Everett’s injury latest in long list of devastating hits

EDMONTON – If Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett is experiencing the “totally spectacular, totally unexpected” recovery from what the team physician earlier had termed a “catastrophic” spinal cord injury, then that is unreservedly wonderful and welcome news.

Dr. Andrew Cappucino, the Bills’ orthopedic surgeon whose initial diagnosis had been grim, was quoted Tuesday saying: “We may be witnessing a minor miracle.”

It can go either way in these sorts of violent collisions that will happen from time to time in football. So, Everett voluntarily moving his arms and legs represents hope where there seemingly was little to none a day or two before.

Edmonton Eskimos rush end Brandon Guillory had seen the videotape of Everett’s life-threatening injury. Guillory had heard the pessimistic outlook for Everett and had reason to see it as a cautionary tale.

After all, the Eskimos rush end will miss the entire 2007 CFL regular season owing to spinal cord damage of his own suffered in a pre-season game, when he took a helmet-to-chin hit from Calgary offensive lineman Bobby Singh.

Guillory has no illusions of invulnerability. He knows he’s not bullet-proof, he knows the risks. He also knows he wants to return to CFL action at some point.

“I’m aware of it,” Guillory said of the 25-year-old Everett’s injury. “It’s something that could happen to anybody playing this game.

“I guess I’m just different. I know I’m OK.”

Actually, that cast of mind makes him severely normal among pro football players, who make their personal peace with the risk inherent in their sport early, then store the notion up in the attic of their minds and move on.

“It’s just something that’s there, and If it happens, it happens,” said Eskimos assistant coach Dan Kepley, who has had close calls of his own and witnessed teammate James Bell suffer a paralyzing hit during a CFL regular-season game between the Eskimos and the Lions at BC Place Stadium back in 1986. “It’s kind of like you hear about wrecks and accidents on the freeway everyday.

“But does that stop you from getting in the car? Never.”

It is a sickening sight watching a supremely fit young athlete literally broken in front of your eyes, his life and that of his family irrevocably and radically made nightmarish in a split-second. Football players are taught not to lead with their heads when tackling, they’re instructed to “see what you hit.”

But in the fluid chaos of live action, dangerous hits occur.

In the NFL, the cases of Darryl Stingley, Mike Utley and Dennis Byrd are well-known. For me, watching Everett plummet to the turf after trying to tackle Domenik Hixon of the Denver Broncos, evoked the memory of being in the stands at Bishop’s University’s football stadium the day 17-year-old Butch Voce suffered a disastrous injury way back in 1971.

Voce, a talented high school quarterback, was playing defensive back for the Gaiters, whose superstar at that time was a swift, powerful running back named Larry Smith, who had a solid pro career with the Montreal Alouettes and now is the club’s president.

At any rate, Voce’s head-first tackle on an opponent for Sir George Williams (now Concordia) University, fractured and dislocated his third and fourth Cervical Vertebrae and left him a lifelong quadriplegic.

Unable to move his arms or legs, Voce’s life was dramatically improved in the mid-1980s when he learned to manipulate a computer keyboard by breathing in and out through a plastic straw in Morse code. He was able to teach computer skills to disabled people and thereby achieve a measure of independence and job satisfaction.

Voce died in 1998 at age 44. Stingley, a Paraplegic after suffering a devastating open-field hit by Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders, was 55 when he died in April.

Bell was luckier. Told he would never walk again after his on-field accident, Bell did regain mobility. He walks with a stiff gait, but only has limited Range of Motion in his right arm.

Guillory, who is awaiting the results of an MRI, remains as pleasantly upbeat as possible in the face of skepticism about his pro football future.

But, given a doctor’s green light, he’ll get right back into the thick of the action.

“My plan is to come back,” Guillory says, simply. “Accidents like that just come with playing football.

“it could happen to anybody – It happened to me. I obviously have to consider other things outside of football, too. Like walking down the aisle at my wedding one day; playing with my kids in the backyard; and just coaching.

“I take all that into consideration. But, at the same time, I know my God is good. I’ll be out there (again) 10 times better than what I was.”

John MacKinnon
CanWest News Service; Edmonton Journal

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