Why him? Who could have guessed something like this?
Unanswerable questions are asked all across the Catholic University campus on a day when the sun is bright and church bells peal and students crowd the pathways, when all looks right but isn't because one of them, the star quarterback, admired by many, loved even by teammates, has been injured badly, and nobody who knows him has gotten over the shock yet. A six-foot get-well card, being signed by students, is ready to be taken over to Capitol Hill Hospital.
There, Tony Gallis lies in the corner Presidential Suite in a blizzard of white -- the lights, the walls, the sheets, the cast on his left leg, which was devastated two weeks ago when four tacklers hit him from different directions almost simultaneously and, according to Peter Sauer, director of the hospital's Life Institute, "literally separated the lower half of his leg from the upper half."
"It's the kind of injury we don't associate with everyday sports activities," said Dr. Harvey Shapiro, who operated on Gallis. "It involved the complete rupture of every supporting structure to his knee with the exception of one ligament." The other three major ligaments were severed. The popliteal artery, carrying blood to the lower leg, was severed. The peroneal nerve, one of the nerves that helps control walking, was severed. "Basically," said Shapiro, "what you had left was one tether."
Everything -- a football season, his senior year, life -- had looked almost perfect to Gallis. Minutes before he was injured, in CU's opener against Dickinson College in the first game played at Catholic's new athletic complex, when people were thinking of beginnings, not endings, Gallis had broken the school's record for career passing yardage. What would be his last touchdown pass had gone to his brother, Ed; in just over three seasons, Gallis had passed for 40 touchdowns, another school record. Said roommate and teammate Chris Veno, walking across the empty football field the other day, "If he had had just an average season, he would have broken all the Division III passing records. He was the franchise here."
Those closest to Gallis have taken the setback almost as if it had happened to them. Ed Gallis, spending most of his time with his brother, missed CU's last two games, but returned to practice yesterday. His eyes were red-rimmed; he hasn't slept much lately. "He's never been hurt," Ed Gallis, a junior, said of his brother. "Like he said, he never expected it to happen to him."
And Veno: "I had a hard time stepping back on the field. I had a lot of thoughts about giving up the game." Now, he's decided simply to play his best, as Gallis did.
"Tony Gallis loves this school," said Veno. "He's really put it on the line for this school. Some of the future success that may come about in football may be his accomplishment. He may have attracted a lot of the younger fellows. Certainly, he inspired them. So the feeling here is one of disbelief, that this could have happened to Tony."
That it happened not in a pro game, or one played by college powers, where such a debilitating injury would seem more likely, but in the low-key, no-athletic-scholarship brand of football CU plays contributes to the sadness and astonishment on campus. At CU, football is played by those who love it, playing on a Saturday afternoon with a few thousand people in the stands. It's a place where the game is in perspective: this week, one player might miss the Hofstra game because he plays the trumpet and the orchestra has a date the same day in a different city. Said soccer Coach Paul Moyer of CU athletes, "There's not any superhuman glory in playing. They're not going to be on TV, not going after a professional career. They're here to get an education, to get started with their lives."
Gallis is a biology major, thinking of dental school. He's quiet but popular, said Veno. "Tony would say he could be out on the field during a game and look up and see his friends in the stands. It's a good feeling."
Now, Gallis can sense support in a way he never imagined. When he looks up from his bed, appearing a bit wan after three operations, and says, "Everything is going to be all right. A lot of people are pulling for me," he knows: the students care. Said Veno, "There's a lot of genuine concern going on. It's not just on the surface. People really do care. That's going to help Tony out."
Ed Gallis and Veno and Walt Kalinowski are the closest to Gallis. They're all receivers. With Gallis, they formed what CU called the "Scranton Connection." They all played football for Scranton Prep. The Gallises and Veno live near Scranton, in Dickson City, Pa., a town where former coal miners live and sports -- especially football -- is important and families are close, and when somebody has trouble people rally.
Tony Gallis and Veno played together on the Dickson City Hawks Pee Wee football team from the time they were 8 years old, only "in those days," said Veno, "I played quarterback, and he was the tailback." When Gallis went down, assistant coach Rich Novak recalled Kalinowski, on the sidelines, crying out, "Tony, please get up. Tony, please get up."
Tony Gallis, the father, is an insurance agent and, for 16 years, Dickson City's tax collector. Once he was a professional boxer, a welterweight who won 15 of 18 fights, nine by knockouts, and sparred with Joey Giardello, the middleweight, when he came to Scranton. Gallis Sr. looks a little like Carmen Basilio. No question, he's one who can fight back. And he believes his son can, too. "A lot is going to depend on him, and I think he'll do it, too."
Gallis' parents drove down to every Catholic U. home game, and they've kept a vigil at the hospital with Ed and Veno and Kalinowski and others. Students have brought balloons and told Gallis how he's in everyone's thoughts.
As one CU official said: "Everywhere I go, people ask me about him."
Capitol Hill Hospital's Sauer said the staff is "guardedly optimistic" about Gallis' recovery. The injured leg now is "healthy," according to Sauer. "Every indication is a positive one," he said. One to two years of rehabilitation is planned. But Sauer said he can't forecast how close to normal the leg eventually will be; time will tell. Gallis' father said of his son, "I honestly believe he has the fortitude to see this thing out. He's a gutsy kid."
While Gallis' friends wrestle with the mystery of this, how good times can turn so sharply without warning, Veno said of his friend, "He's got to redefine what to do with the rest of his life." That, he said, in part makes for Gallis' difficult days, but Veno is consoled by the hope, the feeling really, that the injury in some way will uplift his friend, and them all, that it didn't happen for nothing.