By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
In the emergency room, I watched as doctors carefully removed Seth's helmet, cut away his uniform, sliced off his shoulder pads. As one physician queried him, peering into his eyes with a penlight, a portable X-ray machine was wheeled into the room. Then a nurse asked me to step out so that I would not be exposed to the radiation.
Outside, I wandered down the hallway, glancing into the various treatment rooms. A broken arm here, a gashed forehead there. Worried relations paced the floor. In the waiting room, I bought a soft drink, flopped down. Another ambulance was backing up to the door.
After a while the nurse reappeared and motioned me back. By this time, Seth had been moved to a holding room beside the main treatment area. A doctor met us at the door.
"Good news," he said. "The X-rays were negative."
"Thank God," I murmured.
"Seth's suffered a concussion and some pinched nerves and strained muscles in his neck. We've given him medication."
In the holding room, Seth was propped up in a hospital bed, his face flushed, his eyelids fluttering, as he dropped in and out of sleep. I settled down in a chair to wait. An hour later, as feeling returned to his arms and legs, he looked up and smiled.
"Dad, everything's tingling."
"Good," I murmured.
"Does that mean I'm all right?"
I nodded and told him the doctor's diagnosis. He sighed, then reached for a glass of water.
"So what happened?" he asked.
"You mean on the play?"
"It was a great hit, Seth," I said. "That big fullback, head-up in the hole -- it was like a cannon going off. One of the biggest hits I've ever seen."
Even as the words came out of my mouth, I regretted that what I was saying could sound like callous enthusiasm.
"Gee, thanks, Dad," he said, mockingly.
I helped Seth sit up then, grabbed his shoes. Although he was going to be all right, we both felt awful.
"You can quit now," I wanted to tell him. "As far as I'm concerned, you could never play another down."
But I couldn't bring myself to say it. No, it's his decision, I thought. He'll do the right thing.
And eventually he did. He quit. He quit not out of fear, or to spite me, but because he wanted to. He made his own decision. To my everlasting gratitude, he shed the specter of the demanding, judgmental, unpleasable coach. Maybe someday I'll be free of it myself.
Pat Toomay, who played for the Dallas Cowboys from 1970 to 1974, is the author of The Crunch and On Any Given Sunday. He now lives in New York. Distributed by United Features Syndicate. Copyright Salon magazine.