"Then what are you doing in this ambulance?" Headrick said.
"It was just a mistake," said Garrett.
On that ride to the hospital Headrick was, obviously, exaggerating the indestructibility of professional football players. He did it not only because one of his most pleasurable pastimes is kidding rookies, but because Garrett had acquired a reputation for durability in college. Garrett, sitting there on the stretcher, watching Headrick laugh and talk as if a compound fracture of the thumb were no worse than a hangnail, was impressed.
"The thing that has surprised me most about pro football is the general toughness," Garrett says. "It's amazing how hard the pros hit. I got hit hard in college, but the pros hit hard more often, with a high impact. You take a constant beating, and there's this stiff-upper-lip attitude you're supposed to maintain."
In Headrick's own case, the exaggeration was slight. He did, in fact, play an entire game with a cracked vertebra in his neck, an injury he received when a teammate hit him with an elbow during a warmup drill. Before one game in Denver, Headrick slammed a taxicab door on his hand, broke it, casually asked Wayne Rudy for a piece of tape and played the game.
The night before the Chiefs—then the Dallas Texans—played Houston for the American Football League championship in 1962, Headrick indulged himself in his customary feast. He does not eat at all on the day of the game, but on the previous night he sits down to a spread that would founder a troop of Cossacks. This game being in Houston, convenient to Gulf shellfish, he chose to begin his meal with several dozen oysters. Attacking them vigorously, he got a piece of oyster shell lodged in a socket where a tooth had been. He showed up the next morning looking as if he had the mumps. The socket was infected. With each impact, blood squirted from his gums. He couldn't close his mouth. So Headrick played the entire game on defense, and the game went into two overtime periods before the Texans won it on a field goal.
Characteristically, Headrick once had a hemorrhoid operation on a Monday and played against Oakland the following Saturday. "He got off the plane," recalls a teammate, "wearing his rubber doughnut like a hat." In one town Headrick won a panda doll in a twist contest. Tucking the panda under his arm, he wandered into a restaurant where he and another Chief amused themselves by staging a fake fight. The fight seemed so real that the management called the cops. Headrick ran out the door, jumped over a fence and fell down a 40-foot cliff, still clutching his panda. He did not miss a minute on defense in the next game.
One of the rare times Headrick ever incapacitated himself was in Denver a couple of years ago. He blew his nose so hard that he slipped a disk.
"Headrick is fantastic," says Rudy, who was the trainer at SMU before he joined the old Texans seven years ago, at the same time Headrick did. "I never see him during the week. He spends absolutely no time in the training room. But on game day it takes me 40 minutes to get him ready. He has to have his back stretched and his neck rubbed and a dozen other things done to him. Then he'll get his uniform on—he doesn't wear hip pads—and run onto the field, and just as the game is about to start he'll run over to me and say, 'Rudy, tape my ankles.' He'll forget to have it done earlier. Sometimes, he keeps forgetting and plays the whole game without having had his ankles taped. There's nobody like him."
Headrick has a pregame ritual of getting sick. At every game the Chiefs play, Headrick leaves the field early, during the warmups, and rushes for the locker room. A number of other professional football players—Alex Karras, for example—get sick before games, but with Headrick the act has become a ceremony. He doesn't feel right if he neglects it.