In the instant before McPherson and Bell converged on Samford's Bart Yancey, the quarterback stepped up into the pocket. Bell's shoulder pad struck McPherson just below the front of his right knee. "In one instant, I heard it pop; a millisecond later I was screaming in pain," says McPherson. "I was still going forward, but the back of my right knee was touching the ground."
McPherson had hyperextended the knee and, in the process, severed the popliteal artery, the primary source of blood to the lower leg. Unless blood flow could be restored soon, the tissue in McPherson's lower right leg would die. "I happened to be in the stands that night," says Dr. Lewis Hatten, a vascular surgeon, who in the next 16 days would perform half a dozen operations, mostly arterial grafts, in an effort to reestablish circulation to McPherson's foot. "The injury occurred at about 7:30, I was called at about 10:30, and we restored blood flow an hour later. But sometimes you have a feeling that things are going to be bad from the git-go. It's a devastating injury."
On Nov. 7, McPherson's right leg was amputated just below the knee. Four nights later, as he lay in bed, he talked about the sensation of phantom pain. "I'm feeling my leg right now," he said. "It feels like my toes are touching the bar at the end of the bed."
As his gaze returned to the TV, McPherson said, "What I think about most now is getting up, getting used to my prosthesis and getting on with my life."
Best Case Scenario
New Mexico quarterback Stoney Case is not only the latest gem to be unearthed from the Lobos' QB quarry (predecessors include Terry Stone and Rocky Long), he is also the rarest: a compound of passing and running talent streaked with veins of intellect and competitive spirit. Currently third in the nation in total offense, Case is the only quarterback in Division I-A history to pass for more than 8,000 yards and run for more than 1,000 in a career.
"If I were writing the script I might make him a little faster, but Stoney's the type of guy you'd hope would date your daughter," says New Mexico coach Dennis Franchione. "Our philosophy is to put the ball in number 25's hands."
Though the Lobos' opponents have come to appreciate Case's talents, there was a time when New Mexico was the only school that had any faith in him. After throwing for 29 touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards as a senior in leading Odessa (Texas) Permian to a 16-0 record and the No. 2 ranking in USA Today's final poll, Case was offered a Division I-A scholarship only by New Mexico, then one of the nation's lowliest programs. It wasn't grades that kept schools away—Case graduated with an academic average of 97—but Permian's emphasis on the run somehow cast doubt on its quarterback's talents.
Case, a 6'3" senior, who has a 3.3 GPA as a premed student, probably wouldn't have even received the offer from New Mexico if it hadn't been for television (which also inspired his name—his mother, Sharon, was a big fan of Jack Lord's title character in Stoney Burke). Former Lobo coach Mike Sheppard, now an assistant with the Cleveland Browns, spotted Case at 1:30 a.m. on a replay of Permian's 28-14 defeat of Houston Aldine in the 1989 Texas 5A title game. "He had all the things that make QBs great," says Sheppard. "Leadership, presence, the ability to rally people. The tape ended at 2:30 a.m., and I would have called him right then if it weren't so late."
Five years later Case has become accustomed to fielding late-night calls from reporters and admirers. "You wouldn't believe it," groans one of his roommates, offensive guard Andy Gleason. "At home we call him Phoney Case."