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Just as Wayne left, my friend in the green coat with the screwdriver came by on his appointed rounds.
"Been waiting for you," I said snappishly. He was startled to hear the sound of my voice. "Buddy," I said, "let me tell you one thing. The day I finally start to walk again is the day I come back here to this hospital and screw some screws into your head twice a day, the way you've been doing to me. How do you think you'll like that?"
"I'd like it just about as much as you've liked it," he said. "Listen, Darryl, I don't want to hurt you. Honest. A long time ago I asked if they'd have someone else work on you because I didn't want to hurt you anymore. But they didn't have anyone else to do it. I'll be as happy as you are the day they discharge you from this place."
I felt awful. "Well, hey, man, ahh, geez...I'm really sorry that I...."
"Forget it, Darryl," the man interrupted. "I knew that deep down you never meant any of those things you felt about me. I knew that once you got a chance to think about me and about what I was doing for you, not to you. that you'd come around in your thinking."
He took my hand, held it tight for a second, and then left.
"Darryl," I thought, "you know how to be a jerk at times."
A couple of weeks later, on Sept. 18, several doctors and nurses and orderlies walked into my room at once. Good heavens, I thought, another crisis. Then I saw Tina smiling, and soon everyone was singing Happy Birthday. To me. I was 27 years old. I began to cry, and they rolled me out of my little room, into the main part of the ICU and through a large door leading to the fire escape. There was a platform there, and they flipped my pancake into a position where I was looking out into the sunlight. Was it ever spectacular. The sun. Trees. People down there on the streets. Cars. Buildings. The whole world. A world I had not been a part of for so long.
We all had cake and ice cream, a real party. "Darryl," I thought, "all these people who are celebrating your 27th birthday today thought they'd be going to your funeral just a few weeks ago."
The next big date on my calendar was Sept. 24, when the Patriots returned to Oakland for a Sunday night game against the Raiders. Alone in my bed the morning of the game, I did a lot of thinking about Jack Tatum and what he had done to me back on Aug. 12. It was clear to me that Tatum had taken an unnecessarily brutal shot at me. I had not caught the ball. I was no threat to him. Also, he'd come at me running full speed and he'd had his forearm cocked. I had played against some great defensive backs. Mel Blount of the Steelers had no equal, and he never took cheap shots at receivers. Neither did Mike Haynes, my Patriots teammate. Tatum could have pulled up. He could have stopped short of hitting me. And he certainly didn't have to nail me across the head with a blow that broke my neck and left me unable to move. But he had done it.