THE FIRST thing I remember about my injury was the excitement of the day. I sat out a full year, waiting for that day. As a transfer student from Tennessee, I was ineligible to play for one year. It was our opening game and the stadium was packed.
It's hard to describe the way I felt. I've lived in this area all my life and now to be in University of Maryland uniform and on the field as a line-backer on opening day was just about the greatest thrill of my life.
We were playing Tulane and I went in t o start the second quarter. I don't remember much of the play I was hurt on. As I went to tackle the running back, his knee slammed against the front of my helmet. My head and neck were snapped back.
As we got up from the pile, my left shoulder felt as thought it had a knift in it. The pain shot down my left arm and I couldn't move it. By the Time I got to the sideline Dr. Stan Lavine, our team doctor, and the trainer sat me down and began to look me over. By then I couldn't move at all. It even burt to breathe.
At halftime they took me by ambulance to the school health center.
They took X-rays and fitted me with a neck brace. It wasn't until we reached Leland Memorial Hospital that I knew my neck was broken.
I remember joking with the paramedic on the way to the hospital. They were trying to keep my mind off the pain. It was a scary kind of pain-the kind where you don't know the cause, but you know something's wrong, something big.
I had a lot of time to think while I was at Leland. When you first hear someone say broken beck a thousand things shoot through your mind. My first thought was, "Well, that's it. There goes football." Immediately you begin to fell detached from the team and your friends.
But the coaches and the players didnht give me much of a chance to feel that way. While I was at Leland, my room was always packed with guys from the team and the coaches called and stopped by every day. Three high school friends-John Gallagher, Ann Castiglia and Michelle Roge - also came to see me each day.
I was transferred from Leland to Sibley Hospital. At Sibley I was to be operated on. They removed a piece of bone form my hip to replace the damaged one in my neck. I really can't say enough about the way I was treated at Sibley. It was a few days before I was to be operated on and during time I had many friends and relatives stop by.
More than once the room was crowded and we got pretty loud. But the nurses and staff all treated me and my visitors with the utmost kindness.
During my stay at the hospital no one talked about my chances of playing football again.Everything was treated with a well-cross-that-bridge-when-we-come-to-it attitude. With everthing going on at the time. I really didn't want to think about it.
After the operation the doctors told me if eveything went right with the healing I would be able to paly again. That opened up a whole new set of questions in my mind: If I went back, could I ever forget about my neck" Would I be gun-sky the next time I had to make a tackle" Luckily I had a long time to mull over the answers.
I had to wear a brace on my neck for a long three months. During that time the coaches kept me active with the team. I kept stats during the games and went to the team meetings. When I first got back I went to some practices, but there wasn't much for me to do there.
It got really lonely around practive time. For about three hours every day I was the only person in our section of the athletic dorm.
I missed practices, I missed the games, I missed everything. It's hard to be with the guys you practice with all spring and summer and not be able to share in the victories and defeats. You begin to feel more like a spectator than a real part of the team. I got kidded a lot about having it easy, but I would have given anything to have been out there playing.
My brace is off now. In August I'll go back to the doctors for a stress test and therapy to determine if my neck can absorb punishment again. After that I'll know whether I can play or not.
The coaches have been great. They know it's a big decision and that I have to make up my mind by myself. They haven't tried to sway me one way or the other. My family and friends have given me more moral support than I could ever ask for.
If it turns out that I can(t play anymore, I know I'll miss it terribly. But I won't feel cheated or frustrated. I've played football most of my life. I've been ver fortunatre. I've made some great friends, met some very fine people, and had a super time.
I've had more than my share of luck Right now I'll just wait to hear from the doctors and leave the rest up to God. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption By Jack Pardue for The Washington Post