The word of my explosion got around the rehab quickly, and that night my nurse said to me, "Darryl, you're one tough cookie. If you die while you're in here, you're going straight to hell. Nonstop. You're giving everyone here a whole lot more trouble than you're worth."
The way I saw it, I was going through a "getting to know Darryl—the new Darryl" stage. People knew me not as Darryl Stingley but as Darryl Stingley, athlete. Now I had to come to grips with the fact that it would never be the same again. As a result, Darryl the athlete and Darryl the quad were in constant conflict. It was a war. I'd be up, I'd be down. I'd be down, I'd be up. I'd never be in between.
During those first few months at the rehab, I was at my worst in my daily physical therapy class. The therapists made no bones about their motto: No pain, no gain. Unfortunately, I wasn't much for more pain at the time, being in enough pain—mental and physical—as it was. When they would grab me and bend me and shape me to see how much movement I had, how flexible I was, how much weight I could bear on my limbs, well, the pain became unbearable. And I let them know it, too. It sure was worse than getting hit by some big tackle on a football field.
I was working with a woman therapist, and she tried to get me to do some strenuous exercises that I hadn't tried before.
"No way I can do what you want me to do," I said to her. "I can't handle it."
"Do it, and do it right now," she said sharply.
I think she thought, "Hey, this guy's an old football player. A pro in the NFL. He's used to the tough stuff. I'm going to let it all hang out with him." So she tried to find out what I was made of. It was part of her little psychological game: She simply wanted me to do something I didn't feel I was capable of doing. So she put me onto a heavily padded mat on the floor, then rolled me onto my stomach. After that she set my elbows underneath me, in what she called the triangular shape.
"Now what I want you to do isn't complicated at all," she said. "Just hold yourself up for as long as you can. Brace yourself up."
God, in the old days—those before Aug. 12, 1978 and a football field in Oakland—I could do dozens of push-ups on my fingertips.
"I can't do it," I cried, as my elbows collapsed under the weight. "The pain is too much."