BPD, where his peers were starting a 300-pound bench press club as a way to encourage better fitness in the department. With other officers occupying the bench with lighter weight to warm up, Orbin walked in with young Jordan in tow and said he didn't have time to wait - he'd promised his boy a plate of pancakes. His fellow officers stepped aside and watched Orbin press 300 pounds for several reps with ease, and no warm-up. He rose from the bench, waved goodbye and was out the door for what really mattered that day -- time with his son. Jordan was so proud in that moment, it might as well have been him on the bench press -- though he admits he still can't press 300 even today.
At the time, it seemed entirely routine to Jordan that his dad would spend one-on-one time with him over a bottle of maple syrup and involve him in his workplace all in the same morning. But in the wake of Orbin's death, it felt more emblematic of their relationship.
"We went everywhere together," Jordan said.
They were inseparable, and Orbin couldn't have been more hands-on as a father. When it was time to learn how to ride a bike, he duct-taped Jordan's shoes to the pedals. Watching his son compete in youth sports from the bleachers wasn't close enough for Orbin Love, so he frequently volunteered to be an assistant coach on most of Jordan's teams. No matter what the sport, Jordan never needed much of a pre-game warm-up with teammates because Orbin would handle that at home before driving his son to the game. When the police played off-duty pickup basketball, Orbin brought Jordan and threw him into the mix.
"These were grown-man cops, and I'm this little kid, and they didn't take it easy on me," Jordan said.
At the time of Orbin's suicide, Jordan still had yet to learn almost everything there is to know about playing quarterback. Since then, a string of coaches worked with him to build the foundational mechanics of footwork and delivery, his ability to read defenses, and pretty much all the skills that have carried him to the brink of the NFL draft's green room.
But it was Orbin's love and influence that gave Jordan the lasting motivation to see all that through. And when it came time to announce his decision to leave Utah State with a year of NCAA eligibility remaining to enter the draft, Love made specific mention of his father's role in his arrival as a first-round talent.
"I want to thank everyone who has helped me get to this point in my life, including my mom and my dad," Jordan wrote on Twitter last December, officially declaring for the draft "Words cannot express how grateful I am for your love and continued support."
On the western edge of the Bear River Mountain range, about 80 miles north of Salt Lake City, the tiny town of Logan, Utah, bundles up for another winter. Annually ranked as one of America's safest cities, the quaint and quiet home of Utah State proved to be the ideal setting for Jordan Love's college football career. It's covered with December snow and ice, and even inside the Laub Athletics-Academics Complex, Love and his teammates mill about before a workout in full-length sweat gear. He walks into an Aggies team meeting room overlooking the north end zone of Merlin Olsen Field having already played his last home game there but is still a few days away from announcing his draft intentions.
Jordan speaks of his father's death with a matter-of-fact frankness. For Love, knowing his father didn't suffer the profound sadness associated with depression has been ointment for a wound that seems largely healed.
"If you knew him, he was the happiest dude you would ever see. He was always smiling. Even if things in his life got him down, he never showed that," Love said. "Our family knew it was the medication messing with his head, not acting like himself, not acting right. If people make assumptions about depression that aren't right, there's nothing that can be done about that. It's good enough for me to know it was the medication. As long as I know, I'm good with it."
After Orbin's death, the family's effort to return to some semblance of normalcy began immediately. Rather than staying with friends or elsewhere, they slept in the family home the very night Orbin died, and hosted extended family there in the following days with the master bedroom where the suicide took place closed off.
IF PEOPLE MAKE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT DEPRESSION THAT AREN'T RIGHT, THERE'S NOTHING THAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT THAT. IT'S GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME TO KNOW IT WAS THE MEDICATION. AS LONG AS I KNOW, I'M GOOD WITH IT. JORDAN LOVE
It's still the family home today.
Jordan declined his mother's offers for professional therapy and decided to tackle his grief mostly alone. Orbin had also been a youth pastor at Fellowship Baptist Church, and other pastors who knew the family recognized Jordan's independent way of coping.
"I had an extensive background in grief counseling, and Jordan was very quiet at that time. I'd mention things to him here and there about grief and coping skills, but I didn't want to overstep with his mom," said Fellowship Baptist Pastor Ron Harvey. "I think he was appreciative of it, but there weren't a lot of questions from his end. He kept most of his feelings internal."
A couple weeks after the funeral, just before fall football practice at Liberty High was set to begin, Jordan's grief surfaced while sitting in a car with his mother.
"I want to quit football," he told her.
Orbin believed in his son's ability to play quarterback more than Jordan believed in himself at the time.
Whatever, Big O.
With his father gone, Jordan was left to grapple with only his own assessment -- that basketball, not football, was his true athletic love and his best option of the two sports. Were it not for Anna Love's response, there would be one less quarterback in the upcoming draft. Not wanting him to make the decision while riding the emotions of a freshly tragic episode, she implored him to stick with football just for the year ahead -- a JV season as a 10th-grader -- and that if he still wanted to quit the sport after that, he could walk away.
He never did.
"I end up winning the starting job on the JV team, started throwing a little better, started getting a little confidence," Jordan said. "By the end of that season, I was thinking, 'I can really do this.' "
Just weeks from retirement, Anna Love climbs into her California Highway Patrol Ford Explorer and begins driving one of her final patrols after 27 years in law enforcement -- roughly the same length of police service Orbin gave to his community. On a lazy December day in Bakersfield, two hours north of Los Angeles, she makes no arrests and issues no tickets while mostly traversing the west side of town.
It's a quiet morning for anyone carrying a gun and a badge.
The closest she comes to stopping is to slow down beside an open field long enough to ensure that a citizen's controlled burn is, indeed, controlled. With only the squawk of a radio dispatcher occasionally interrupting her, she reveals with steel-trap recall a primary reason her family is convinced that the wrong blood pressure medication took her husband: because it knocked him off mental balance not once, but twice.
In the summer of 2012, about a year before his suicide, his medication was changed in response to an elevated BP reading at a routine doctor's visit. Within days, he was exhibiting some of the very same abnormal behaviors that he displayed a year later in the week leading up to his death.
He sat on the end of the bed breathing heavily and twisting his hands together, rocking back and forth, unable to explain why, just as he would do a year later. He walked through the house in his underwear, something he'd not done with the kids in the house in 16 years of marriage, in a state that Anna described as catatonic. He walked to the kitchen and stopped where the countertops adjoined in a corner, rubbing his hands together again, and stared blankly into the cabinetry for several minutes.
Concerned, Anna called Joe Aldana, Orbin's supervisor in the Bakersfield PD, who came to the house immediately. By the time Aldana arrived, Orbin had locked himself behind a master bathroom door that separated the toilet from the rest of the bathroom.
"I heard this clinking sound on the porcelain, like metal, and I thought he had a gun with him in there, but Anna told me she (had just) locked it away," Aldana said.
After 10 minutes, Aldana persuaded his fellow officer to open the door. He'd locked himself in with a large butcher knife, and the clinking sound was Orbin unsuccessfully trying to hide it in the toilet tank. Anna then realized her knife block was in the very corner of the kitchen where Orbin had been standing earlier, and Orbin had taken the largest knife in the block into the seclusion of a locked toilet room. He didn't hurt himself, but the incident was harrowing enough to be formally classified as a suicide attempt.
He was immediately taken to Bakersfield's Mary K. Shell Mental Health Center for an evaluation and was committed to a week at the Good Samaritan treatment facility, where he was put back on his old blood pressure medication. By week's end, he exited the facility with perfectly normal behavior. He was cleared for return to full police duty in a matter of weeks, was weaned off psychiatric prescriptions with no problems, and required outpatient visits to a psychiatrist tapered off without a hitch.
When he allowed his doctor to change his blood pressure medication again a year later, about a week before he shot himself, he didn't immediately mention the change to his wife.
Anna Love declined to specifically name which medications her husband was taking but confirmed the new prescription he received in 2012 was different than the one his doctor had him change to in the summer of 2013. Both, however, were in the category of beta-blockers, one of 11 types of blood pressure medication, according to heart.org. Studies have shown that some types of blood pressure medication, including beta-blockers, can cause mood disorders. Other types have been linked to increased suicide rates but without establishing the medicine as a direct cause. Having seen her normal, life-loving husband's psyche careen out of control just days after a change in medication not once, but twice, nothing can convince Anna that it isn't to blame.
"From what I knew of the man, that's the only thing that fits," said retired Bakersfield cop Tony Mosley, who worked most of his 25-year career with Orbin. "And I'm not trying to get a pharmaceutical company sued, but I'm telling you, this shouldn't have happened."
Jordan and his siblings didn't learn full details of the 2012 episode until after Orbin's death in 2013. But learning a medication change altered his father's behavior a year before he died in the same way it did before the tragedy of his suicide is something Jordan can cling to. It's part of the bedrock that helps him cope.
"It just goes to prove it wasn't like him to do what he did," Jordan said.