The Road Back (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday December 11, 2007 8:38AM; Updated: Tuesday December 11, 2007 4:08PM
He enrolled at Miami for the spring semester in 2003 and played two seasons at tight end on a Hurricanes team that was ludicrously deep -- Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow, Frank Gore, Jonathan Vilma, Devin Hester -- and typically bombastic. "I met some flamboyant, cocky guys," says Everett, laughing at the memory. He took mental notes on talking smack and backed down from no one. "When he brought passion to practice, people did not mess with Kevin," says Rob Chudzinski, who recruited Everett and subsequently coached him as a Miami assistant before moving to the Cleveland Browns in 2004. "Over time he became one of the toughest kids we had at Miami."
Everett was selected by the Bills in the third round of the 2005 NFL draft. He missed his rookie year with a torn left ACL but in 2006 contributed on special teams before working his way into the tight end rotation this year. "You know what?" says Everett now. "They even put in a tight end screen." His career stretched out in front of him, a dream made real.
Just past 2:30 p.m. on the second Sunday in September, Bills kicker Rian Lindell teed up the football at his 30-yard line and paced back, ready to commence the second half of the season opener. The first player to Lindell's right was Everett -- position R5 in special teams nomenclature. He wore number 85 on his blue jersey, and in the first half, as the starting tight end, he'd caught the second pass of his NFL career, a three-yard completion from J.P. Losman. The Bills led 7-6 as Lindell's kick floated to the goal line, outside the hash marks, where it was gathered in by the Broncos' Domenik Hixon.
In kick coverage Everett was a wedge buster, a player who lines up in the middle of the field, sprints more than 50 yards and propels himself into the cluster of blockers gathered tightly in front of the return man. Wedge-busting is ferocious, demanding work; Everett was good at it. On this kick, however, he wasn't blocked at any point on the field. Just outside the Denver 20-yard line, he slipped to the right of the wedge. "They just didn't block me," says Everett. "I don't know why. I remember right before the hit, I looked over and saw [teammate] Sam Aiken. He's a wide receiver, and I beat him down [the field]. I was thinking, Man, Sam's late."
As Hixon started upfield, he angled toward the middle. Just past the 15-yard line he planted his right foot and prepared to cut outside, to his left. As he made the move, Everett arrived, shoulders squared, his body in an athletic crouch. Just before impact, Everett bent his upper body forward; Hixon dropped his upper body. The players collided violently, the crown of Everett's helmet meeting the side of Hixon's. "I've seen the play so many times, and it was the timing of it," says Everett. "I did the same thing I would do every time running down on kickoff team, got low to put my pads under his, and this one time he lowered his helmet."
Hixon was driven sideways by the blow, staggering to his right, where Aiken finished the tackle. Everett never saw that. "My body went numb instantly," he says. "I thought he kept going because it felt like he ran smack over me."
Everett's body went limp, and he crashed to the artificial turf, flat on his stomach, his head turned to the right. He was motionless except for a momentary twitch of his head and neck as he tried to lift his paralyzed body off the ground with the only muscles in his body still firing.
Fifty yards from Everett, on the Buffalo sideline, stood Andrew Cappuccino, 45, an orthopedic surgeon with specialty training in disorders of the spine and for 13 years a member of the Bills' staff under the team's medical director, John Marzo. Eleven days earlier, on Aug. 29, Marzo and head trainer Bud Carpenter had led a 1 1/2-hour spinal cord injury refresher drill at the Bills' field house in Orchard Park, N.Y. Cappuccino had nearly begged off -- "I told Bud, 'That scenario is never going to happen,' " recalls Cappuccino, who'd yet to encounter a spinal cord injury at a Bills game in his time with the team -- but Carpenter insisted. Now that drill would form the foundation for the seminal moment in Cappuccino's career. And in Everett's life.