"I can't tip my head back at all," says Stanfill, an avid bird hunter, "so I can't shoot dove anymore. I feel like I swallowed a Viagra pill and it got stuck in my throat. My neck is stiff as hell. The neurosurgeons have told me that if another disk goes [in my cervical spine], I will be totally disabled."
Stanfill was an old-fashioned football gladiator, a 6'5�", 255-pound country boy who won the Outland Trophy, as the college game's best interior lineman, in his senior year at Georgia; helped Miami win two Super Bowls, after the 1972 and '73 seasons; and was named to four Pro Bowls. He relished the battle in the trenches, mano a mano. "All I wanted to do was play," he says.
All those wars left all those scars, however, and not only to his spine. In late January, while sitting next to the fireplace in his five-bedroom redbrick house outside Albany, Ga., Stanfill pointed out a glass jar sitting on the mantel. At the bottom of the jar, immersed in a clear solution, was a mysterious white ball. "I'm gonna see if I can donate it for auction," he said. " 'Who wants a niece of Bill Stanfill?' That's part of me. The price I paid for playing pro football."
It was the ball of his left hip, and it had been sawed off his skeleton three weeks earlier. Stanfill had been suffering from avascular necrosis (AVN)—in which blood circulation is cut off to the hip bone, causing it to die—because of repeated trauma and, possibly, repeated injection of the anti-inflammatory drug cortisone when he was in pro ball. ("I was like a pincushion," he says.) Stanfill sells agricultural real estate, but he has worked little since March 2000, when a disk in his lower back ruptured. Doctors have told him that his right hip also has AVN and will have to be replaced.
Stanfill's football days have left him a physical wreck, making him wonder what his life will be like in five years. Still, he expresses neither rancor nor self-pity. "Just wish I'd made some of the money they're making today," he says wryly. "It would make this a lot easier to live with."
Earl Campbell has a dazzling assortment of rings that were given to him in honor of his storied accomplishments as a college and pro running back: the Heisman Trophy ring, the NFL Rookie of the Year ring, one MVP ring (though he was MVP three times) and the NFL Hall of Fame ring, but he wears none of them because of arthritis in both his hands, the ones that he used to push away pursuing tacklers. " Jim Brown and I were the best at the stiff-arm," says Campbell. "Now I can barely close my left fist—the arthritis and the soreness and the pain."
Campbell was a complete force as a running back, fast enough to turn the corner and race upfield, strong enough to crash through the line. He always seemed to be running out of his clothes; it was as if he invented the tear-away jersey. The abiding memory of Campbell is that of a man charging down the field with three defenders clinging to his back. It was easy to imagine him in the end zone dressed in nothing more than his jockstrap and shoulder pads, standing there with a quizzical smile on his face and various large bodies scattered behind him, each clutching a remnant of his uniform. As his Houston Oilers coach, Bum Phillips, said, " Earl Campbell may not be in a class by himself, but whatever class he's in, it doesn't take long to call roll."
Now 46 and the owner of a barbecue restaurant and a sausage-making business in Austin, Campbell winces at more than his swollen digits. His knees and back ache ceaselessly. He also has a condition called drop foot: As a result of nerve damage to his legs, he cannot raise the front of his feet when he lifts them off the ground to take a step. The feet flop along loosely when he walks. To use the bathroom upstairs from his home office, Campbell—unable to grip with his hands or bend his knees—must lean his forearms on the railings and drag himself up the eight or 10 steps. The process is as painful to watch as it must be for Campbell to complete.
"I realize that every time you get something in life, you've got to give up something," he says. He likes to hunt deer and wild boar in south Texas, and he is reminded of what he gave the game whenever he is home on the range. "Sometimes it gets to the point that I can't stand the pain, like when I've got to walk a lot," he says. "Thank God I'm with people who understand me: 'Take all the time you need.' It's embarrassing when I've got to hop onto the back of a pickup and I need help. Or I need help climbing into deer blinds.
"Sometimes I tell my wife, 'Shoot, if I knew it was going to hurt like this, I don't know if I'd have [played football].' It's a hell of a price to pay."