There was a great echoing whack when the two lines came together, and the quarterback began to go back very quickly, as though his blockers were losing their individual fights and his only thought was to throw the ball as far and fast as possible. Fifteen yards away, across the blur of red and white, the middle linebacker also was going back very quickly, reading pass, watching for an end or halfback to slip into his zone. He could hear the grunts and the cries and the feet stomping the ground around him as he searched the field for the key that would tell him what to do. Then the middle linebacker saw that the blockers were giving up too easily. Yelling "Screen!" the middle linebacker left his zone and ran toward the place where the blockers were converging.
The play was a screen pass to Houston Fullback Charley Tolar, a tough little man whose running style has been described as looking like a bowling ball bouncing over rocks. Tolar had caught the pass and was starting downfield behind the blockers when the middle linebacker came in from the side, pushed off one block and reached out with one arm to drag Tolar down after a short gain.
There was nothing exceptional about that for the middle linebacker, Sherrill Headrick of the Kansas City Chiefs. He is a good middle linebacker, and he makes those plays as a matter of course. Headrick rolled over, spoke to Tolar, got up, looked at the markers to be sure Houston had not made a first down and trotted to the bench as the special teams went out for the punt.
Breathing hard and sweating in the August night, Headrick walked over to the Kansas City trainer and said, "Hey Wayne, fix this thing up for me, will you?" Headrick held out his left hand. Wayne Rudy stared at it. The thumb hung down at a sickening angle, dangling like a sausage from a hook. Broken bones had burst through the skin. Blood poured down Headrick's wrist. Rudy had been examining the bruised ribs of Mike Garrett, the Kansas City rookie halfback who had won the Heisman Trophy for 1965 at USC, but he turned to Headrick and said, "Come on, Sherrill, we're going to the hospital."
"I didn't come here to go to any hospital," said Headrick. "I came here to get you to fix up my thumb. Yank on the thing and it'll go back into place."
He lifted his bleeding hand into Rudy's face. Garrett wanted to look away but couldn't. Headrick glanced at the scoreboard. "Yank on it, Rudy," he said.
"I'm not going to yank on your thumb," said Rudy.
"All right, then," Headrick said impatiently. "You just grab hold the end of it. Grab it and don't let go."
Rudy took Headrick's thumb at the joint. "You got it?" Headrick said. Rudy nodded, not knowing what Headrick had in mind. Garrett moved in closer to watch. Suddenly Headrick flopped onto his back, pulling down with all his weight while Rudy grasped the thumb. In the lights, sweat shone behind Headrick's helmet mask. Rudy looked down and the bones had gone back into the skin.
"Now put one of those popsicle sticks on it and tape it up," said Headrick. "Hurry."