Players involved in Buoniconti injury to reunite in Charleston Print
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Thursday, 11 October 2007 09:18
NCAAF Headline News

 COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -The hit haunted Herman Jacobs long after most people forgot his role in a play that put his opponent in a wheelchair.
Guilt, depression, regret - they washed over him at work, where people warned each other to stay away; at home, where he would watch tape of the play over and over; on the golf course, in the middle of perfectly pleasant day.
Now, more than two decades after Marc Buoniconti fell to the field while tackling Jacobs - and 19 years since the two last saw each other face to face - the two are preparing to again meet.
The last time was during a contentious trial that pitted Buoniconti against his former college. This weekend, it's for a reunion and fundraiser that aims to add to the millions of dollars that Buoniconti has helped raise to find a cure for paralysis - a decades-long effort that's made the former Citadel player's name nearly synonymous with his cause.
For Jacobs, the East Tennessee State running back who walked away from the play, the journey to the reunion has been far more private since that day in 1985 when he caught a routine pitch from his quarterback, turned upfield and took two hits from Citadel linebackers. Buoniconti was paralyzed instantly.
``I don't remember much of the game after that,'' Jacobs said in a recent interview with The Associated Press from Johnson City, Tenn. ``It stayed with me for a long time.''
He played for the rest of that season and the next, but his passion for the game was gone. Coaches would shout at him to correct his mistakes, to get back to the intensity he had before Buoniconti went down.
``My heart just wasn't in it,'' Jacobs said.
Now 43, he works as an assistant manager at Pal's eatery - a drive-in across from the school where he played. Even though he stayed close to the scene of the accident, for many years he didn't talk about it. Dark moods were common. People around him would tell each other: ``Stay away from Herman.''
``It wasn't their fault. I didn't blame them,'' Jacobs said. ``There was something wrong and I wouldn't talk about it.''
He thought if he spoke of his Buoniconti connection, others might see it as an attention grab or an attempt to link himself to tragedy for his own gain - the last things he wanted. He was so tightlipped about it that Jacobs recently had to show his boss - a man he's known for 17 years - a tape of Buoniconti's trial to prove he was the other player involved.
``I was like, 'Which one to you want to see? I've got pictures or I've got video,''' Jacobs said. ``That's when they started believing.''
But, mostly, Jacobs kept the memories to himself, refusing to let them go.
``He used to want to watch a video tape of the play over and over and over,'' said Joel Thompson, the other Citadel linebacker who was in on the play. ``He was quite affected by it.''
Finally, Jacobs' wife urged him to seek some relief. It began with simple discussions about Buoniconti with friends at the drive-in across from campus. Slowly, he started to accept the chance nature of what happened. Jacobs says his wife, his two teenage daughters, friends and colleagues see a happier, more positive man. Every time he talks about the hit, the game, Buoniconti or the aftermath, a small weight is lifted from his conscience.
``I just want to be who I really am,'' Jacobs said. ``And I just didn't realize keeping it in like that, what it did to me.''
Eventually, one of his friends contacted Thompson, who called his friend and former teammate about inviting Jacobs to this weekend's reunion and fundraiser.
``He needs to see how well I'm doing and to see how much this injury has changed my life in a good way and that I'm not sorry that it happened,'' Buoniconti, 41, said recently.
For a long time, Jacobs couldn't share that view - even though Buoniconti absolved Jacobs of any responsibility long ago. ``I would look at Marc, like, 'Man, you're in that wheelchair,''' Jacobs said. Buoniconti's words ``just didn't trigger in my mind.''
Buoniconti knows the importance of reconciling with the past.
His trial in 1988 polarized the Citadel, splitting players, coaches and officials between a beloved teammate and their fierce loyalty to the military college. In the end, he agreed to an $800,000 settlement with the school and its trainer, and a jury ruled the team's physician was not to blame for Buoniconti's injury.
The schism existed until 2006 when Citadel officially welcomed Buoniconti back. He joyously returned to campus to watch a cadet parade and speak with the same trainer.
That fall, Buoniconti was honored on the field as the Bulldogs retired his No. 59 jersey. He spoke to the team and was brought to tears when his former teammates surprised him with the cherished gold Citadel ring awarded to graduates.
``It's a tremendous relief, man,'' Buoniconti said recently. ``It's a part of my life that was meaningful to me, but it was bruised and dented. It created riffs between my friends and my school. This put it all behind us. We're all merry and happy.''
Buoniconti wants Jacobs to have that same relief. The two caught up on the phone recently and both said they are ready to see each other again.
``I can't wait to give him a big hug,'' Jacobs said.
 

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