Like a Twig

It was a chilly Tuesday morning in November when the rickety yellow school bus pulled up to the end of our street to pick us up for school. Our street was the last stop on the main road before the bus went deep into the woods to pick up the kids that lived around Chebacco Lake. This is where the bus ride went from normal wide roads to windy little dirt paths shaded by a huge forest. Our elementary school bodies bounced in our seats on the rough roads, everyone still groggy and quiet in the early morning.

At the very end of the bumpy lake roads a kid named Matt bounded onto the bus, alive with much more energy than everyone else. He immediately launched into a story that captivated the entire bus. He told us about a football game that had happened the night before, shocked that no one else on the bus had seen it. The game was between the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants but the important thing we need to know about was what Lawrence Taylor had done to Joe Theismann.

Driving through the shady woods, down a windy road near a lake, made Matt seem like he was conjuring a ghost story around a camp fire. He described this this monster in pads – the fastest, meanest, strongest player on the field, Lawrence Taylor. LT (as he was known) was an evil super hero, who tore around the edge of a defense so fast that big players couldn’t keep up with him but was so strong that smaller quicker players would melt in his presence. Taylor hungered for quarterbacks and when he would inevitably reach the unsuspecting QB Taylor would launch his body like a missile, with one arm raised high in the air ready to chop down on the ball as he collided with unsuspecting quarterback. His victim would look like he had been in a car accident and didn’t see the tractor trailer that just T-boned him.

We all knew who Joe Theismann was he had been famous for most of our lives at that point, a Super Bowl champion and good looking All-American guy who’s name rhymed with Heisman. I had some early memories of Theisman, having just moved from Florida and remembering the sadness at the end of the first Super Bowl party I had ever gone to, where Theismann’s Redskins had beaten our Miami Dolphins. I could still remember the end of the party with the sad cake decorated with Redskins and Dolphins helmets, Winston cigarette butts stuck in it, totally forgotten in the onslaught that ended the game for our hometown Fins in the fourth quarter. Joe Theismann was an icon, what could have happened to him?

Matt stood on the green plastic bench seat so that we could all hear his shocking tale. Taylor had blazed around the corner of the line and grabbed Theismann’s shoulders, then he swung the rest of his whole body around and onto Theismann’s leg. Then the QB disappeared beneath a pile of attacking Giants players and hapless Redskins blockers trying to stop them. To our tired seventh grade ears this sounded like a pretty standard football play but what came next was truly surprising.

“Thiesmann’s leg snapped like a twig”, Matt said, making a snapping motion with his hands. They played it a thousand times from every angle, super slo-mo for maximum effect. The fuzzy video made it hard to really see the gruesomeness of the injury but somehow leaving even more room for your imagination to see the protruding bones and spurting blood. The medics attended to Thiesmann like he was a soldier wounded in battle. “And then guess who pops out of the crowd of players?” Matt asked.

It was LT! This horrifying football villain who’s face we could barely see underneath the thick grid of his white face mask and who was normally seen terrorizing other huge men, jumped up like he had seen a ghost, frantically waving for help from the sidelines. It was LT who was the first to signal the medics and who knew immediately how severe the injury to Theismann’s leg was and he was really sad and freaked out about it.

As I walked back to my bus seat, I wrestled with the idea that the most fearsome player any of us had ever seen suddenly turned into my mother after she saw me flip over my bike handle bars. It was hard not to become an LT fan that day on the bus, not just for his violent hits high Tech Bowl rating but also for the fact that he really seemed to care about his fellow players.