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IT'S ALL A PART OF THE GAME
John M. Barry
October 06, 1975
A man who has played football and coached it offers some personal reflections on an ever-present but seldom discussed aspect of the sport—injuries—and the pragmatic manner in which they are often regarded
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October 06, 1975

It's All A Part Of The Game

A man who has played football and coached it offers some personal reflections on an ever-present but seldom discussed aspect of the sport—injuries—and the pragmatic manner in which they are often regarded

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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 field.

The head coach approaches the offensive coaches, beckons one of them closer.

"Don't you 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.

"For Chrissakes," I was thinking. "Get up, kid."

Our head coach came over to me. "Really playing the role out there, huh?"

"Yeah."

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