He was done.
He had to be.
No one could come back from that.
Time seemed to stop on the afternoon of Oct. 27. At Williams-Brice Stadium, where the upper decks feel as if they're swaying when South Carolina's football team excites its assembled fans, no one made a sound. "I've been there 12 years," says Jeffrey Guy, the Gamecocks' orthopedic surgeon. "I've never heard that stadium so silent." About 300 miles south, Florida and Georgia players warming up before their game in Jacksonville stopped and stared at the scoreboard, which carried the ESPN feed of Tennessee--South Carolina. About 130 miles northwest, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and his wife sat at home and watched in horror. "My heart just broke," Swinney says. Similar sentiments rippled through the college football world.
A few minutes earlier Guy and the rest of the medical staff had watched Marcus Lattimore, the junior tailback from Duncan, S.C., run for a 28-yard touchdown that gave the Gamecocks a 21--7 second-quarter lead. Lattimore had made one quick cut and burst between the right guard and right tackle, then outran the Volunteers to the end zone. That cut impressed Guy most. The doctor had been waiting to see Lattimore run with such confidence since he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament at Mississippi State in 2011. Finally, the 5' 11", 221-pound tailback resembled the old Marcus. "He looked," Guy says, "like he didn't have a care in the world." That Marcus wouldn't make it to halftime.
The play was called Power. When Lattimore took the ball from quarterback Connor Shaw, he liked what he saw. A bounce to the outside and he might have a lane. But Tennessee linebacker Herman Lathers appeared from behind the pile. He dived and, while in midair, encircled Lattimore's chest with his arms. Lattimore drove his right foot into the ground, hoping to surge forward and break free. "Probably a half a second either direction, and his legs would have cut out from under him like a normal tackle," Guy says. "But he was at that specific moment when his foot was planted in the ground and he was pushing off." At that instant, Vols cornerback Eric Gordon came in low and slammed into Lattimore's right knee. "If somebody is that heavy, running that fast," Guy says, "all the energy has to go somewhere." In other words, force equaled mass times acceleration.
"When the dude hit me, I didn't even feel it," Lattimore says. "I knew something was wrong. I thought I was dreaming. I really thought I was dreaming.... I guess I was in shock."
The hit had torn Lattimore's right ACL, peeled his lateral collateral ligament and his posterior cruciate ligament from the bone and damaged other connective tissue. With barely any ligaments intact to hold it in place, Lattimore's knee dislocated. Those pictures that appear to show the knee shifted unnaturally to the right of Lattimore's upper and lower legs? That's exactly what happened.