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Delgado's Return Is Emotional : Football: Irvine player, who suffered serious head injury, is back as an honorary captain.

September 24, 1993|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — Marc Delgado stepped onto the football field Sept. 11. No helmet. No pads. No cleats. He wore his Irvine High School jersey, No. 10.

He started toward midfield for the coin toss.

"I felt pumped up," Delgado said. "I was so excited I was shaking."

Jackie Blomgren, his mother, was in the stands. Tears welled in her eyes.

"I blew it," she said. "I was going to go through it without crying. But I became unglued."

Vaquero Coach Terry Henigan watched from the sideline, trying to remain stoic.

"We always talk about the Irvine family," he said. "That was it right there."

Everyone on the Irvine side was acutely aware of the moment. They were with Delgado each step. Trauma has that effect.

Months before, they had been with him through 72 hours of pure hell. In a summer-league game, Delgado had suffered a head injury that resulted in a blood clot. He had surgery to remove the clot, and the hospital became a second home, not just for his family but for anyone connected with Irvine football.

Now, he was on a football field again, for the coin toss.

"They deferred, and I said we'd take the ball," Delgado said. "It was the highlight of my career."

Delgado, a junior, will be the first to say it. He was never a football star. He is 5 feet 8, and weighs about 155 pounds after a heavy meal. He isn't about to burn anyone deep either.

As a freshman, he was a third-string tailback. Yet, Delgado made the varsity as a sophomore wide receiver last season.

"He has a great, great love for the game," Henigan said. "That made him stand out. In fact, I'm not sure any other kid would have gotten hurt that day. He was making that extra effort."

The pass was off target and Delgado dived for the ball during a game July 10 at Irvine. He collided with the defender, then landed head first.

"The instant it happened, I knew it was more than just the wind being knocked out of him," Blomgren said. "I kicked off my shoes and climbed the chain-link fence."

By the time she reached the field, Henigan, trainer Jason White and Frank Blomgren--Delgado's stepfather--were talking with paramedics.

"They saw me and said, 'Get her out of here,' " Jackie Blomgren said. "I realized Marc wasn't going to get up and shake it off."

Doctors removed a blood clot from the right side of Delgado's brain. They were unprepared, though, for the community interest in the case.

"The doctor came out and said, 'Delgado?' and 30 people surged forward," Blomgren said.

Delgado's family--the Blomgrens, his father, Hank, and stepmother, Gracie--spent the next five days at the hospital. The Blomgrens slept in the parking lot, in a motor home friends had loaned them.

They didn't lack for company. Irvine football players and their families were at the hospital constantly, as was Henigan and other coaches.

"I needed them and they needed me," Blomgren said.

In the locker room before the season opener, Delgado received his instructions from Henigan for the coin toss. Henigan then called the team together.

"Coach talked about why we're playing," Delgado said. "When he finished, he passed out decals for the helmets. It was my number. People were crying and guys were telling me how much they loved me."

Said assistant coach Bob Flint: "It was so emotional, I had to leave the room."

The team will wear Delgado's number on their helmets all season. He will also be a team captain.

"The day Marc got injured, I swore we weren't going to do a 'win one for the Gipper' thing," Henigan said. "He means more to us than whether we win or lose a football game. I just want the kids to try to do all the things that Marc stands for. Whether it's being a good student in the classroom or working hard on the football field."

Said Delgado: "Every time they play a game, it's like a little bit of me is out there too."

Blomgren vividly remembers the grim picture.

"The doctor said the next 24 hours would be crucial and the next 72 hours would be a roller coaster," she said. "We started praying right away."

Delgado was kept unconscious to prevent a stroke or seizure, according to Blomgren. Even if he survived, doctor's said there was a 50-50 chance of some disability, possibly even partial paralysis.

Henigan canceled practice and met with the team. They did not practice for 10 days. The school provided a psychologist to meet with players.

"I couldn't help think what happened to Marc could happen to me," wide receiver Tommy Louie said. "It was hard to think about playing football. It was hard to think about anything but Marc."

Four days later, Jackie Blomgren was resting in the motor home when several Irvine football players came running through the parking lot.

"I heard the boys yelling, 'Jackie, he wants you, he wants you ,' " Blomgren said. "Marc woke up and asked for his mom. From that point on, it was nothing but positive signs."

Said Henigan: "As Marc got better, we all got better."

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