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The Kevin Everett Story
By Sam Carchidi
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2008 E.O. Sports Management and Sam Carchidi
All rights reserved.
"SHOW ME A SIGN"
They joined hands and formed a circle. Some bowed their heads. Some looked to the heavens and pleaded softly.
"Please, God, help him get up," Robert Royal said to himself.
It was a strange place to be praying. This wasn't a cathedral with stained-glass windows, holy statues, and a marble altar.
This was Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, just outside Buffalo. On the field, National Football League players from the Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos locked fingers in a prayer circle and watched anxiously as medical personnel attended to Kevin Everett. The popular third-year Bills tight end who twitched for a few seconds as he attempted to get up now seemed comatose as he lay on the turf.
Royal, who was also one of the Buffalo Bills' tight ends, was in the middle of the prayer circle. Like the rest of the players, the sight of his powerfully built friend — "K.E." to most of his teammates — lying on the ground startled him.
For most of his teenage and adult life, Everett could do just about any athletic feat he wanted: dunk a basketball, leap over a 6'8" high-jump bar, bench-press 375 pounds in the weight room. But now, at age 25, his chiseled 6-foot-4, 255-pound body wouldn't listen to his mind's simple request: Pick yourself up and walk to the sideline.
Everett had fallen to the ground face-first after tackling Denver kick returner Domenik Hixon to start the second half. He lay motionless for nearly 15 minutes, thoughts of paralysis dancing through his head.
"I'm done," Everett sensed when he couldn't respond to the Buffalo trainer's request to move his limbs. "I'm going to be paralyzed."
About 1,500 miles south in suburban Houston, Kevin's mom, Patricia Dugas, watched the scene in horror on a big-screen TV at a sports bar.
Wiande Moore, his longtime girlfriend, was temporarily spared the agony. A former scholarship track athlete, she had met Kevin when they attended the University of Miami. Oblivious to the developments in Buffalo, she was having her 2006 silver Honda Accord washed in Texas at the time of the injury.
Soon, the agony would engulf the trio. Soon, the agony would spread beyond Texas and western New York. Soon, a doctor was using words such as "catastrophic," "permanent neurological paralysis," and "potentially lethal" when discussing the spinal-cord injury.
* * *
Before her family moved to America when she was seven years old, Wiande (pronounced WEE-Ahn-DEE) Moore grew up in West Africa in the middle of a civil war. She remembers seeing dead bodies in the street near her home in Liberia. She remembers the frequent sound of gunshots and the time a bullet whizzed between her and her cousin. But nothing could compare to the fear she would soon feel when discovering that Kevin — her best friend, the love of her life — was motionless and that she was helpless, far away from the man she adored.
Wiande, 24, had gone to church that morning in Texas. She planned to watch the game with Kevin's mom, Patricia — whom Wiande calls "Mrs. Patricia" — and Kevin's three young sisters, Herchell, 15, Kelli, 14, and Davia, 11. Kevin had bought a home, located in the Houston suburb of Humble, for the family the previous year, and he also lived there.
That day, Wiande was running late. She had her car washed and was getting ready to make the 10-minute drive to Humble when Kevin's mom called and told her the Bills' game wasn't onlocal TV. They would have to watch it at a local bar and restaurant, also located in Humble. A short time later, Wiande received a call from her cousin, and the news wasn't good — Kevin had just been injured and was still on the field.
Frantically, Wiande headed to Kevin's house.
"My heart immediately begins to panic and in my mind, I don't know what to do," Wiande wrote in her journal later that night. She is a tenthgrade English teacher and track coach at her high school alma mater in Texas, and writing is her passion. She has written journals throughout her life; it is her way to stay organized, her way to preserve the past. "The drive to Kevin's was more of a panic than anything. Around 1:30, Mrs. Patricia called my phone from Mulligan's sports bar and said ... 'I don't know how critical it is, but he's down on the ground and can't get up.'"
Wiande figured that instead of meeting with Mrs. Patricia at the sports bar, she would comfort Kevin's three young sisters at their house.
"As tears continued to roll down my face and the rain from the windows dramatically fell on my windshield, I knew this accident was life-threatening," Wiande wrote in a journal that had the NFL logo on the navy blue cover. "I arrived at Kevin's house so afraid and scared. My mind was trying to stay strong for his sisters and mama, but I couldn't stand the thought of this happening to him and he's so far away. What is he thinking? How is he feeling? I couldn't think about anything, but I had to get to him. I had to get to him."
As she drove to Kevin's house, Wiande received another call from Kevin's mom, who was still at the sports bar. Things didn'tlook good, she said. Wiande pulled to the side of the road, wiped her eyes, and composed herself before continuing to Kevin's house to be with his three sisters.
When she arrived at the house, Davia, Kevin's youngest sister, was wiping tears as she opened the door for Wiande.
"It's going to be okay," said Wiande, a twinge of her West African accent noticeable. "It's going to be all right."
About five minutes later, Patricia arrived at the house and searched madly for emergency phone numbers for anyone who could shed light on the situation.
"I have to talk to somebody about what's going on with my baby," Patricia said to no one in particular. "I need to find out what's going on with my baby."
It was the second recent jolt to Patricia's warm, engaging family. The previous month, Davia went into a diabetic coma and spent two weeks in the intensive-care unit of a Texas hospital.
Now her oldest son appeared to be in an even worse predicament.
* * *
About one and a half hours before the injury, Everett had made one of the few starts of his three-year career, lining up at tight end in the season opener for both teams. This looked to be a breakthrough season for Everett. He had missed his entire rookie season because of a torn ligament in his left knee, and he was still playing catch-up in his second year. But now, in his third season, he felt more comfortable with the offensive system. He felt as if he belonged, felt as if he would make his mark — just like he did in high school, in junior college, and at the University of Miami.
The Bills had approached the season with guarded optimism. The team hoped to improve on a 7–9 season, basing a lot of its expectations on the emergence of quarterback J.P. Losman and the talents of wide receiver Lee Evans, along with a rebuiltoffensive line and the additions of running back Marshawn Lynch and linebacker Paul Posluszny, two talented rookies.
In the offseason, the players were hanging out more than usual. They were getting to know each other, getting more comfortable together. That closeness, they believed, would carry onto the field and produce a good season. The media was saying the Bills had a young team and that not much was expected of them. The players were intent on proving them wrong.
The optimism that came with the new season soon turned into fear. Fear that Everett would never be able to move again. Fear that he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Fear that his future might not last very long.
Everett had been on hundreds of kickoff-coverage teams at the high school, collegiate, and professional level. On this fateful day, as the Bills' Rian Lindell teed up the second-half kickoff, Everett was the first player to the kicker's right.
As he raced downfield, Everett wasn't blocked by anyone and had a clear shot at tackling Hixon, who was cutting toward the outside. Everett closed ground and, with his upper body leaning forward, collided with Hixon. Everett's helmet violently met the side of Hixon's helmet and shoulder pads near the Denver 20-yard line.
Besides the life-changing hit, there was something oddly different about the kickoff.
"They didn't want to block me," Everett recalled, more than three months after the play. "I guess they watched on film how I run into guys."
In football parlance, Everett was usually the wedge-buster, a guy who races downfield and throws his body into a cluster of blockers in an attempt to clog the lanes for the kick returner. It's dangerous work, but somebody has to do it.
On this play, though, Everett's job was made surprisingly easy.
Royal, a fellow tight end, bobbed up and down on the Bills' sideline as he watched the play unfold, gleeful that his good friend, Everett, was zipping past potential blockers.
"I was excited because he was representing the tight ends and he was the first one downfield," Royal said.
"I had the feeling their big wedge guys didn't want to have any contact with me, because I ran right straight to the guy," Everett said, referring to the kick returner, Hixon. "And the outside blocker, he didn't even come toward me, which I found odd. So I had a clear path to the guy. I was like, 'Wow, I've never had this much (room),' and I got excited about it, too. I guess I put too much thought into it ... and the worst happened."
Hixon was driven sideways by Everett's impact and was falling to the artificial turf when another Buffalo player finished the tackle.
"My body," Everett said, "went numb. It felt like he ran straight through me. I wanted to reach out and grab him, but I couldn't move."
As Bills quarterback Losman watched Everett placed on a backboard that would be moved into an ambulance, he hoped his teammate would give a reassuring gesture.
"Show me a sign," Losman thought to himself, a feeling shared by 71,132 fans and the TV audience.
Everett wanted to give a "thumbs-up" gesture to those at the stadium — like the Detroit Lions' Mike Utley famously did when he was carted off the field, paralyzed, in a 1991 game. Kevin wanted to show his mom, his girlfriend, his three young sisters, and the man who helped raise him, his grandfather, that everything was all right.
"When someone gets hit on the field, that's the No. 1 thing they want to do — put the thumb up to let everyone know it's not that bad," he said. "But I couldn't do it."
He couldn't move anything.
"I was trying," Everett said.
Everett was conscious while the medical crew attended to him.
"I knew what had happened the whole time I was out there," Everett said. "I heard the fans screaming and then I heard them get quiet. I knew everything that was going on. I heard my teammates telling me to get up and I couldn't. I'm glad they didn't try to help me up."
Moving him could have caused more damage to the spinal cord.
Everett heard a potpourri of voices; some belonged to his teammates, others to the Bills' quick-acting medical team, which, nine days earlier, had practiced for situations just like this.
Many of the players from the Bills and Broncos joined hands and said a prayer. "I didn't think it was serious. I thought it was a normal football injury," said Roscoe Parrish, a Bills wide receiver and one of Everett's closest friends. But the longer Everett didn't move, the more Parrish's concern grew.
"I just started praying and hoping," said Parrish, who had also been Kevin's teammate at the University of Miami, "that everything would be OK."
Everett felt some minor discomfort in his neck, but everything else was numb.
"Actually, I felt like it was all over," Everett said. "On the impact, I felt that everything just shut down. I couldn't move anything. I tried, with every strength I had in my body, to get up, and I couldn't get up. And I just felt like, 'Wow, I am actually paralyzed, because I had never had a stinger that made me feel like I couldn't move anything, so I knew it was a big problem when I couldn't lift my arms or move my legs. I tried, with everything I had in my mind, to move my body, but I couldn't do it."
Buffalo's medical team sprang into action. Swiftly.
Bud Carpenter, the Bills' head trainer, raced to Kevin's side.
"Can you move anything?" Carpenter asked.
"No. Nothing," Everett said.
"Oh, man," Everett remembered Carpenter saying.
Carpenter signaled for some assistance. Dr. John Marzo, the team's medical director, and assistant trainer Chris Fischetti hurried onto the field.
They took turns touching different parts of Kevin's body, asking if he could feel anything.
The medical team determined that Kevin, whose eyes remained open, had no mobility below his neck. Fischetti waved for Dr. Andrew Cappuccino, the Bills' orthopedist.
Cappuccino performed some more tests, squeezing various parts of Kevin's body and asking him to respond. Nothing. Cappuccino swallowed hard. This wasn't a typical football injury. This was life-threatening. Cappuccino determined that Kevin was quadriplegic, which meant he had zero voluntary muscle function in his arms and legs. He turned to Carpenter, the trainer, and told him they were in their "spinal-cord drill."
Carpenter immobilized Kevin's neck. Thirteen minutes after his collision with Hixon, Everett was gingerly placed into the ambulance, which literally shook because of the crowd's loud, thunderous cheers. A few minutes later, while on a backboard in the ambulance, Everett was intravenously given a steroid called Solu-Medrol to protect the spinal cord and reduce its swelling. At the same time, Cappuccino sent iced saline into Kevin's veins, flushing the body to lower his temperature — a ground-breaking treatment known as moderate hypothermia.
"I'm having trouble breathing," Kevin said as the ambulance headed to Millard Fillmore Gates Hospital, located about 25 minutes away.
"Hang in there," Cappuccino told him, masking his own fright.
Everett said he doesn't remember much pain. Nor does he remember receiving treatment in the ambulance. In fact, aside from what took place on the field in the minutes after the collision, he remembers very little about the first two days after his injury.
As the ambulance drove toward the hospital, no one knew if Kevin would ever return to the field.
No one knew if he would live.
* * *
Buffalo lost the opener, 15–14, when Denver's Jason Elam kicked a 42-yard field goal as time expired.
It was the Bills' second jolt of the day. The first one — the sight of Everett being knocked motionless and then driven away in an ambulance — would have the most lasting effect.
The Buffalo locker room was somber when the media entered after the game.
"When we came in here, the first thing we thought about was Kevin," Buffalo wide receiver Evans said. "There are things that are bigger than the game and that's certainly an example."
"I hope it's the last time I ever have to choke back tears in the middle of the playing field," Bills punter Brian Moorman said. "We're in a waiting period and hoping we get good news."
"Football isn't what's important now," said Royal, the tight end who is one of Kevin's best friends.
Everett likely experienced about two-thirds of a ton of compression force on his spine when he made the hit, Dr. Timothy Gay told USA Today. Dr. Gay, a professor of physics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who has studied the physics of football, said kickoffs produce more violent collisions than almost any play in football because players have more of a chance to get to their full speed.
Gay watched slow-motion replays of the hit and said it appeared Everett's head was down when he made the tackle. That means the force of the collision was applied to his spine.
"I think I had my head down more so than other times when I would make a tackle," Everett agreed.
Football players are taught a basic tackling premise: To avoid injuries, keep your head up. It's not always easy to do. There are unseen variables that cause players to slip or twist at odd angles when they make a tackle, thus increasing the risk of injury.
With the head down, the spine is more vulnerable.
"That's why you don't go flying at a guy without your head up," said Gay, adding he didn't think more protective equipment would have helped Everett because of his head's angle at the point of impact. "You have 250-pound guys running 10 feet per second into each other. You're putting yourself in a dangerous position."
* * *
Everett's injury jolted Jimmy Rieves, his former junior college coach at Kilgore, Texas. It caused Rieves to take an unwanted trip in his memory — back to 1989 when he was a graduate assistant at the University of Mississippi and Ole Miss defensive back Chucky Mullins was severely injured in a game against Vanderbilt.
Excerpted from Standing Tall by Sam Carchidi. Copyright © 2008 E.O. Sports Management and Sam Carchidi. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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