“I started shaking on the ground,” he says. “My wife was trying to pick me up. I was in tears.”
Help came to get him back upstairs … to get another needle in a different spot on the spine. He won Defensive Player of the Year that season, believe it or not. Still tells Nick Saban that he won that award because of how little he practiced that year, keeping his body fresh from the daily ravages of the job.
“There was a period of a year and a half or two years when I couldn’t put my kids to bed,” he says. “My wife and I laugh about it. You have to bend down. I couldn’t with their weight. I would just hover. I would get as low as I could, and then drop them, and they’d bounce.”
He isn’t bragging, and he isn’t complaining. He wants to make sure you know that. He feels lucky and blessed to have done what he did. He is just answering questions matter-of-factly about the insanity of the world where he worked. It is a barbaric game, trying to be more of a man than the next man, putting your pain threshold against your muscled opponent’s, all of these competition-aholics colliding at an inhumane rate of speed.
So did he lie to the doctors?
Did he get in that player deli line outside the trainer’s room before the game to get that secret elixir, a Toradol shot in the butt that would lubricate and soothe away the aches for three hours despite its side effects (chest pains, headaches, nausea, bloody stool, coughing up blood, vomit that looks like coffee grounds)?
Did he think this was smart or healthy?
Did he care that it wasn’t smart or healthy?
Taylor was leg-whipped during a game once in Washington. Happens all the time. Common. He was sore and had a bruise, but the pregame Toradol and the postgame pain medicine and prescribed sleeping pills masked the suffering, so he went to dinner and thought he was fine. Until he couldn’t sleep. And the medication wore off. It was 2 a.m. He noticed that the only time his calf didn’t hurt is when he was walking around his house or standing. So he found a spot that gave him relief on a staircase and fell asleep standing up, leaning against the wall. But as soon as his leg would relax from the sleep, the pain would wake him up again. He called the team trainer and asked if he could take another Vicodin. The trainer said absolutely not. This need to kill the pain is what former No. 1 pick Keith McCants says started a pain-killer addiction that turned to street drugs when the money ran out … and led him to try to hang himself to break the cycle of pain.
The trainer rushed to Taylor’s house. Taylor thought he was overreacting. The trainer told him they were immediately going to the hospital. A test kit came out. Taylor’s blood pressure was so high that the doctors thought the test kit was faulty. Another test. Same crazy numbers. Doctors demanded immediate surgery. Taylor said absolutely not, that he wanted to call his wife and his agent and the famed Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. Andrews also recommended surgery, and fast. Taylor said, fine, he’d fly out in owner Daniel Snyder’s private jet in the morning. Andrews said that was fine but that he’d have to cut off Taylor’s leg upon arrival. Taylor thought he was joking. Andrews wasn’t. Compartment syndrome. Muscle bleeds into the cavity, causing nerve damage. Two more hours, and Taylor would have had one fewer leg. Fans later sent him supportive notes about their own compartment syndrome, many of them in wheelchairs.