"The last thing I remember," said Redskin back Bob Brunet, "is the tremendous amount of pain going through my body. I just have been knocked out for a few seconds. I don't even remember them piling off me. I just remember lying there."
Brunet was sitting in a Chantilly restaurant yesterday recalling the awful moment 13 days ago when he lay on a football field in Dallas wondereing if he would ever get up.
"My chin strap somehow got up into my mouth," he said, "and the first thing I wanted to do was get it out. It was like a gag. So I tried to do it, and nothing moved.
"I was not aware of where my body was, and at first I thought I was dreaming. But that was no dream.
"My next thought was that I had severed the spinal cord in my neck because I had had some problems with a pinched nerve there. So I had even put myself in traction after the first couple of games to help relieve some pressure.
"So I just lay there saying to myself, 'you jerk, you blew it, you played one game too many. I also thought about never being able to hold my kids or my wife, that I'd never be able to hunt and fish again. I even thought, wow, I wouldn't even be able to kill myself. I know that sounds terrible, and I don't want to make this into a horror story or make myself into some kind of martyr, but that's what was going through my mind."
And then, it happened.
"All of a sudden, before I really even had time to think, my left hand moved," Brunet said. "I was able to move the fingers in my left hand, then I could move my feet and my toes. It was the happiest moment of my life."
And so, after 10 minutes on the field, Brunet was finally carried off on a stretcher and, underneath his helmet, Bob Brunet was actually smiling.
"Nothing they could have told me after that would have made me feel bad," Brunet said. "Because I knew I wasn't paralyzed. They could have told me my neck was broken, and at first that's what they thought, but it didn't matter. That's alittle different league than being paralyzed."
Brunet was taken immediately to the Baylor University Medical Center although before he was placed in the ambulance, he waved toward the stands in the general direction where his sister and father were sitting. "It was amazing," he said. "My sister picked it right up and ran out and called my wife to tell her that at least I could move my arms."
At the hospital, a resident also called Lydia Brunet and assured her that her husband was not paralyzed, even though it appeared as if his neck had been broken.
But further X-rays in the next 48 hours indicated Brunet had suffered a severe jolt to the spinal cord but no broken bones. He was told by one of his doctors that, in 30 years of practice, Brunet was the only third man he had ever treated who retained full movement after that same initial period of paralysis.
He suffered what is now being described as a contusion of the spinal cord in the neck region, an injury he sustained trying to make a block on Cowboy defensive tackle Randy White. He wears a neck brace while recuperating.
Brunet smiles a lot these days about what he describes as "my new lease on life." He will not say for sure that his football career is over, only that he'll "have to wait and see. Medically, it doesn't look like I'll be able to again, but you never know."
His friends say they hope Brunet gives up the game but those decisions are a bit in the future. Meanwhile, he laughs over his rediscovery of some of life's simpler joys.
While in the Dallas hospital, Brunet received a letter from Brian Nickerson, third-grade classmate of his daughter, Kristi, at Chanitilly's Greenbriar Elementary School.
"Dear Mr. Brunet," it read, "I hope you get well soon because your (sic) a good tailback. After you got injured (sic) . . . I went outside. When I was playing football, it was Super Bowl 12. I was tailback. When I had the ball, somebody socked me in the eye. The next day, I knew running back was bad, so I decided to be a punter."
"Boy, did I get a kick out of that," said Brunet.
He is also getting other kicks out of life these days - things like picking up his children and hugging them, shaking hands with friends and dong duck calls in the locker room with the Washington Redskins after practice.
Brunet has spent 10 years with the Redskin and he laughed yesterday when someone asked him how many concusions, contusions, cuts, tears and bruises his body had endured in that time. "It would take a whole other article to get that in," he said.
So why did he do it? Why, after so much pain and a persistently bothersome pinched nerve, did he play this season?
"Obviously if I thought I'd get hurt this badly I wouldn't have done it (played this year)," he said. "But I really don't know the answer.I've asked myself that same question a thousand times. I guess its a whole bunch of things.
"I don't think there any other time in a person's life when you get a group of people pulling the same way for the same goal," he said of playing pro football. "It's quite an experience, overcoming adversity, winning a game and walking into that locker room when it's over. There's no feeling in the world to compare it with.
"Maybe it sound corny, but I hope not. I love the game and there are other things - Rooming with a guy like Mike Bragg, having Eddie Brown as a friend, playing for George Allen. I really believe in these things."
He now also believes in the goodness and kindness of people everywhere. While he was in the hospital, Brunet received hundreds of letters, telegrams and phone calls. Gene Stallings, a Dallas Cowboy assistant coach, visited him one day, and Dallas safety Charlie Waters and his wife offered to drive Lydia Brunet anywhere, anytime.
"They couldn't do enough for us," Brunet said. "It was unbelievable. The doctors, the nurses (even the ones who took every stitch of his clothing as a souvenir while he was in the emergency room, Redskin fans and Cowboy fans were fantastic. I left Dallas with a whole different feeling."
Brunet was making one of his rare appearances at running back that day in Dallas while starter John Rigginis was on the sidelines putting an extra piece of padding over his bruised ribs.
Ironically, four plays after Brunet was injured, Riggins suffered torn knee ligaments and won't be able to play for another six weeks, at least. If Brunet had not been hurt, he would finally have been a starting running back after 10 years in the pros.
"But I have no regrets," Brunet said. "Oh, sure it would have been great to play regularly and I always thought I could. The game bas been good to the game. I've contributed whatever I could.
"I'm from the old school. If a coach said do something, I never really asked why, I just did it. I think too many people say this won't work, we're in the wrong defense, or it's the wrong play. It will work if you do it. Don't analyze things, execute them.
"That's my little pitch on philosophy. I'll also say this, I don't who else to thank but the good Lord. Where else do you look? I'm going to be in church on Sunday. Every Sunday."