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He Already Had Night of Horror : Raiders: McCallum hopes to play again after season-ending knee injury. He returned to Coliseum on Sunday.

October 28, 1994|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

This television picture needed no replays. Anybody who saw it will never forget it.

What began as a televised football game turned into a horror movie.

L.A. Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Candlestick Park. "Monday Night Football" season opener. Big game. Big show. Big national audience.

In the third quarter, Raider quarterback Jeff Hostetler handed off to Napoleon McCallum, who ran up the middle for a yard before he was stopped by linebacker Ken Norton Jr.

Routine play. McCallum had done it hundreds of times in a football career that stretched back to the early 1980s at the Naval Academy.

But when McCallum failed to get up, and Hostetler rushed over to help, and Norton remained underneath the Raider back to prevent further movement, it quickly became evident that this was anything but routine.

The replays showed McCallum planting his left leg, then getting pulled down in one direction with his leg pointing in another, stretched and strained and misshapen as if it were made of rubber. McCallum wasn't in pain; he couldn't feel the leg.

"I just thought of it like a broken leg," he recalled. "Something was wrong down there. I didn't look."

But he heard Hostetler say, "Don't move. Don't move. Are you all right, Nap? Are you all right?"

And he heard others in the background saying things like, "Oh my gosh! Don't move, Ken, don't move."

On TV, the announcers were warning the public before showing the stomach-turning replays.

Because he wasn't in any pain, McCallum couldn't understand all the commotion.

"Oh, is it that bad?" he asked himself. "What is going on here?"

What was going on was the worst football injury Clarence Shields, McCallum's physician, had seen in 22 years of medical practice. Shields said it was the kind of injury one might see in a car accident.

"Or on a pedestrian hit by a car," he added.

McCallum had ruptured an artery in the leg, stretched a nerve, dislocated his kneecap, damaged a calf muscle and his hamstring, torn parts of three of four ligaments and developed a blood clot.

He was taken into surgery so fast that, when the anesthesia wore off, he found grass from Candlestick Park still on his back.

"They didn't even give me a bath before they did the surgery," McCallum said.

And for good reason.

"He could have lost the leg if he had not had medical treatment for four or five hours," Shields said. "He had no circulation in the leg."

Actually, McCallum had surgery twice. In the first operation, a bypass was done, the injured artery was replaced with a vein from the opposite leg and the blood clot was cleared up. Ten days later, McCallum had reconstructive surgery on the ligaments and repairs to the calf muscle and the hamstring.

He isn't done yet. There will be a third operation, probably in January, at which time tendons, including one from a cadaver, will be used to finish repairing the ligaments.

The surgery was difficult, but two of the most traumatic stages of McCallum's recovery have been his viewing of the replay and his return to the Coliseum to watch the Raiders play.

McCallum first saw the replay while he was still in the hospital.

"Back then, I could handle it a lot better than I can now," he said. "I've seen it four times. The still pictures are the worst. . . . It's something I just wanted to see. I can't see how anyone could get hurt like that and not see it at least one time.

"I was never concerned about knee injuries. This was wild. It wasn't even a vicious tackle. It's the (pile-ups). When I went to the game (last Sunday), every time I saw a pile, I just cringed."

Eight weeks have passed since that frightful night, eight weeks of agony, of pain, of rehabilitation and determination. McCallum is a regular visitor to the Raiders' El Segundo training headquarters, where he does part of his rehab work. He walks with a limp and still has no feeling on the top of his left foot.

But McCallum, a deeply religious man, has positive feelings about the tragic incident.

"I'm real thankful," he said. "It could have been a worse injury, even though a lot of people cringed. That spinal injury, where you snap your neck and are paralyzed, thank God it wasn't something like that. This injury, I'm working out every day. I can ride the bike. It just gets better every day."

Considering where McCallum started, lying helpless on the Candlestick grass, his progress has been surprising, even to Shields.

"He's an amazing athlete," the doctor said. "He's tremendously motivated with a great work ethic."

But McCallum doesn't want merely to walk normally again. He wants to run--on a football field.

"At the beginning, I was just recuperating," McCallum said. "I'm still recuperating, but every once in a while, people throw out that (playing again). Now, I'm listening to it a little more than I did before. Even though they say it's crazy, I don't want to go out with an injury. If I play again, it'll only be for one year to get back on that horse and ride around."

Is it a realistic possibility for McCallum to think about playing again, or is it merely a mind game to motivate him in rehab?

"It's a possibility. It's definitely a possibility," said Shields, who believes the key is the return of full feeling in the damaged nerve. "The amount of damage is the most anyone could sustain in one knee. But if anybody can (come back), he can."

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