I would have never thought in 1985 when I signed my first Pro contract that I would be sitting here on Myspace in 2007 complaining about my life's worst adventure.
I had just signed a multi-year contract for 2.5 million dollars, which included a $ 250,000. on site signing bonus. I thought I was getting myself set for life, or at least set for 40 odd years. I was 25, and thought I had the world ahead of me, and could dream on any star in the night's sky.
Little did I know what would happen 3 short years later would turn my fairy tale into a nightmare. I was a third round pick in the draft, one of the first 100 player picked by the teams. But, I felt like I was dishonored by my hometown team one pick earlier. They had called and expressed a deep interest in signing and drafting me. But they passed on me for a Offensive Lineman that didn't make the team out of preseason camp.
I would not have looked any better with a winking pirate on my helmet than a horseshoe, but the fact was I would have had familiar faces in the stands, and a better support group when things went south.
I had a pretty good 3 years until that home game in November 1987. They had a second down and 15 yards to go for a first down. I was in man to man coverage with a slick rookie wideout from the University of Tenneesse on my side of the hashmarks who could not outrun me. He could however, deke me inot over committing at times with a hip roll or shoulder bob. He had only beat me once that day for 5 yards and knew I could hit like a locomotive if I got some steam up before hitting him.
I felt like the next one was going to send a violent message to him.
He started off the line faking a curl pattern, before stopping and pivoted to run a inside post route. I did not bite on it and was in a great position to intercept or punish him if the QB made the throw.
I hit him as the ball came to his hands, and somehow got my right mit in there to push the ball out of his grasp.A great cover play, but the end result was not a triumph in any measure of the word.
I came down between an Astroturf seam on the field. These seams could cut you like a knife, and being the first edition of turf developed, had seams that sometimes moved and got bigger during a game. During this play, my chinstrap caught in the seam somehow and it jerk my head to the side like pulling in a calf with a rope..
To make matters worse, A fellow corner and our safety were helping me take down this reciever and added to the force. That was a combined 3 players worth of forward motion and force steaming full speed into the falling pile of football players. It is the defenses' job to dish out justice.
My chinstrap was caught in the seam and jerked my head around to where I thought I saw the name on the back of my jersey. During this, my helmet stayed in the seam area and the full force of all of us hitting the turf rested on my neck and shoulder area.
I instantly felt a pain that I can not even put into words today. It was like a bolt of eletricity had burned into my skin and gone to the bone. It felt like a melting of my skin and muscles to an intense reverb from it exiting my body.
I instantly fell under the wide out, and I felt a uneasy and tingly feeling that I knew was not about the great hit, or the impending crash to the turf. My helmet was 3 yards to the east of me still caught in the turf seam. My head was pounding and spinning and I felt like I only had a slight concussion or lost the wind in my lungs.
I laid there for a few moments and thought I was getting up from the turf.
I never got up off that turf that day. I instantly felt the sharp and electric pain again going down my arms and legs to spike at my fingertips and toes.
The trainers did not even try to move me. There were a protruding set of telltale bumps on my neck above my shoulders that pulsed with my hearbeats and sent a weird pulse of pain down my body. I was in a neck collar, taped to a board and off the turf in a matter of minutes.
You can't keep the players standing around getting cold. Got to let their minds be on the game, not on a mortality of the cripple on the turf.
Yeah,I know, I used the "C" word.
It was not until I saw the team doctor not look me in the eye that I knew it was bad. I could see out of the corner of my eyes, the cherrleader with a hand to her mouth, and my defensive guys not looking at me.
I had one player, QB Mike Pagel say something to me. He said," We need you back as soon as possible. Hits like that keep us in these games."
We were not a winning team that year. Only in the past 10 years has the sprit and tradition of those blue and white uniforms come back to the elite forefront of the game.
I did not hear anyone else say anything to me. He was the last member of my team I heard from for some time.
I was hysterical on the cart and in the ambulance. I was put under with a sedative because I was frantically trying to move my lower body. My hands and feet did not move, but my torso was wrecking havoc on the straps holding me down.
When I got to the ER, I was still in my game gear. The ER nurses' and interns seemed to strip my body of the gear in seconds. I could never of gotten that stuff off that fast myself.
I just laid there almost naked for the world to see. I still could not move my arms or legs. It was not because of the straps, they were now gone with the gurney back into the ambulance. I was given another IV and I dozed off as they worked on me.
I awoke 16 hours later in a room with a few people I did not know. No one close to me was there.
I awoke with an unusual contraption on my head. I had been given a halo for my head, but not the angel's kind. I had these srews in the temples and was in a transendental state of motion feeling more robotic than human.
I had almost completely crushed the lower C discs in my spine above my shoulder blades. I got lucky that my helmet was not tight on my chin or I would be either not be fitted for wings or a pitchfork.
The doctor said it was a slight fraction of an inch either way and the result would not be to my liking. I had a DNR letter in my contract paperwork that said if I did not have the full use of my facilities, to not save my sorry butt.
The team did not deliver this to the hositpal, and they proceeded to work on me right away that night. With the swelling and the proluding disc in my neck, I had a 40 percent chance of full recovery.
I did the thing you would expect at that moment and cursed anything and anyone within hearing range. I forbide my friends to either come in and comfort or pity me in my state. I got cards and letters from fans and the team wishing for a speedy recovery. I even got a card from the rookie wideout.
Seriously, a player can not see another player like that. It ruins the inner fiber of being the machine and feeling invincible on game day. I could, and would not let another player see me until I could hit the ground running on my own.
I got the feeling back in my fingers and legs about 2 days later. The nerve was damaged,but the human body seems to heal those who have the will and determination at times. I do not mean to dismiss or even patronize anyone who can not get back to their old selves after an accident. I felt blessed and honored at that time to be able to feel my extremities, and knew the road had just started to some type of recovery.
I stayed up there for another 6 months doing the pool and weights for the PT people. I gained full mobility again and was told that after the swelling went down, two of the discs popped back into place, but the last one was forever damaged and I would feel its effects at times. to this day, if I try and pop my neck to the side, it sounds like a popcorn machine in my head.
These effects were a small thing compared to the pain and uncertainty those first 3 weeks. I got into a recovery training routine and was excited to try and to play again.
The only problem was, spinal situations in 1986 were not like todays' surgeries. There was a 60 percent chance if I hit my neck like that again, I could be in a chair or worse upon impact, and a 80 percent chance if I hit the disc on anything hard.
With that, I did not retire because I wanted to, but because I felt my future family deserved a healthy Dad who could play and frolic with the kids.
I had been a jock for 24 years at that point, since my teens, and I did not know anything else but sports. I did graduate college and even some law school, but my life was in constant turmoil during that time.
I had no direction and spent my money like it was water. I applied for disability payments from the league, but since I was only an active player for 3 years, I had no pension or disability claims. A player with 5 years active experience can get a modest pension and medical benefits.
Unlike the late 80's, the league today has ongoing studies and research into head and spinal injuries. I was once proud that I had over 20 concussions in the span of all those years and could still read a stock market portfolio and use a phone. I have since learned the real truth about those head injuries, and I still have effects to this day of their delayed reactions. Memories are dull and forgotten at times. But I would do it again if asked for the glory of the game.
In those days, the league did not make you attend 3 day seminars on personal finance or security. You did not have super agents who cried "foul" at the drop of a hat. I would not have drawn that type of attention to myself anyways, I did my own contract and knew the provisions by heart.
I pretty much lost everything fast. Took care of family and bills, did a few great vacations involving baseball, and gave alot to some great friends and charities. I have no regrets or planned "do overs."
I lived a great life in those days and loved the attention and adolation. I might not have been an angel, but I was never in the paper for doing the wrong things, or even with the wrong crowds.
I feel blessed to still be here. This was written for a cleansing for myself. I have never written about it since that day. I thought I needed to put it down in case something even happened to me because my daughters' have never heard of known about this part of my life. They were not even born during my career, and I have not had the time or energy to relive it again with them. I hope to some day.
My current love thinks I am a wuss and I fuss over small illnesses. I might, and I do, but it is only because the last big illness/accident almost cost me not meeting her in this life.
So this was my way of cleaning my soul, of opening up without words verbally. There will be more on here in the future about other accidents and adventures in my life. I feel a few demons trying to get out of me and it seems like a blog might be the best exorcisim in town.