Last summer Erik Kramer purchased a gun at a store in Simi Valley, Calif., a SIG Sauer 9mm that he received after filling out some paperwork and waiting the required 10 days. He’d enjoyed fishing, but had never hunted. He was so unsure of his marksmanship that he showed up at a range near his home in Agoura Hills, Calif., just to practice. He recognized the irony: Here I am squinting to shoot at targets far away, when I’m really preparing to close my eyes and use this gun for the shortest distance possible.

On Aug. 18, 2015, Kramer left home carrying his gun. Smirking at the name, he checked into a $74-a-night second floor room at the nearby Good Nite Inn in Calabasas, a joint he’d passed countless times before when driving on and off Ventura Freeway. He had written a suicide note—several, in fact—but they were more pragmatic than emotional. A quarterback till the end—he was an NFL signal-caller for 10 seasons before retiring in 1999—Kramer had game-planned everything, explaining that he’d paid various bills and dealt with assorted paperwork, set aside one check to someday pay for the wedding of his 17-year-old son Dylan.

Once he had eaten dinner and was confident his affairs were order, he climbed into bed. As the sun was setting, he raised his right hand, the same one that had propelled a football more than 15,000 yards in the NFL. At age 50, in what he assumed would be his final act, he squeezed the trigger.

And misfired. It was—happily, he’s quick to point out—the equivalent of an incompletion. The bullet rocketed through Kramer’s chin, cleaved his tongue and sinus cavities before exiting through the top of his head, managing to miss most of his brain. Kramer would spend months in hospitals, addressing his traumatic brain injury and recovering from various cranial surgeries. He still speaks haltingly on account of the hole in his tongue. But he survived.