Monday, September 5, 2005

By Nick Wagoner

Senior Writer

As Terry Fair lay motionless, but conscious on the Ford Field turf, a number of thoughts flew through his head. At the top of that list was the sheer coincidence of his developing situation.

“Three times, three neck injuries, two significant neck injuries in Detroit with Reggie Brown and Mike Utley, both great guys,” Fair said. “You kind of think about that too and I did while I was on the cart, just hoping and knowing their situation that I wouldn’t become the third. You think about all of that.”

While Fair was pondering his future not only in football, but in life, the thoughts of where he had come from to land back in his situation disappeared as he was lifted on a board onto a golf cart that would take him away. Suddenly, he had the feeling in his arms and legs back and he knew that he would be able to walk again.

As Fair rode off to have every kind of test imaginable, he raised his arms in the air and gave the crowd the thumbs up, a chilling scene reminiscent of Utley, who never played football again. But Fair did it to give his family reassurance.

Quarterback Marc Bulger couldn’t help but have the thoughts of Utley and Brown run through his mind, either.

“You can deal with legs and knees and all that stuff, but when it comes to your neck and things like that…I was telling someone on the sideline it always seems to happen in Detroit too,” Bulger said. “Those national games in Detroit scare me. That’s the first thing that came to mind.”

Fair was quickly taken to Ford Hospital in Detroit for every kind of examination that a person could undergo for such an injury. After an overnight stay in the hospital he got the good news that it was “only” a sprained neck.
He was on a plane back to St. Louis the next morning and back at Rams Park by Tuesday afternoon. But the good news didn’t end there for Fair.

Once upon a time, Fair was a standout cornerback for the Tennessee Volunteers. He was so good that the Lions, the same team he was playing against when he injured his neck, used a first-round draft choice on him in 1998.

Although he never had an incident like the one of just a week ago, Fair was injury plagued for most of his time there. He spent four seasons in Detroit, but his performance dipped after an impressive rookie season. Fair went to Carolina for a fresh start in 2002, but his comeback never really took off and he played in just three games before going on injured reserve because of an ankle injury.

The ankle didn’t heal too quickly and Fair missed all of the 2003 and 2004 season. With the Rams in need of help on special teams and in the secondary, a rehabilitated Fair was set for a comeback.

St. Louis signed him on April 28 with the intent to have him return kicks and play some cornerback. It took a while for Fair to get back into football shape, but once he did, he made quite an impression, even helping coach Mike Martz draw on his memory of a former Ram.

“Right now you can see a marked improvement in him,” Martz said just days before the Detroit game. “He kind of leveled off for awhile. In the past few days he has really made a move. This happened for us with Jesse Hester. We picked up Jessie while he was in LA. He went through all of camp and we thought we were going to cut him and then all of a sudden he got in shape and wham, he ended up starting for us, so who knows? I think that’s similar. I think he needs to continue to work out and get himself in better shape. He has got plenty of skills.”

As Fair was demonstrating those tackling skills, he got low, ready to make a tackle on Detroit running back Kevin Jones. It appeared to be a normal, run of the mill play. But as Jones leaped to hurdle Fair, his leg came crashing into Fair’s head and neck.

Fair immediately went down followed soon after by Jones. While Jones jumped up, Fair lay on the ground motionless until his body started to convulse.

His teammates and every member of every medical staff in the building ran on to the field.

“When somebody drops like a rock like that and there’s no movement it scares you to death,” Martz said. “Nobody ever wants to see that. I was very concerned about it immediately when I saw him drop. I didn’t see the hit, but I just saw his position. He was just stunned or shocked.”

Making things worse for Fair was the fact that he was finally starting to get back in the swing of things. After hearing his coach’s praise, Fair was excited about his opportunity and then he had another injury to hold him back.

But the fact that he was going to be OK wasn’t the only good news Fair received the day after the injury. Martz declared in the next day’s press conference that Fair was going to be sticking around, injury or no injury.

“A week ago, I wasn’t sure if Terry makes this team,” Martz said. “Last week in practice, he made this team in my opinion. He made a significant jump. That’s with the injury. I was very pleased with his approach to everything.”
The thought of his coach making that announcement before either of the two cuts were to be made was music to the mind of someone in desperate need of all the good news he could handle.

“He told me that, I wanted to give him a hug,” Fair said.

So now Fair begins the road back to the field. He doesn’t expect the injury to keep him out much longer (it’s only been a week) and he isn’t worried about what will happen when he makes first contact. If anything, Fair thinks of the possibility of injury as nothing more than an occupational hazard.

Fair sleeps OK at night now, with soreness in his neck at a maximum when he wakes up, but he still shows up at Rams Park with a smile on his face, intent on coming back sooner than later.

“You go out there too soon and you want to rush back and get back in the first week,” Fair said. “I’m excited to play and really want to get out there and my thing is I don’t want to rush something like this, but I am eager to get back.”

Although Fair might not play in the season opener against San Francisco, the chance to play football again is somewhere in the near future. And for that return, everyone is eager.