We thought he was dead, Ryan Orrick. The crunch, the snap, the breathless moan, and then the silence.
I was next in line for the defensive tackling drill, an exercise to help us learn how to tackle when we're pursuing the opponent at an angle. We would start at one side of the field and loop around to the other side, where we were to hit, wrap, lift, and drop the man running with the ball opposite us. You're to get low, put your facemask in his chest, wrap your arms, lift him up, then drive him into the ground. That's football.
"It's not a contact sport, it's a collision sport," coach always declared.
It's also a dangerous sport as we were reminded nearly two weeks ago when Buffalo Bills special teams player Kevin Everett suffered a cervical spine injury when he ducked his head while driving in to tackle Denver's Domenik Hixon during a game. It was reported that after spinal surgery, Everett, 25, was making progress, but a full recovery is unlikely. The incident in pro football is reminiscent of that of Mike Utley's in 1991. The former Detroit Lions guard was paralyzed below the chest after injuring his neck in a collision during a game. Such catastrophic injuries are rare in football, but serious injuries are not.
Two Fenwick players suffered concussions during the Friars' 30-6 loss to Providence on Sept. 1. Both were back in the lineup last week, but concussions are a normal part of football now. The NFL has established the "Concussion Hotline" for players to call if they want more information about the injury or if they feel a coach or physician is releasing them to play too soon. Former 49ers quarterback Steve Young famously suffered four concussions in a three-year span before retiring. Former Dallas QB Troy Aikman followed suit. It's an injury that has been under scrutiny lately after a possible link was found between concussions and clinical depression later in life.
This is football, a sport where risk of serious injury is an every-game, every-play occurrence. To prevent the really bad injuries, medical experts and coaches implore players to always tackle with their heads up, and to initiate contact with something other than the helmet. Good advice, but other injuries are bound to occur. Knees are blown out, ankles severely sprained, shoulders dislocated, and the list goes on throughout a season. I can't even remember how many times I dislocated my shoulders playing high school football. But I have a feeling the arthritis will let me know some day.
As for ol' Orrick, to our relief-but also to our horror-he finally stood up with just a broken right arm. But it was a severely broken right arm, bone and all, arm between the wrist and the elbow bent downward at a 90-degree angle. They carted him off, and we resumed the drill.
As I mentioned, I was next in line. Let's just say a dozen eggs, or a glass of iced-tea, or a newborn baby wouldn't have been harmed during that tackle. But we resumed playing football.