The family has been gathered at the hospital for several weeks, making base camp in the chaplain's office, next to the intensive care unit. One man - husband, son, brother - lies partially paralyzed after being hit hard in a professional football exhibition game.
The man is Darryl Stingley, 26-year-old wide receiver for the New England Patriots. Until defensive back Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders crashed into him at full speed during an exhibition game on Aug. 12, Stingley's future in pro football was unlimited. Now, the six-year veteran who underwent surgery here for a fractured dislocation of the cervical spine between the fourth and fifth vertebrae, lies in serious condition because of lung complications as a result of the injury.
Patriots President William H. Sullivan Jr. reported that Stingley is not currently threatened by the lung complications.
"His attitude is the stuff dreams are made of," Sullivan said. "One of the last things he was able to say to his brother, while he was able to say to speak was, 'I'll be there for the Super Bowl.'"
The paralyzed player is able to communicate, "mostly by winking when he hears something that makes him happy. He has no movements from his shoulders down."
The family, Stingley's mother, wife and brother, refuse to discuss his physical condition or prognosis other than to say that he has sensations throughout his body, that his spinal cord was not severed, as was first feared, that he is fully conscious.
The family agreed on Friday to meet the news media at Eden Hospital here, a sprawling suburban hospital 20 miles east of San Francisco, to express thanks for the outpouring of sympathy and support Stingley has received since his injury.
Stingley's wife Tina said he has received more than 2,000 letters and cards from all over the world, from Alaska to China, from England to Hawaii. He also has gotten fruit, flowers, candy and medallions from well-wishers telling him they expect him back on the playing field soon.
"It's a trying experience," said Tina Stingley, a striking young woman who appeared remarkably composed. "We're all upset. But we have so much faith we know he'll get up and out of here, and we've encouraged him in his belief that he can play again . . . His main concern is playing football. He said, 'I will do it.' And if that's what he wants, I'm behind him 100 percent."
Tina Stingley has been behind her husband 100 percent since their high school days together at John Marshall High School in Chicago. He was the star athlete in football and basketball. She was a cheerleader. Then followed four years as a starter at Purdue and his selection in the 1972 draft by the Patriots.
With one minute and 26 seconds left in the second quarter of the Patriot-Raider game, all that came to an abrupt end.As Stingley went out for a pass from quarterback Steve Grogan, a 14-yard crossing pattern from the right side, Tatum crashed into his head, hitting him with his helmet and shoulder pads, and snapping back Stingley's neck. Stingley went down and stayed down. In major surgery after the accident, his fourth and fifth vertabrae were fused.
"We just sort of hit head to head," said Tatum after the game. "When he went down there was no question that it was serious. He never moved . . . never. You can't take a thing like this lightly, but you to have to go on playing. You tell yourself it's part of the game, you know?"
Tina was home when she got the call. "I was told Darryl was hurt, hurt pretty bad. He was partially paralyzed. They said, "Tina, calm down. It's pretty serious, honey, and we want you get out here as soon as you can.'"
Darryl's brother Wayne, a physical education teacher from Chicago, would not comment on Tatum's hit or on whether the play was a good one to call.
"People get hurt playing football," Wayne Stingley said. "Whether it was a good play or that Jack Tatum did it doesn't matter. He's hurt . . . It's a fast-moving game. Sometimes things happen, and he just may have been a victim of circumstances."
This week the National Football League announced that Darryl will be paid his salary this year, $55,000, partial salary next year of $30,000 and $1,000 a month for the rest of his life. All his medical bills will be paid and hit two sons, 7 and 9, will get $50 a month each until they are grown. He also will get in the neighborhood of $150 a week in workmen's compensation.
Asked if the $1,000 a month was enough, Tina Stingley said that she didn't want to comment on that and refused to discuss whether the family was contemplating a lawsuit against the NFL.
She said Darryl has a college education and can do other things than football if he has too, teaching physical education or getting into television newscasting. "Football has been his life." Tina said, "but he can cope."
The Stingleys' sons took the news of their father's injury "pretty said," Tina said. But even after all that's happened, the pain, the anxiety of waiting, the daily briefing with doctors on Darryl's condition, she said she would never discourage them from playing football.
"I wouldn't say it (his career) has come to an end," said Darryl's mother Hilda Stingley. "My faither in God has helped me down through the years in raising my four children to be successful in their careers. I believe God will bring Darryl up again."