‘Watch the Crackback! If you see it, yell.’
‘AND YELL LOUD!’
Every year, the beginning of the football season I remember it. And well.
September of 1986, playing a Juco football game. I was a defensive end. We were playing a team that loved to run the toss sweep. A play where the QB pitches wide to the running back, both guards pull, tight end blocks down, and so does the wide receiver.
It’s called a crackback block when the receiver does it.
‘God Dammit! I told you guys to call the crackback when you see it! That receiver is more like a tight end. He is going to hurt someone today.’
The receiver came down but our outside linebacker took him head on, problem averted that time.
‘You boys got lucky. Keep your damn head on a swivel or he will knock you out.’
Our coach yelled and yelled at us about it. The wide receiver will come down the line and his job is to take out the first person he sees. Often times, the player he hits, isn’t looking and it can be the nastiest hit you have ever seen.
‘OK, defense back on the field. Let’s go boys!’
Here we go. Their first play, incomplete pass.
3rd and 10. They gotta pass.
Nope, toss sweep. To my side. Oh, I got this guy. Huge loss, we get the ball back in great position.
I was told it was one of the nastiest hits that some had ever seen. I was completely laid out.
In my haste to get to the running back, I completely forgot about the receiver. Completely forgot.
The next thing I remember, I thought I was dying. I couldn’t breathe.
I had a bruised sternum. Huh? A what?
Exactly, a bruised sternum.
The symptoms of a bruised sternum are; extreme pain in the chest area, swelling of the chest area, pain when laughing, breathing or coughing and secondary infections that can arise due to shallow breathing.
I asked, barely breathing, ‘why didn’t anyone yell crackback?’
‘Joe, every single person at this football game yelled it, you just didn’t stop.’
I will never forget one of the other coaches coming up to me after the game and saying, ‘no matter how much longer you play football, you will never be hit like that again. I thought you would never walk after that. Great job on getting up.’
My mom was at the game. I will never forget what she told me afterwards.
‘My whole body went numb. I had no reaction but to start crying.’
I had broken my ankle, hand, collar bone, arm, but a bruised sternum? I didn’t know we had them.
‘I am sorry man. I was just doing my job.’ That is what the guy told me after the game that hit me.
‘It’s OK. Had it been me, I would have tried to take your head off.’
He looked at me, and says, ‘I did try.’
I shook his hand and walked off.
We had a two hour bus ride back home after the game. I didn’t mind it at all.
Everyone was talking about the hit I took.
Even if I couldn’t breathe. Or smile. Or talk. Did I mention I couldn’t breathe?