Ed Tingstad saw the collision through his binoculars and quietly pleaded with his son to get up: "O.K., Mark, time for the next play." When Mark didn't move, Ed turned to his wife sitting next to him, but her seat was empty.
Darlene had already begun making her way to the field. "Every parent scans the field after a play to see if their son is still standing. Mark wasn't," she says. "For a second, I was angry: Wait a second, we were told it was O.K. for him to play. But that passed quickly." By the time she got close enough to talk to Mark, he was able to tell her that he was all right. "I never thought I wouldn't walk," he says. "For some reason I knew the control would come back."
In the hospital emergency room, doctors and nurses cut Tingstad's jersey off, slipped the ear pads out of his helmet and then slowly eased the shell of the helmet off. He was administered an intravenous cortisone steroid solution to keep the traumatized spinal cord from swelling within the canal. The pinching of the cord had caused the skin on his arms to become hypersensitive. His mother caressed his arm to comfort him, but the slightest touch felt like a shock on his electrified skin, so he asked her to stop. The pressure on his skin from the bedsheet alone "felt like there were needles sticking into me," he says.
The X-rays were negative: Tingstad had suffered another episode of temporary quadriplegia, exactly as Torg had anticipated. He was released after three days in the hospital, a cervical collar and some residual tingling down his right arm the only reminders of the tackle in Seattle. And though his condition was essentially unchanged from what it had been four months earlier when he decided to continue playing, Tingstad knew his career was over. "No matter how much I might have wanted to play," he says, "they weren't going to let me—and let's face it, it's not the smart thing to do."
Tingstad has no regrets about playing this season. He is grateful for those nine games and says he would make the same decision again. But his agreeing to quit after the Washington game made this particular medical dilemma easy for everyone else involved. Things could have gotten sticky if Tingstad had insisted on playing in Arizona State's last game, against archrival Arizona. Edinger says that Arizona State would have had to find itself another trainer. Marmie says, "I would be scared to death if they said he could play again." And Harris says he would have told Tingstad, "No, Son, sorry."
What if Tingstad were not a senior, and what if he had realistic hopes of making a career for himself in pro football? How does a school decide when the risks to the student and the university's liability outweigh the student's right to choose and his right to showcase his wares for NFL scouts?
There are no rules for coaches or doctors or administrators to follow in a situation of this kind. While there will inevitably be many people with interests to protect, the student's health should always be the primary one.
Guided by the advice of well-intentioned people, Tingstad finally made the decision to quit, with his head. But his heart may not be as convinced. While he was unable to bring himself to quit last summer, after a second scare his career is finally over. Or is it? If an NFL team should invite him to camp this spring, Tingstad says, "I'm not sure what I would do."