“Briggs, get ready to go in,” Coach Brunson shouted.
I could feel my adrenaline flowing overtime. Finally, my chance. Tom Howe had been unable to stop Collins, the opposing wide receiver, all game.
“Briggs, get over here,” coach called out. I came running over. “You see what’s happening out there, right?”, he asked. I nodded my head. We were up by one touchdown because our offense was good, but we were having trouble stopping the other team’s offense. Collins had gotten a step on Tom and caught the ball for big yardage. “We need you to shut down Collins, hear me? You can do it.” With a slap on the butt, I was running out while Tom came in. While Tom had a year on me, I knew I was faster. I could do it. This was my opportunity.
“Let’s go, Danny,” I told myself as I ran out. “Remember your training. You are fast and you can beat him.”
“Danny, you’ve got this,” Dad shouted out. I could barely hear him but I looked over at him standing up and clapping for me as I ran out.
Collins lined up on the right side as did I. The ball was hiked, and Collins took off. We were running stride for stride and I was keeping up. The ball must have been launched, because Collins looked back and slowed down a second; so did I but then suddenly, he had a burst of speed and it caught me off guard. I took off but I was a step behind. I could see it almost in slow motion. Collins reached up and brought the ball in. I had one chance to stop the touchdown by tackling him. I planted my feet and. . . .
“Aaaaaah,” I screamed out as I hit the ground. I looked up to see Collins taking the ball to the endzone. I just laid there in pain. Coach Brunson ran out with his assistant.
“What happened? Where does it hurt?” coach Brunson asked.
“It’s my ankle,” I grunted out. I could hardly stand the pain. Somehow my ankle twisted as I planted in order to dive. I could feel it happen, but I couldn’t stop. It was my one chance and my right ankle folded over and I barely jumped. I reached out my arms to grab him, but I had no momentum from the bad jump. My hand slid off Collins and he went in for the touchdown.
I laid on the turf and grabbed my ankle, writhing in pain. Yes, my ankle was twisted, but I don’t know if my pain about not making the tackle may have been even worse.
Somehow, I knew that my football career was over. My ankle was giving me tremendous physical pain. My mind was telling me it was over. I was helped off the field, taped up, and sent to the bench for the rest of the game. Coach Brunson didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to. There I sat wondering if I had cost my team the game and, as it turns out, that touchdown was the winning touchdown.
As I sat there, I thought of how it could have been different. I could have driven my feet through Collins and brought him to the ground. Instead, I panicked. “He’s ahead of you,” my mind screamed at me. “Do something!” I dove at him thinking that would be the surest way. I was wrong.
That night I hobbled home and made it to my bed. I lay there just angry at myself. “Another screw up,” I told myself. I hit the bed over and over. “Why couldn’t you just get that guy? Why did you decide to dive at him? You’ve been told over and over to drive through the opposing player. Why didn’t you just hit him?”
All these questions were swirling when my dad walked in. I’m sure he could see I was a mess. “You can get ‘em next time, champ. That was unfortunate.” I just nodded my head. “Sometimes injuries happen,” Dad continued. “We may need to get an x-ray in the morning. We’ll see how it is looking then.” Dad patted me on the shoulder and walked back out. I appreciated that he was trying to help, but I didn’t want to hear it right then. I knew he had to be disappointed that I didn’t make the crucial tackle. He wouldn’t say it, but I just knew it to be true.
How could he not be disappointed? Dad told me he loved me regardless, but he had put a lot of effort into my football career. “If you want to play,” he told me, “I will help you in whatever way I can.” I wanted to please dad and football was exciting and I did have some talents. I was quick and I was tall; over 6-feet tall by 13-years-old. Dad saw my talent, but the coaches said I wasn’t tough enough. I would work to prove them wrong. My sophomore year I did not make the varsity team, but dad and I thought I should have. The summer before my junior year Dad enrolled me in five different football camps.
“Danny, look at this camp. It’s far away but I think it might be good. What do you think?, “ Dad asked.
“It might be good,” I replied.
“Do you want to do it?,” he asked.
“Yeah. Let’s do it.”
Dad found five camp opportunities and we took them all. I was ready for this and it was my junior season. The problem we were having is that the coaches weren’t playing me. They continued to say I just wasn’t ready. In practice I would work hard. I had dropped a few passes so I decided to concentrate on defense; cornerback. I mostly had to cover the wide receiver. I would go against our senior wide receiver and I kept up easily. I could prevent a lot of passes but tackling could be an issue. Before my injury dad and I had talked about talking to a sports psychologist.
“They may talk to you about having a killer instinct,” dad said.
“I don’t know that I want a killer instinct,” I thought to myself. Out of my mouth came, “Ok.”
The next morning, after my injury, my ankle was very swollen, and I still couldn’t put weight on it. Mom took me to the urgent care that we knew had an x-ray machine. No one else would be open on a Saturday. “It’s a sprain,” the doctor told me in the end. “You will need to stay off it for three weeks and then, see your primary care doctor. You need to give it time to heal.” After arriving back home Mom told Dad what the doctors said, and he nodded his head and went on mowing the lawn.
That night at supper he brought the subject up. “Well, Danny,” he said. “Three weeks will take you out of some crucial games, but if we make the playoffs, you may be back in it.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied.
“That will be a good thing,” he said trying to coax some hope out of me.
“Yep,” I replied looking down at my dinner. I didn’t have much appetite.
Three weeks later my ankle still wasn’t right. It turns out, after an MRI, that I had pulled some ligaments, and they weren’t healing. “I’m going to recommend a specialist,” my primary care doctor told me. “It may need surgery.”
After surgery I had to do rehab. All of this took months and by the time my ankle got back close to normal it was well into the spring. That was the end of my football career. While
dad had hoped I would play in college, I had no interest. I had disappointed and been disappointed more than enough.
Now here I was still processing this event in my college psych class. In this segment of class I had to explore a trauma I had experienced or witnessed. My ankle injury came to mind immediately. This injury had, potentially, changed the trajectory of my life and not in a bad way.
The aftermath of my ankle injury was tough to deal with. I was disappointed. I thought Dad was disappointed. I knew Coach was disappointed. I had bought into what, I knew now, was my dad’s football dream. Yes, he was trying to help me.
“Sometimes I wonder what would have happened had I made that tackle and continued my football playing,” I wrote in the conclusion of my paper. “I may have been the hero of that game. I may have seen a sports psychologist and learned to have a killer instinct. The fact is that I’m glad I don’t have a killer instinct. I’m happy I have empathy and I think that will serve me for a long time. I have faced adversity and I have come out the other side of this injury. I am proud I have empathy and I am proud I’m seeking a career in social work. What would I say to young Danny? You don’t have the killer instinct, and you will be proud of that. You will live with integrity and honor. You will have many successes and will use your empathy throughout a long career. Live with integrity and be yourself.”