Chapter 1: The 50 Yard Line
It was September and Syd and I were on the couch watching the game. Our home team of North Carolina was away in New Orleans winning against the Saints. Scholtz rushed for 166 yards with two touchdowns leading us 28-7 when I stepped into the kitchen to take the dreaded call I had been expecting.
"John! You promised you wouldn't bail this time!”
"Don't start with me again, Brooke!" John huffed on the other end of the phone.
"It's been two months since you've seen Sydney! She's going to be heartbroken! AGAIN!"
"BROOKE! You know how important my career is to me!" he snapped back.
"SYDNEY Should be MORE important to you. She is YOUR daughter!" I raised my voice in anger.
"I'll see her next month! I can't start this with you again!" John huffed again before hanging up.
I threw my phone down on the counter, viciously rubbing my face trying to wipe away the stress and frustration. As if it were only that easy! I'm reminded over and over again how Football has been my downfall, my kryptonite.
In high school, I was captain of the cheerleading squad, Josh Hoffman was the high school quarterback. We were inseparable until he realized he could have a line of girls following the star college quarterback. Caught him in bed with two girls one weekend I came to visit. Needless to say, that was the end of the road for us.
In college, I traded my pom-poms for a lab coat. I double-majored in human biology and exercise science to start a career in Physical Therapy. I of course never missed a game from the bleachers, and that’s when I met Ashton Wills, the college football star wide receiver. However, our paths drifted apart when he graduated and immediately got drafted to the NFL's Detroit Lions. Moving across the country while I stayed behind in school getting my doctorate, we just drifted apart.
I focused on getting my physical therapist license and experience before opening up my own private practice. Even though we didn't last, Ashton believed in me and would always refer his teammates to me when they got injured. He really helped me build a name for myself which I will always be incredibly grateful for. He was the only football player not on my shit list.
I was a year into my practice when he walked through my doors. John Moore, the NFL's newest running back on the market. He had a minor shoulder tear and heard my name floating around the NFL locker rooms as one of the best physical therapists for pro athletes.
John and I instantly had chemistry. He had the best-looking muscular body I've ever seen and such determination to rise to the best in the NFL. We started dating shortly after and the rest seemed like history. It wasn't long before he rose to total fame playing for the Panthers. We couldn't go anywhere without paparazzi following us, without people interrupting our dinners out asking for his autograph. He loved every moment of fame and just seeing him happy and rising to the top, made me happy.
A year and a half into dating I got pregnant. 9 months later, we had little Sydney. I didn't know I could love anything as much as I loved Sydney from the minute I saw her. She took after her father of course and from a baby got thrown into the football life. I was never concerned that John and I weren't married. I guess I wasn’t the marriage type growing up with just my dad and no mother. I felt John was committed to me no matter if I had a ring on my finger or a signed legal document to prove anything. Sydney was four years old already and I felt like we were a happy family of three. Life was perfect until my Dad got sick. That made me want to have an actual wedding. I wanted him to walk me down the aisle as the first man in my life, the man who raised me. I wanted my Dad's final blessing and to officially give me away before I lost him forever. John and I got engaged in July and planned to have a small wedding in September before football season got into high gear and before my Dad's cancer got any worse.
The second game into the season John got hit from an awkward angle below his hip. He suffered a horrific knee injury and tore three out of the four ligaments in his knee: ACL, MCL, and PCL. Everything in our life stopped dead in its tracks. His career, the wedding was on hold. I worked with him every day trying to strengthen his knee but I knew deep down, it would never be the same after this. His career was over even if he didn't want it to be.
He played short stints for several teams over the next two years and signed year-by-year contracts with different teams to fill in for injured players. That was when John went off the deep end. The man I once loved in all his fame and glory didn't have that anymore and it tore him apart. He started taking steroids, partying out late nights with the team, and traveling to different cities for periods of time due to the contracts.
I finally couldn't do it anymore. I ended our relationship and tried to keep things amicable for Sydney's sake. I wanted him to visit on the weekends, for her. She was always hopeful but he rarely showed up.
It was the hardest, most heartbreaking time in my life. I was thirty-four and had become a single Mom. I cared for my Dad until the cancer took him. I was trying to be the best I could be all while running my practice. I had no other family, it was just me doing this all on my own. My love of football felt like it failed me.
After things fell apart with John, I vowed to myself, I was done with football players. I may have them as clients every once in a while but I would never again get involved with a football player. They were my weakness, but I had closed and locked Pandora's box for good!
I needed someone to blame and even though I'd watch Scholtz play and lead our team to victory every week, I hated him. I hated him because John hated him. I hated him for taking John's career away. Blamed him for his downfall that led my life to where I am today.
"OH NOO! MOM! COME SEE WHAT HAPPENED!" Sydney yelled from the other room.
Syd is seven years old now and she still loves football. She reminds me of myself and my Dad, cuddled up on the couch at night screaming at the tv with the bad calls and fumbled balls. She has been asking me for two years now to play football but I keep saying no. I take care of mostly sports injuries every day, all day and I can't be having Syd hurting herself like that.
"What is it?” I ran back into the family room and made it time to see the replay.
"Is he going to be okay?" Syd asked.
"I hope so, baby."
As much as I despised him, it was never a good feeling to watch a player get hurt. I wouldn't wish it on anybody, especially knowing it could be a career-ender, which is what I just saw happen to Scholtz.
"Do you know what happened?" she asked me.
"He hurt his foot sweetie.”
My best guess is he ruptured his Achilles tendon. An injury you don't see every day. I've read a lot about sports injuries in my line of work and with an Achilles tendon rupture, studies show only two-thirds of the NFL players ever come back to play after that. And the few that do, never play the same.