SB Nation

Mark Kram, Jr. | October 2, 2012

Like Any Normal Day

On a March day in 1997, Albert “Buddy” Miley was delivered by his younger brother Jimmy into the hands of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, “The Suicide Doctor.” Secretly, they flew to Michigan, where Jimmy and his girlfriend Lisa Lepri drove Buddy to a Quality Inn & Suites in a Detroit suburb for their rendezvous with Kevorkian and his two assistants. Twenty-three and a half years before, Buddy, 17, had been a flashy quarterback for William Tennent High School in southeastern Pennsylvania when, in a game against rival Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School, he was tackled on a play and rendered a quadriplegic. In these chapters from his acclaimed book, “Like Any Normal Day: A Story of Devotion,” author Mark Kram, Jr. takes us back to the day in 1973 when the injury occurred – very much a normal day…until it wasn’t.

Quarterbacks aggravated Carmen Frangiosa, Jr. It was nothing personal, just that quarterbacks carried themselves with an air of superiority. To begin with, you could never get near them during practice. They would wear a sleeveless top over their jersey to set them apart from their offensive teammates, and they always seemed to have an assistant coach nearby to stand guard over them, just in case Frangiosa or one of his defensive teammates charged through the line and got too close. He remembers that if you even brushed up against the quarterback in practice, the coaches would chew your ass out. Game day could not come soon enough for him each week.

Frangiosa Understood Precisely What Charters Wanted Him To Do To Buddy If He Took Off Running: Make Him Pay The Price.

On the Tuesday before the William Tennent game, Plymouth Whitemarsh coach Ed Charters summoned his star middle linebacker to his office and gave him his assignment for that Saturday: Get a helmet on Tennent quarterback Buddy Miley. Given to operatic displays of temperament, Charters patterned himself in style after legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant, even down to the hound’s-tooth hat that sat perched on his bald head. Charters had assembled one of the better high school teams in Pennsylvania in 1973, a commonly held assertion that even Penn State coach Joe Paterno endorsed in a congratulatory letter he sent to the team at the end of the season. But Charters had seen some film on Buddy and knew that he could create problems, particularly with his running ability. The 5-11, 220-pound Frangiosa understood precisely what Charters wanted him to do to Buddy if he took off running: Make him pay the price.

Collegiality between rivals had no place in the Suburban One Conference back the 1970s. "It was year-round, pure hatred," says Frangiosa, who years later would scratch his head whenever his son would shake hands with an opponent upon leaving the field and say: "See you at the party!" No one extended a hand to an opponent back when Frangiosa played, unless it happened to be attached to a forearm to the chin. Although he knew Buddy from playing baseball against him, Frangiosa looked upon him as just another obstacle in a sport where the coaches had always told him he was too small. The son of a World War II veteran who had seen action in the Battle of the Bulge, Frangiosa remembered that Charters and others played on that insecurity, even when he won Parade All-American honors that senior year and Notre Dame and 40 some other colleges came to recruit him. Frangiosa says, "I definitely had a chip on my shoulder."

"It Was Year-Round, Pure Hatred."

Scattered clouds hung over southeastern Pennsylvania that Saturday, the ground wet from some showers that had passed through the area. Early that morning, Buddy bounded up from his bedroom in the basement and found his sister Rose sitting on the living-room sofa. Wearing his helmet, Buddy jogged back and forth across the carpet and asked her, "How does my hair look?" It spilled from beneath his headgear and swished this way and that. "It looks good, Bud," his sister told him with a giggle. Cousin Bobby Miley Jr. (or Bobby J) had been a reserve on that William Tennent squad and remembers that Buddy was "in a good mood, eager to play that day." In the locker room, Buddy stripped out of his street clothes, got his foot taped for extra support and slipped into his uniform, yanking his jersey down over his head and tying a towel to his waist. Giving special attention to his cleats, he wrapped them in white adhesive tape, bestowing upon them the razzle-dazzle of the shoes Joe Namath wore with the New York Jets. With his helmet and shoulder pads under his arm, he then boarded the bus with his teammates for P-W.

Buddy Was "In A Good Mood, Eager To Play That Day."

Only Bert, his father, and Bob, his older brother, had come to see Buddy play that day. Rosemarie Miley, his mother, had been overcome by an "odd feeling" and instead accompanied Jimmy, her youngest, to his game at the Warrington A.A. As the P-W players stretched on the opposite side of the field, Buddy walked up to the 50-yard line, pointed at them and said: "All you guys are overrated. We’ll see what happens after today!" Frangiosa says Charters would have "crucified us" if he or any of his teammates had engaged in such theatrics, so he just looked over at fellow co-captain Steve Nauta and said, "Are you watching this guy?" Frangiosa could feel the fury build up in him as Buddy yakked, thinking to himself: "YOU are doing THIS on OUR field?" But it was not until the game began that he and Buddy exchanged words. As Buddy crouched behind center, Frangiosa glared into his eyes.

"You’ve got a big mouth, huh?" Frangiosa said.

"Yeah," Buddy told him. "And I can back it up."

On the sideline that day with a broken leg, P-W offensive tackle Steve Bernardo remembers that both teams that day played "physical, physical football." Although Tennent was 0-2 and overmatched in every aspect of the game, they played with uncharacteristic abandon behind Buddy, who undressed the swarming P-W defense with his running ability. "Buddy was a wise-ass, but the better he did against us, the better he got," says Bernardo. P-W safety Mike Dippolito remembers Buddy "chewed us up" with his agility and speed, and that he was "taking big chunks of yardage." When he connected with end Craig White on an 11-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, Buddy jumped up and called to his opponents: "What about that! What about that! What about that!" Frangiosa passed Buddy as he was leaving the field and told him: "You throw one touchdown pass. What do you want – a medal?" But Buddy just grinned at him. Frangiosa remembers, "He was enjoying it, really in the moment. He was playing well and he knew it."

"He was enjoying it, really in the moment. He was playing well and he knew it."

But Frangiosa was livid. "So pissed off I could have killed him," he says. P-W defensive coordinator Reese Whitely summoned Frangiosa and assigned him to shadow Buddy. "Whenever he goes, you go," said Whitely, once a star quarterback at the University of Virginia. "We have to get on this guy. I want him hit every time he touches the ball!" But Frangiosa would hit him "whether he had the ball or not," which began to unnerve Buddy, who looked up at Frangiosa and asked, "What are you doing?" Frangiosa sneered at him and replied, "Take a look at me. Get used to it." At the end of a passing play, Frangiosa rammed him with a shoulder, tripped over him and gave him "a little shot on the way."

Bodies flew across the line of scrimmage with increasing intensity on each play.

Bodies flew across the line of scrimmage with increasing intensity on each play. As P-W continued to apply pressure on him, Buddy grew irritable and began upbraiding his offensive linemen. Frangiosa chuckled and said, "What are you yelling at them for? Aren’t you the superstar? You’ve got the shoes for it." But the rangy quarterback just laughed as if to say: Bring it on. "Real hard hitting," says Frangiosa, who also played guard. On a P-W offensive play in the second quarter, he inadvertently plowed down his own fullback, Tim Erlacher, from behind. Erlacher writhed on the ground in howling pain. Ordinarily, he would have tried to find a way to get up and walk off the field on his own power to spare himself the wrath of Charters for using up a timeout. But he looked down at his shattered ankle and waved to the coaches for help. As Erlacher sat on the sideline in an air cast, P-W scored, went ahead 7-6 on the extra point, and kicked off.

Calling out the signals as the P-W defense edged in closer to the line, Buddy leaned over center at the Tennent 40-yard line. The play he called in the huddle was a handoff to running back Mark Dougherty. But Buddy also had the option to run with the ball, and that is precisely what he did as he spotted a hole open up off left tackle. From his safety position, Dippolito chose not to drop back into coverage but to stop any possible run. Buddy dodged him, but Dippolito remembers he clutched a handful of his jersey as Buddy sped by. Six or seven yards up field, P- W defensive tackle Grant Hudson caught him by the foot. But it was Frangiosa who had an angle on him. With an 8- to-10-yard running start, he plowed into him at chest level with the rage that had been building in him since Charters had handed him the game plan. Buddy flipped over and landed on his neck. Under a pile of squirming bodies, Buddy emitted an anguished squeal.


Then… "I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die."

"I'm Gonna Die. I'm Gonna Die."

No one who was close to him would ever forget the noise that came out of Buddy. Some would go on to play in college and even the pros, where they would become intimately acquainted with the soundtrack of injury -- the crunching of helmets, followed by the guttural cry of a player who had shattered a knee or arm. But this was somehow worse, hard for any of them to describe except to say, as Hudson would, "you immediately knew that this was something bad." Hudson was overcome with a sick feeling, accompanied by the sense that the day had suddenly become surreal. Ordinarily, Buddy would have bounced back up with a grin, if only to show his opponent that he had the biggest balls on the field. But he just remained there on the ground, face down, as Tennent running back Bob McCarney stood over him.

"Yo, Bud," his old friend said. "Come on, man. Get up."

Frangiosa waved to the Tennent sideline and urged, "Somebody get out here! Quick!"

Suddenly, there was a convergence of worried onlookers. Up among the increasingly uneasy spectators, Bert left his seat and headed for the field, his face fixed in a deep frown as he waded through the crowd. Bob, in his first year as a history teacher at Tennent, was seated elsewhere with a colleague, Bob Kennedy, and waited for a sign of some movement. When there did not appear to be any, he told Kennedy, "I think he is paralyzed." With urgency in his step, he hopped a fence and walked over to the crowd that had formed around his brother. Tennent head coach Bill Juzwiak was kneeling down by then to attend to Buddy, and remembers thinking: "This cannot be happening. Good God!" Frangiosa just looked on in a state of shock until one of the coaches approached him with expelling hands and asked him and his teammates to stand back. Frangiosa says that he is 100 percent sure that Buddy had movement in his upper body.

What Happened At That Point Is A Blur, Stored By Some In An Unreachable Place In The Unconscious mind.

What happened at that point is a blur, stored by some in an unreachable place in the unconscious mind. But what is clear is that no one immediately knew what was wrong with Buddy, only that he was in an incoherent state of shock and something had to be done. Because of the way he had fallen, and the angle that his head was in, some conjectured that he had shattered his collarbone. Some suspected it was his arm that had been injured, perhaps even his leg. In fact, Frangiosa remembers as he looked on in deepening panic that Charters scolded him: "He has a broken arm! What the hell is your problem?" Frangiosa replied, "No, this guy is bad, coach." But while P-W had a doctor on the sideline who came out to attend to Buddy, Frangiosa remembers that "no one took control of the situation," in part because of the wild screams that welled up from the fallen player. No one suspected that it was a spinal cord injury, which can be the only explanation for why such standard precautions as sliding a board under him and stabilizing his head were not observed. Someone rolled Buddy over on his back. Someone else undid his chin strap and removed his helmet. And McCarney and some other players lifted him up and placed him on the stretcher that had been provided by the attendants of the ambulance that had parked by the field. His eyes glazed over with confusion, Buddy looked at McCarney as they moved him and, as his head jiggled to one side, grunted: "UGGGGHHH!" McCarney says, "I swear that was when he crushed his spinal cord."

"I Swear That Was When He Crushed His Spinal Cord."

With Buddy strapped on the stretcher, the crew maneuvered him into the rear of the ambulance and began to close the door. "Get his legs in!" shouted Bert, who had jumped up into the back of the vehicle. On the way from the field, the ambulance stopped off at the P-W sideline to pick up Erlacher, who was placed on the bed across from Buddy. Erlacher says the driver called ahead to Sacred Heart Hospital in Norristown and say, "We have two football players, both with a possible broken leg. Bringing them in." Erlacher remembers thinking: My leg is not possibly broken. My leg is broken. Upon hearing what the driver had said – that Buddy had a possible broken leg - Bert said sharply: "He is hurt worse than that!"

Swallowed up by the wailing siren, Bert sat in the back of the ambulance and stared at Buddy, not knowing what to say as this boy who had so challenged him whimpered: "Oh dear Lord, thank you for 17 years of life. Oh dear Lord, thank you for 17 years of life. Oh dear Lord…." On and on he uttered those words, as Erlacher exchanged glances with the attendant stationed in the rear and thought: "I’ve got a broken leg and I’m not hamming it up like that." But years later Buddy would remember he told himself over and over, as he lay there enveloped in shadows: Keep your eyes open. Because he was sure if he allowed them to close, he would never open them again.

Keep Your Eyes Open.

Jimmy Miley led neighborhood friend Donnie Schulz down the steep stairwell, ignoring the chin- up bar over the bottom step that the boys always used to swing from. Weak light seeped through the basement windows onto odds and ends of drab furniture. With Bob off on his own and Buddy upstairs, Jimmy had the space to himself now and enjoyed the privacy, even if a hard rain would leave the floor ankle-deep in water. But on this day there was only the usual clutter underfoot: uncollected laundry, baseball gloves and toys from the previous Christmas. As Donnie looked over his shoulder, Jimmy set up the Bell & Howell projector on a table and attached a movie reel to the spindle. When he switched it on, a square of light appeared on the wall: Into it steps Buddy, his lean body crouched over center as the Plymouth-Whitemarsh defense settles into position.

The ball is snapped.

Buddy drops back, pivots and turns up field.

A hole opens up in the line.

Buddy slips through it but is upended after a short gain and disappears beneath a swarm of converging tacklers.

Jimmy switched the projector off.

The two boys just sat there until Donnie said, "So that was it? That was how he did it?"

Jimmy shrugged and replied, "Well, yeah…"

Jimmy backed up the film that the school had given the Mileys and played it again.

"Look," he said. "See how Buddy dips his head? See how the other guys come in? And the way Buddy lands? "

Donnie could not think of what else to say, so he only said: "Wow."


Whatever else Jimmy would remember, it would be this: Something very wrong had been in the air that day. Given that he was only 11, he could not fully grasp what happened, only that "all hell seemed to break loose" and the adults that surrounded him were consumed with panic. Bert had called from Sacred Heart Hospital, but had been too overcome to speak, breaking down as he uttered the words, "Buddy is…" But Bob took the receiver from him and told Rosemarie, "Buddy is in the hospital. It’s pretty bad." Sister-in-law Eileen Miley heard what happened from her husband – also Bob - who told her that it appeared that Buddy had a broken neck. Immediately, she called her two sisters, who were nuns in Ocean City, N.J., and asked them to pray for her nephew that evening at Mass. At the Miley house, Eileen hugged Rosemarie and gathered the youngest of the children, Patti, Linda and Jimmy.

"All Hell Seemed To Break Loose" And The Adults That Surrounded Him Were Consumed With Panic.

"Get down on your knees," she told them.

They did.

And she began a rosary.

"The First Sorrowful Mystery, the Agony of Jesus in the Garden…."

The children bowed their heads as their aunt began with the Apostles Creed, the beads entwined in her fingers as she held the crucifix in her hands: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth; and in Jesus Christ His only Son, Our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died. He descended into Hell; the third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen…"

An interview with Buddy Miley's brother, Bob

Somewhere beyond his line of vision in the emergency room at Sacred Heart Hospital, Buddy overheard someone say in a low voice: "We’ll just have to see. There’s a chance he won’t live through the night." So…that explained why no one had looked in on him for what seemed to be hours: They’re waiting for me to die. He had the overwhelming sense that he was encased from the neck down in hard cement, unable to move any of his appendages upon command. And yet he still had some feeling, even if it reminded him of being pricked by "a thousand needles." Searching the room with his eyes, he looked over at his brother Bob and told him he was thirsty. Bob found a cup of water and held it to his lips. Buddy jutted his chin forward, sipped from it and asked, "Am I paralyzed? Bob? Am I paralyzed?" Bob did not know what to say, but remembers that he was consumed by dread, the escalating sense that none of their lives would ever again be the same. Bert remembers even less, just that he pounded his head against the wall in the adjoining room as a priest stood by his side. Someone later had asked him to sign a form but he was shaking so hard that he could not hold a pen in his hand. Bert says, "It was a dark day."

They're Waiting For Me To Die.

Whatever could go wrong did go wrong for Buddy in the hours that followed the injury. Given the extreme distress he had exhibited on the field, he should have been triaged by the EMT and paramedic, immobilized and sent to a regional trauma center. But that did not happen. According to players who were there, well-intentioned hands rolled Buddy over on his back, removed his helmet and hoisted him up onto a stretcher. None of the protocols that were in place for dealing with a spinal-cord injury were followed, including something as simple as the immediate application of ice to control swelling. Exactly why it was presumed that Buddy had a broken leg will never be known – the EMT "run report" and the hospital records have been long discarded. But as Tim Erlacher, the injured P-W player, and Bert both say, that is precisely what the EMT alerted Sacred Heart Hospital, then a small hospital that was not staffed to handle a spinal cord-problem with the same efficiency as a trauma center. Consequently, an emergency- room aide stripped Buddy out of his uniform jersey by removing it over his head instead of cutting it off. Rosemarie shakes her head and sighs, "What can I say?

Buddy Had Sustained A Grave Injury To His Spinal Column.

Contrary to what had been suspected, Buddy had sustained a grave injury to his spinal column, an intricate system of 33 vertebrae designed to surround and protect a cord of supple tissue the diameter of an index finger that extends from the base of the skull to the lower back. At the very top of the spinal column are seven cervical vertebrae, followed by a 12 thoracic, five lumbar, five sacral and 4 coccyx. In between each vertebra are peripheral nerves that branch out into the body and carry commands from the brain to the limbs – Pick up that cup! – or respond to outward stimuli that trigger nerve impulses back through the spinal cord to the brain – Ouch! That stung! In the event that the spinal cord is damaged, the signals to the brain are interrupted, and there is a loss of function below the point of impairment, which is why the higher up the spinal column an injury occurs, the more catastrophic the outcome can be. An injury at C-3 is commonly fatal in that it impacts breathing. While Buddy would have some issues that indicated damage at C-3, including a weakened diaphragm that would cause him to run out of air before he completed sentences and a predisposition to pneumonia because of his inability to cough effectively, X-rays revealed he suffered severe damage at C-4 and C-5, which controls the arms and legs. Imagine an automobile that had an engine but no axles.

"Mom", He Said, "I'm Paralyzed."

"Hold his head! Hold his head!" commanded the neurosurgeon that had been called in. The big concern at that point had been the degree of swelling that had occurred within the spinal cord, by then lodged between the jagged edges of the vertebrae. Given that Carmen Frangiosa had observed Buddy move his upper body on the field, it is possible that at that point he could have escaped with an "incomplete" spinal cord injury, which is to say he possibly could have recovered some function over an extended period of rehabilitation. But that could have occurred only if he had received proper care from the very beginning, and even then no one could say for certain what would have happened. It is conceivable that his injury was "complete" – and thus irreversible – just by virtue of how he had landed, and that even cautious handling would not have been enough to spare him his outcome. Given corticosteroid to curtail swelling, he was placed in traction, with 10-pound weights attached to two bolts in the back of his skull, and strapped into a Stryker frame, which enabled him to be turned front and back and side to side to prevent bedsores. Tears slid down his cheeks as Rosemarie walked into the ICU.

"Mom," he said, "I’m paralyzed."

Rosemarie placed her hand on his, and replied in a composed voice, "Bud, it’ll be fine."

Getting to the hospital had been a challenge for Rosemarie, who was driven by Eileen and accompanied by a friend, Flos Lutz. Uncertain of how to get to Sacred Heart Hospital, Eileen spotted Mercy Suburban Hospital and stopped there for directions. The women were wild with anxiety, the three of them searching for street signs as they speculated on what would happen to Buddy. When they finally got to Sacred Heart Hospital, Rosemarie saw how pale Bert looked and remembers hearing him explain: "It was a clean hit." But Rosemarie was not prepared for the surge of emotion that welled up in her when she looked down at Buddy in that Stryker frame, rivulets of blood flowing from the site of where the two holes had been drilled into his skull. She told herself: I cannot let him see me cry. None of her children ever had, with the exception of that day in November 1963, when she stood over her ironing board as Walter Cronkite removed his glasses and said: "From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official. President Kennedy died at 1:00 Central Standard Time…2:00 Eastern Standard Time….Some 38 minutes ago." Bob had come home from school that day and had seen her standing there weeping for the fallen JFK, the first Irish Catholic ever to ascend to the presidency. But while Rosemarie did not let Buddy see her cry that day at Sacred Heart Hospital, tears welled in her eyes as she sat in a rear pew at the small chapel there and prayed.

Hail Mary, full of grace.
Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death.

And then: Please, Lord. Let him walk.

Sitting along the walls of the hospital corridors were scattered groups of somber Tennent players. Coach Juzwiak stood in the waiting room with the Mileys, their faces etched in worry. Frangiosa even stopped by, but to see his teammate Erlacher, not Buddy. Erlacher had sat in the emergency room for what seemed forever as doctors occasionally stopped by and assured him, "Hang in there. We’ll get to you." It was not until his father dropped by later that the delay was explained. "Just relax," the elder Erlacher said. "The kid they brought in with you has a busted neck." But Frangiosa was unaware of any of that as he looked in on Erlacher and asked him if he was OK. Tim told him "yeah," but nodded to where the doctors were working with Buddy.

"But this is bad over there," Erlacher told him.

"I know," Frangiosa said. "He has a broken arm or something."


"What happened?"

Erlacher shook his head and said, "It’s not good."

"When You Walk Out On The Battlefield, You Never Know Who Is Going To Get Hurt. Or Killed. Sometimes It Just Happens, Just Like This Just Happened. Did You Plan It? No."

Frangiosa walked into the waiting room and found Bob Miley, who looked at him mournfully and said: "Carmen, Buddy is paralyzed." The force of those words slammed into the young player "like a punch in the jaw." Quickly, he did an inventory of the events of the day: It had been a hard hit, but no harder than any other. It had been bad, you could see that. But paralyzed? My God! Told by his coach that Buddy had a broken arm, Frangiosa had allowed himself to slide back into the rhythm of the game. He even looked across the line at the new Tennent quarterback, Pace Gonnam, and said: "I’m tracking you down next, pal!" Frangiosa remembers the young sophomore was "scared shitless." But it was Frangiosa in the weeks that followed who would feel tracked, and who would wonder why it had been Buddy and not him who had been injured on the play.

How could this have happened?

He turned to his father.

"Dad," he said, "I don’t know. I’m not dealing with this thing."

The World War II veteran looked at him, worried by the deep turmoil that his son was in. "What are you talking about?" he said. "When you walk out on the battlefield, you never know who is going to get hurt. Or killed. Sometimes it just happens, just like this just happened. Did you plan it? No."


Word of what had happened spread through the two schools on Monday. A headline in the sports section of the local paper announced that day: "QB Is Paralyzed in Tennent Game." Juzwiak fielded interviews with reporters but remembers thinking then, What do I do now? Quit? But he continued coaching and his players continued playing, swept up in the schoolwide campaign to lend Buddy support and encouragement. At P-W, some players did drop off the team because of what happened, either told to do so by their parents or just suddenly concerned for their own safety. Sensing the uneasy mood that had settled over his team, Charters called his players in a circle and told them Buddy could have just as easily injured himself by falling off his bicycle or from being hit the wrong way by a wave at the shore. Charters arranged for his players to bus over to the hospital, but Grant Hudson could not bring himself to go, an omission that for years would leave him thinking he had behaved as "kind of a coward."

Outwardly, Buddy impressed the P-W players as being in surprisingly high spirits. As they shuffled into his room in small groups, their eyes cast downward or on the profusion of tubes and wires attached to his still body, he greeted them with a wide grin, as if any second he would get up out of the bed, eye a ball that his teammates had given him and say, "Toss that over here." But that would always be an ability Buddy had, the way he had of putting people at ease. Mike Dippolito found this to be the case when he came into the room and Buddy asked, "Who is No. 42?" Immediately, Dippolito began to redden, unsure why he had been asked to identify himself. He had played with Buddy in grade school on the city-wide all-star team, The Little Quakers.

Dippolito told him he was No. 42. "Remember me, Bud?" he said. "From The Little Quakers? Mike?"

"Oh yeah," said Buddy. He smiled at Dippolito and reminded him how he had batted down what had been his final touchdown pass.

Dippolito relaxed.

"Good play," Buddy told him. "Grab my hand, pick it up and shake it."

Their Son Would Be A Quadriplegic. Someone Would Have To Care For Him.

Whenever visitors dropped by the hospital – and they did so with frequency in those early days – Buddy expressed to them that his injury was a temporary setback, that he would be healed by spring and back on the baseball field. He would play his senior year and go on to college, just as he had always planned. Of course, that would not be possible, not by that spring or any spring. While his neurosurgeon had explained that it would be a year before they would know what functions Buddy would regain, if any, he told Bert and Rosemarie that the odds of that happening were less than favorable. Their son would be a quadriplegic. Someone would have to care for him. But there was never any question where he would go or who would take care of him. Whatever happened in the years ahead, Rosemarie would see to it that Buddy would get the around-the-clock attention that only someone who loved him so dearly could provide. She knew it would be hard on Bert and her other children, especially the youngest of them – Jimmy, who would slip even deeper into the background.

Those early days would remain a blur to Jimmy. Joanne, his oldest sister, had been house- sitting somewhere and Jimmy and Linda stayed with her that initial evening. Confused, the two asked Joanne, "What is a broken neck? Is Buddy going to be OK?" Jimmy did not see Buddy for a few days, and he stood in the back when he finally did, behind his parents, Bob, and his sisters. Seeing him again and hearing him talk was a relief, even if it was startling to his young eyes the way they had him hooked up in that Stryker frame. While Buddy stopped eating and spiraled into a depression in the hospital, Jimmy found him upbeat whenever he would go see him, so Jimmy would be upbeat, too, thinking: It’s a just break. Players get ‘em all the time. It’ll heal. It was not until later that he began to understand the implications of the word "paralyzed," when a friend stopped by the room to see Buddy and picked up a football that was lying on a chair. With Buddy face down in the Stryker frame, the friend touched the back of his leg with the ball.

"Do you feel that?" the friend said.

"No," Buddy said.

The friend lifted the ball.

"Do you feel that?" he asked.

"Yes," Buddy said.

Jimmy looked over at his Buddy and under his breath said: "Oh, shit."


About The Author

About the Author


Mark Kram Jr. worked at the Detroit Free Press and the Baltimore News American before joining the Philadelphia Daily News in 1987. He contributes the “American Read” essay for Business Day Sports Monthly in Cape Town, South Africa and his work has appeared in The Best American Sports Writing anthology six times. The Associated Press Sports Editors have awarded him first place prizes for feature writing in 2008 and for explanatory reporting in 2009 and 2010. The Society of Professional Journalists honored him with the 2011 Sigma Delta Chi Award for feature writing. He lives in Haddonfield, NJ with his wife and two daughters. "Like Any Normal Day: A Story of Devotion" is his first book.

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