Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)

Due to my inability to control my temper and complacently accept continued silliness with not-quite-as-reliable-as-it-ought-to-be Blogger/Blogspot, your beloved Possumblog will now waddle across the Information Dirt Road and park its prehensile tail at http://possumblog.mu.nu.

This site will remain in place as a backup in case Munuvia gets hit by a bus or something, but I don't think they have as much trouble with this as some places do. ::cough::blogspot::cough:: So click here and adjust your links. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's one of those things.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Man, you make one innocent remark in passing…

Earlier speaking of my recent foray into unintended cutlery contact, I noted that my finger seemed to be healing just fine, and wouldn’t look near as scary as my knee surgery scar. Thinking that he might have missed an interesting story, Dr. Smith asked for more details.

Well, sit back and enjoy my personal version of Andy Griffith’s What It Was, Was Football.

I started playing football in the seventh grade on the junior varsity squad. (And this is actual, honest-to-goodness, real football, not kickball.) That first year we were all pretty pitiful. In the eighth grade, I finally started to pick up some speed, and found a position that suited me--right offensive guard. Since we only had about fourteen guys, I also played defensive tackle, but not nearly so well. Tenth grade I made varsity, which was not like making varsity in a real school where you have five guys for every position. The varsity team only had about twenty-two players, after all. SO they took anyone who signed up.

Not that I wasn’t good enough to play--I was about the same height I am now, and 190 pounds of muscle, Obviously, not big by guard standards of today, but at the time it wasn’t so unheard of, and what I lacked in overall size I managed to make up for. Although I never played dirty (honest), I was effective at my position and got tagged as “Little Conrad,” referring to Conrad Dobler, the dirtiest man in pro football. Nice for the rep, I suppose, but I was as nice a guy then as I am now. It’s just that playing the line is by default a rather inglorious and indelicate matter, and deliberately jumping offside and stepping on your opponent’s fingers is just one of those things that happens. Not a lot, but just every once in a while. Sorta like when you slam your hand over the earhole in someone’s helmet. Or your forearm happens to graze someone’s windpipe. It’s just a game, you know.

Anyway, as in JV, I played the entire game--offense, defense, and special teams. And this was back when high school games were still 60 minutes long, and the science of hydration was to take a handful of salt tablets. We invariably went up against bigger and better teams, but we did manage to win the championship in our first year in a new conference.

Come spring training, I had set out a goal that I was going to make All-County, and practiced with extraordinary intensity. Because, you know, in the back of your mind, even if you’re too small to play college ball, you still kind of think in the back of your mind that you might get a chance if you could get someone to notice you. Especially if you make All-County in your junior AND senior year.

March, 1978. We put on the pads and started full-contact only three days in, which suited me just fine, but was a bone-headed decision for the coach to make seeing as how we weren’t really ready physically for it. We had lined up to practice kick-offs and returns and as we chased down the ball carrier, when he hit the dirt the ball popped out of his hands. I was right there and was about to catch it in mid-bounce when one of my teammates--I’m not sure now whether he was playing offense or defense, came running in from my left and pounced on the ball, then decided to heroically roll across the ground. Except the ground led directly to my left leg, which was firmly planted along with my right. All couple of hundred pounds of him rolled up my leg, which snapped under my weight and laid me neatly over his back.

All I can remember is screaming. Screaming screaming screaming. It was a pain that I cannot adequately describe but I imagine it’s what the fires of Hell feel like. People up inside the gym--a good hundred and fifty feet away--heard me screaming and came outside to see what was going on. And, of course, all that screaming was a real downer for the rest of the guys at practice.

At the time I did not realize it, but he had torn my anterior cruciate and my medial collateral ligaments, and torn a piece of cartilage. At some point in amongst the screaming, I realized I had been laid on my back, and I could feel my coach taking my leg and repositioning it back around to the front. Again, this being the Dark Ages of sports injuries, my coach suggested I try to walk on it.

That hurt, too.

My dad got there from work to pick me up and took me to Carraway, where Dr. Ben Myers, who had been my doctor back when I was a child suffering from Legg-Perthes disease, grabbed my leg and started moving it all willy-nilly and higgledy-piggledy.

That hurt, too.

I had messed myself up real good. And that meant surgery, and not that namby-pamby orthoscopic stuff you kids have nowadays--good old orthopedic butchery where they split your leg open and attempt to sew things back together. The pain upon waking up was worse than the injury. I was quite literally climbing up the pull-up bar in agony--my poor mom and dad tried to get them to give me some more medicine, but were told, quite rightly I’m sure, that I had already had enough. I finally passed out from the pain. Nothing like a big dose of endorphins. It was a very odd feeling--one minute fiery pain, the next, like a shot of morphine. Which is exactly what the nurse gave me when she came in five minutes later--I’m sure she thought I must have been sandbagging because I was obviously not in pain anymore when she came in. She gave me the shot anyway, and I slept for the next 24 hours.

I stayed in the hospital for a week, then was in a cast and on crutches for the next six weeks, then just on crutches for the next two weeks after that. And again, this being the Dark Ages, there was not really much in the way of physical therapy--basically, “you need to keep working your leg back and forth.” A year later, the cartilage that was torn made itself known by continually locking up my knee, meaning that I had to have yet another surgery to remove that. (That operation was blessedly less painful, though.)

What I was left with after all that was a ten-inch-long, Frankenstein-looking zipper down my inside left knee, and a knee that still occasionally slips sideways when I’m walking. It was quite a shock to one day be thinking, way back in the back of your mind, that you might one day play a little college football, and the next not knowing what you were going to do. And I think the worst part must have been walking on those darned crutches--every once in while, even 26 years later, I will still dream that I am having to use them to get around, even though in the dream, my leg is perfectly fine. Weird, huh?

Anyway, as I said, the finger scar is much less of an eyesore when taken into account with my other deformities.

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