The thick, low clouds provided a contrasting backdrop to the football spinning end over end as it fell toward my waiting arms. Once I caught it, I scanned the field and the approaching onslaught of opposing players. I started right, then cut back left, and a path opened before me; even someone slower than I (a football-playing turtle, perhaps) could run through this hole. I tucked the ball into my left arm and kicked it into a higher gear. The end zone and glory awaited…
Thanksgiving Day, 1983, began with heavy cloud cover and a steady drizzle; the temperature by mid-morning crept into the low fifties and the playing field of yellowed, dormant bermuda lay soft and wet. Conditions were perfect for two-hand touch football: the War Between the Lines; the Battle for the Field. The combatants, the Gladiators of the Gridiron, were my friends: college students, pizza deliverymen, stoners, druggies, alcoholics – more than one were all of these things. But on this day, we were warriors locked in a desperate and intense struggle for territory. Yards gained in one play were often ceded the next; like the trench battles of World War I, observers could easily see the absurdity of it all, but for those locked in mortal struggle common sense hid in the periphery, lost in the glare from the ultimate goal: sweet and glorious victory.
The game had been particularly rough that day: three players had already left the field, one with a broken nose; another with a front tooth cupped in hand; and a third after projectile vomiting his pancakes and beer after taking a shot to the gut on a pass over the middle. All of us were smeared with grass stains and mud; our breath rolled from our nostrils and mouths in steamy swirls. After two hours of intense battle, the enemy had just scored and we were tied, 14-14. It was decided (in no small part because we were stoners, druggies and alcoholics and withdrawal was setting in) that the next score would win.
As I ran back the ensuing kickoff, I could sense the importance of what was about to take place. I would assume my rightful place in the annals of touch football fame, and for years to come gleefully taunt those who had tried in vain to prevent me from singlehandedly winning the biggest game that had ever been played.
I saw him almost too late, coming in almost perpendicularly from my right. If I planted hard on my left, then cut back straight right, he would fly right past me.
SNAP! The sound shot through the air like a dried sapling broken in two. I hit the ground face first and then writhed in agony, grabbing chunks of the field with both hands in an effort to fight off the pain in my left knee. I alternately screamed and shouted obscenities at the top of my lungs; people for miles around probably thought that Raging Bull was playing outside somewhere. It was a pain like no other I’d ever experienced, worse than when I’d slid shirtless forty feet down a palm tree as a child; worse than when Jeff Patty kicked me hard in the sac when we were supposed to shake hands after I won our high school tennis match; worse even than when my dentist drilled my cavity without Novocaine.
“Aaaah! Holy ****! Did you hear that? That was freakin’ gross!” These were the first sounds I remember coming from someone other than myself. “S***, Ped. Are you okay? That did not sound good.”
After a minute or two, the pain lessened to a horrid, yet manageable throb. Sweet, blissful shock. Two guys lifted me up, and with their help, I slowly headed off the field.
“Dudes, let me see if I can do it myself.” I managed to slowly make my way, moving like Quasimodo with his foot asleep. “Yeah, I think I got this. Thanks.”
I turned to see who had helped, but they were long gone; the game had resumed. I limped pathetically to my car, and though I didn’t know it yet, I probably sensed it at some level: my life had, suddenly and painfully, been forever altered. Worse still, I hadn’t scored, and the fame that seemed so securely in my grasp had been fumbled away, along with the ball I had dropped on the way to the ground.
Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude. I feel ya on that one. The same thing happened to me only it was my senior year in high school I was the “go-to” kid, I was going to be the crazy Magic Johnson super star on campus and then SNAP! ACL gone. Meniscus gone. Cartilage done for. Tragic senior year in sports. I don’t even think chocolate helped me out that year. It was a tough one.
Yeah, very sad. It runs in my family; my father and brother both blew a knee, and my poor oldest daughter blew the same ACL twice playing basketball. My legacy for my kids: lousy genes.
Oh no. “The moment”…..Did you end up doing the whole surgery thing, or is that a part of the sequal?
I had no insurance (and no money) at the time, and in this country, that is a problem. Yes, that is a story for another time!
Same problem here. I think we should make it a policy to only injury ourselves in Socio-Democratic Scandi type countries. I hear their social health programmes are really good. It is funny though, our perception of the States is one of such abundance – including abundance of care….misconception I know, but there it is.
There is an abundance for those to whom it is available. I don’t want to politicize, but for the richest country in the world it would seem a foregone conclusion.
Great storytelling! Even though you tell us the ending in an awesomely bad title pun, you suck us right in to the game. I particularly love that first line. And the description of your team mates. That one took me back almost 30 years to my first college experience. My brother was attending the same university and you could have been writing about he and his buddies.
Those games with my buddies, either football, basketball or softball, were so much fun. All were pretty athletic and, at the very least, competent skill-wise. The games were intense and very serious; I miss them (and functioning knees) very much.
I just went to a continuing education class on “The Framework of the Knee.” I learned that ACL tears are absolutely genetic (which you now know), and that Ballerinas never tear their ACLs. Why? Because their bodies are trained to land correctly. The emphasis on the “look” of the knee in ballet (straight and aligned at all times) translates to ligaments that are protected by the perfection of the leg line. All that to say: perhaps you should have been a ballerina . . .
Darn it! There has always been a deep yearning that I’ve managed to suppress all these years; now I know why…That’s very interesting, by the way!