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Entry 6. When A Career Dies

Title: When A Career Dies
Entry Number: 06
Author: rsn_studios
Fandom: Original Fiction
Rating: PG-13, scenes of violence
Genre: Sports fiction
Spoiler Warnings:
Word Count: 1540

When A Career Dies...

For some reason as Forest City Hornets quarterback Greg Lambert lay on the ground, writhing in pain, he thought of Joe Theismann when he suffered his career-ending injury. He knew his leg wasn't broken, like Theismann's had been in such a grizzly fashion fifteen years earlier, but he knew his knee was destroyed. He had been hit from the blind side by Danieltown Predators linebacker Devon'te Paxton just a beat before he was about to throw the ball downfield to wide receiver Kasim Hassan, and Paxton's weight had twisted Lambert's leg in such a way to rip apart his knee ligaments.
Lambert felt the pain like a hurricane battering his soul, but, in an odd way, he was able to think clearly despite the agony. As the medical staff rushed to his aid, he looked up at Paxton, who stared down at him with the universal expression of regret. He knew Paxton wasn't a dirty player, as they had played together back when both of them were part of the Ruth Wildcats; two serene guys in the midst of some crazy cats who loved to fashioned themselves the Oakland Raiders of the Rutherford County Football League.
“How bad is it, Greg?” Dr. Simon Fowler asked, and Greg knew in that tone that the doctor already feared what he thought it was. Fowler had been with the team since its inception back in 1975, and, before that, with the old Tri City Tornadoes in the now-defunct Western Carolina Football Association. He knew his stuff, but he wanted to ease the player into the knowledge that his career might just be over.
Through gritted teeth, he managed to get out, “It's gone, doc!” He'd only joined the Hornets at the start of the year, when Marc Biasucci had retired after the Hornets had won the championship the year before, ironically due to lingering knee issues. The Wildcats were in the midst of a youth movement, so Lambert accepted a trade to Ruth's most hated rivals for a few draft picks.
“Hold on, bud! The cart's on its way!” said trainer Paul Thompson, who, like Dr. Fowler, had been there since the beginning of the Hornets. Hearing that a cart was coming out for you was something that no player wanted to hear, whether they were hurt or not. Despite the intense pain, he felt the pinprick of a needle going into his leg, and felt the painkillers going in to help alleviate the suffering a bit.
The ninety-five thousand crammed into Fieldcrest Stadium were so silent that Greg could hear a pin drop, and Greg could feel the pain lessen as the drugs kicked in. This was the first major injury he had ever had in his career, but it seemed it would also be his last. He had played four fifteen years already, so he had nothing else to prove to anyone. Lambert had been brought in to help mentor young second year quarterback Troy Davenport, who sopped up knowledge like a sponge.
Head Coach John Lofton leaned over to Lambert and asked sympathetically, “It's not good, is it?”
Lambert shook his head and said, “No...I think I'm done for, coach. Knee's tore up too bad!”
Lofton sighed heavily, and Lambert knew that one of Lofton's friends and former teammate, Steve Kayler, had had his career ended because of a knee injury so bad that he soon needed a knee replacement just to walk in relative comfort. “You know what we talked about the other day?”
“About becoming quarterback coach when I retire?” Lambert replied.
Lofton shook his head and said, “Once you recover, you can join up on the staff and help with Troy's development!”
Strangely enough, Greg was relieved that the offer stood. He had hoped to play for a couple more years, perhaps win another championship or two before hanging his helmet up once and for all. His wife, Penelope, had hoped he would retire already and help out with the burgeoning family business in real estate, but she also knew that Greg was a better football coach than he was a real estate agent, and Penelope was much better at developing properties than he could ever hope to be.
The cart came out and he was gently lifted onto it, and Lambert sat up to look at his teammates as well as the opposition. Paxton came up to him with an extended hand and said, “I'm sorry, brother!”
Greg nodded and shook Paxton's hand, saying, “Don't worry about it, friend! It happens! It's just my time to hang it up!” Paxton nodded, but Greg knew he didn't take any succor from his kind words. Football players never wanted to see anyone hurt, because in the back of their heads was that fear that they could be next. Playing on the gridiron was a brutal way to make a living, and there was always the chance of your career ending on the next play...or, as Greg had horrifically seen in high school, even your life.
His teammates came up to him and shook his hand, promising to win the game for him. Davenport came up and said, “Don't worry, Greg! I'll pull this out!” Greg could tell from his face that the kid was nervous on the inside, but so had Greg been when he first went into a playoff game back in 1985 when Trevor Bartman had thrown three interceptions, and the coach decided to roll the dice and throw a young Greg Lambert into the heart of the Spindale Stinger defense. He lost the game, but not without a fight, as he nearly brought his team back from a seventeen point deficit before falling just three points short as his last pass was deflected on fourth down.
The crowd cheered as they began to slowly drive him off the field. Troy went into the huddle and did what he could to rally the offense with one of offensive coordinator John Danielson's plays. They were tied at 38 midway through the third quarter, and Lambert was leaving with four touchdowns thrown and no interceptions. He hoped that the kid would be okay, but, for now, all Greg could worry about was how long the rehab would take before he could walk without crutches again.
The stadium had an MRI machine there, but they didn't bother with it, deciding to go ahead and send him on to Cool Springs Medical Center, which was just a half-mile away. With expert professionalism, the EMTs got Lambert into the ambulance with ease, and soon they were on their way. Lambert leaned back and looked out the window, watching the scenery of the busy urban background fly by as they sped towards the hospital, sirens wailing.
Despite the best efforts of second year quarterback Troy Davenport, the Hornets lost the game in double overtime to a Devon Wilson field goal to give the team their first ever playoff loss at home in team history. Lambert was in his room, reading the Forest City Tribune's take on the game, while his wife dozed away on the recliner. The writer had told of the way Davenport rallied the team after Lambert left with his injury, but, alas, his youth and inexperience just hindered the team too much, as he missed some throws that Lambert would have made.
His teammates came by, individually or in small groups, to check in on him. Davenport came in and apologized for not winning the game for him, which Lambert said was not needed, as he could only do so much. Paxton came by to check on him, and he and Lambert had a good conversation about the incident. Paxton had already announced his retirement, but he would play at least another week. For Greg, it was over.
It took roughly six months of rehab and getting his retirement in order before he could join the team as quarterbacks coach. By the time he joined up, he was impressed with Davenport's development, and soon realized that his job was going to be more than just tutoring the young third year player and his backups. Danielson wanted him to eventually replace him when he became head coach somewhere down the road, as Lofton had indicated that he would only coach a few more years, then retire.
As he walked onto the practice field, he still felt a twinge of pain from the injury, but that was something he was used to by now. Paxton had gone on to become linebackers coach at his alma mater, Grahamtown University, so he was happy for his old teammate and friend. He talked to the former linebacker from time to time, and while they never talked about the incident, Greg knew that he felt guilty about the injury. Some players might not, but most players Greg had known in his career would feel just like Paxton felt. But, for now, he had quarterbacks to coach, and he had to work on Troy Davenport's dropback passes, so that took him away from his reflective thoughts.


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