He Fell; I Kept Running

A quick word: This post is about football. If you don't see much point to football, please don't bother commenting. There will be other threads. 

Moving on, there are a lot of ex-football players speaking in yesterday's thread on concussions and the NFL. One of them, Ulysses Not Yet Home, wrote the following:

My football career consisted of four years of high school play, one state championship, and one year attempting to walk on in the Big Ten. I have had three knee surgeries, a rotator cuff repair, and a ligament transplant in my thumb. My first surgery ended my playing days and required the reinsertion of one of the external heads of my quads. My last two surgeries were in 2000 and 2003 (knee and houlder) and were fully 29 and 32 YEARS after the first. Most football careers resemble mine. And yes, I DO have regrets...

I found this interesting, because here was someone who'd actually suffered life-altering complications from the game. So I asked him to expound a bit more:

I loved playing football. I was good, but not great. I loved the approval from within the team and the coaches, that came from being known as a "serious hitter". I loved winning and being a state champion. I loved it when other fathers would comment approvingly to MY father about my "plowing a guy". So I can't imagine not having played. But like everyone who played in the 60's and 70's, I was subject to the "play through pain/injury" mindset. I had one athletic offer from Lehigh University, which I turned down for an academic scholarship to Northwestern. 

Even in 1970, Big Ten football was orders of magnitude more serious than anything I was actually equipped for. I did not make the team. I seriously doubt that the player I was, should have been allowed on the field to play. That few weeks is felt on every stair, every attempt to get the nice wine glasses from the top shelf . Today it means no jogging, no basketball (not that I was doing a lot of that), no tennis, no swimming, no throwing, no bowling, and the infrequent random thing that you do that you didn't realize would be breathtakingly painful. 

I once had to suddenly swerve out of my lane to avoid a collision while driving the wife's Mazda Miata (non power steering). I literally had to pull over and have her drive because after the max load event I could not lift my left arm to steer. I don't know if I could have been dissuaded from playing, I think not. Six surgeries later and another two and a knee replacement in the discussion stages, I wish I could have.

I love that last line. There's a painful ambiguity to it which, I think, captures a lot of what even spectators feel. Some of us wish we could look away, but we don't. Here is a man who wishes he had not played, but at the same time feels that the younger him essentially had to play.

And this is a man with options—a brother who got an academic scholarship to Northwestern, and (from what I can tell) a caring Dad. I don't know Ulysses, though I did meet him briefly in Chicago at a reading. (He was wearing sick 3/4 leather, as I recall. Just saying.) His comments here are generally sharp, and his academic performance shows that he had some sense of himself beyond the field. This left me wondering about a couple things. 1.) Those players who really don't have that sense, and how they relate to this dilemma. 2.) Whether Ulysses would feel the same way if he'd gone on to be a pro, or even to the Hall. How would he fell if he had been, to take his words, great not good?

Earl Campbell's body is broken. But Earl Campbell is also the sixth of eleven children. His Dad died when he was eleven. I don't know much about Tyler, Texas, but I strongly suspect that he did not come up flush. I don't want to minimize his suffering, but Campbell was able to parlay his fame on the field into prominent business career which allowed him to secure himself financially. I wonder what his future would have been without football. Perhaps it would have been the same, if less profitable. That Campbell successfully transitioned into the world of business, shows a headiness that goes beyond the field, a headiness that many athletes—indeed many people—simply don't possess.

I don't know. Just some thoughts pinging around from a really deep comment. The fact of the thing is this: I used to marvel at the video below. I still do. But it isn't the same. How can it be?