I don't want to
identify the major college I was affiliated with. Identifying it could hurt its
football program, and unfairly. It's not hard to envision rival recruiters
showing copies of an article like this to a high school star and his parents
and saying, "Now, ma'am, you don't want to send your boy to a school where
the coaches treat folks like that, do you?" Yet the coaches there show as
much concern as any about their players, and more than most.
In preseason we
were running a game-type scrimmage inside our huge empty stadium, referees and
all. A wide receiver runs an out. The quarterback ducks a rushing linebacker
and starts to run, is chased, crosses the line of scrimmage. The receiver's
eyes gleam, a pursuing defensive tackle all picked out, and he sets himself to
unload a blind-side shot. Except it isn't blind side. The defensive tackle sees
him coming and—WHAM!—the receiver goes down, stumbles to his feet, goes down
again and stays. Out run the trainers. Out runs a substitute receiver. The boy
went down in front of the defensive bench. The defensive coaches ignore him.
Hell, he's a receiver. He's not one of theirs. The offensive coaches are
huddled, engrossed in play selection. The trainers help the boy off the
The head coach
approaches the offensive coaches, beckons one of them closer.
ever," he says, "don't you ever let a boy lie on the ground again
without a coach going over to him."
The season started
and the team was doing well, winning games and staying pretty healthy. One
starter did get hurt, though, and had to have his knee operated on, for the
third time. He'd have been a pro prospect but for those operations. A couple of
days after the surgery we were playing a night game at home. I knew no players
would visit him that day—on game days the players had to stay in the athletic
dorm for meetings and taping and eating and just being together. I thought the
player would feel like the forgotten man, so in the afternoon, when I had
nothing to do really but watch whatever game was on TV, I decided to visit him
myself. Another visitor was there when I arrived. The head coach. You wouldn't
catch many head coaches out visiting a player, except maybe a high school
All-America, the day of a game. I always liked that man.
When I think of
football injuries I like to think of incidents like that. And to forget a day I
can't forget. I was coaching club football at a small college, very small-time
football. But for our level the team was excellent. Even though it was
November, we had not lost a game. Naturally the team we were playing was up,
whooping and hollering and jumping up and down on each other's toes and in
general doing all sorts of carrying-on before the game. We went through our
warmups with a minimum of screeching, poised as always. The other team was
screaming louder than ever at the opening kickoff, on which our 200-pound
return man took the ball out to about the 30, near our sideline. I saw the hit
that brought him down. It was not a particularly hard tackle, but the other
team shouted, "Good stick! Good stick!" just the same, and a couple of
their players hustled over to pat the tackier as he got up. Except he didn't
get up. He had gone down.
Our trainer was
out there, with his coaches, talking to him.
Chrissakes," I was thinking. "Get up, kid."
Our head coach
came over to me. "Really playing the role out there, huh?"