- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
That spring I was fully recovered from mono and working up to about 275 pounds, and I played well. My shoulder came out of its socket sometimes in pass blocking, but I yanked it back in. My ankle still ached—I discovered later that I had ligament damage—but I tried not to think about it. Some guys ahead of me got injured, and all of a sudden I was making snaps for the first team. Chuck Lanza, who was out with a bruised thigh, would be ahead of me in the fall, but I was sure to play a lot. I had been named "most improved offensive lineman" by the coaches for the spring session. My future looked bright. Except that pretty soon my shoulder really began bothering me. When I was back home in Dallas for spring break, I went to Pat Evans, one of the Dallas Cowboys' team doctors. He took X-rays and said he felt I needed major surgery on the shoulder. In May, the Notre Dame team physician, Dr. Willard Yergler, did arthroscopic surgery on the shoulder.
I stayed at Notre Dame for summer school and worked hard at getting in shape. I thought I was going to do great, but on the first day of double sessions in preseason drills my shoulder came out of its socket again. In the meeting that night my position coach, Tony Yelovich, ran the play during which my shoulder came out over and over again on film, telling everybody in the room how pitiful I was to get beat that badly by the defensive lineman. Yelovich didn't know how much pain I was in, and I sat in the dark and said nothing while he ran the play again and again.
There was obviously something seriously wrong with my shoulder. I thought about Mike and his knee, and I knew that I didn't want to risk the possibility of permanent damage. The next day I went in to see Holtz. I sat down in his office and told him that my shoulder injury prevented me from pass blocking effectively. Every time I extended my arms and took a hard blow from a defender, the shoulder would dislocate, and my left arm would go numb. I'd have to take my other arm and yank my left shoulder back into place. The pain was unreal. But it was more than pain; I couldn't block well because it was physically impossible.
Holtz told me everybody had to play hurt. Well, O.K., but why not get something fixed before it gets worse? "Coach, I'm here to tell you that I have a problem, that I need help," I said. "I'm not here to complain. I'm telling you what's going on."
Holtz got angry and started talking about other guys playing hurt for the benefit of the team. Since I wasn't on the injury report, I guess he didn't know how bad my shoulder was. He said we didn't need cowards on the team. I said, "Why am I a coward because my shoulder's not fixed?"
He stood up so that even though he's only 5'10", he was looking down at me. "If you're gonna be a pussy about this, get out of my office!" he said.
"Fine," I said. "Here's my playbook. I'm out of here." And I walked.
I was wrong when I quit the team under Faust when he told me to run the steps. I hadn't immediately tried to explain to him that I was hurt. But with Holtz, I tried to explain myself, and he didn't hear. And, yes, I quit. Only this time I believe I did the right thing. There are times when you have to make a choice about your dignity, whether you are your own man or a pawn. I didn't want to be a pawn, especially a pawn of someone I didn't respect.
How could I possibly respect Holtz? I was influenced, certainly, by Mike's experience with him. Mike came away from Arkansas convinced that Holtz cared more about winning than he did about the health of his players. I had tried to keep an open mind, but my experience in South Bend brought me to the same conclusion.
I'm still working toward my degree in government, which I expect to get from Notre Dame in December, although I'm completing my last few credits at a community college near Dallas.