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Broken But Unbowed
Jill Lieber
March 20, 1989
Since he shattered his leg in the Super Bowl, Tim Krumrie has survived a nightmare
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March 20, 1989

Broken But Unbowed

Since he shattered his leg in the Super Bowl, Tim Krumrie has survived a nightmare

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The dreams began when Cincinnati Bengal nosetackle Tim Krumrie returned to his off-season home in Eau Claire, Wis., to recuperate from surgery on his left leg, which he had broken in Super Bowl XXIII. Every night for two weeks, he experienced one of three dreams. In the first, Krumrie and two other players, both good friends of his—Los Angeles Raider linebacker Matt Millen and former Bengal linebacker Glenn Cameron—took on the Mondovi Buffaloes, Krumrie's high school team. "Just the three of us against 11 of them," says Krumrie. shaking his head in disbelief. In another. Krumrie saw himself running on the hilly roads outside Eau Claire. In the third, he was attempting to compete in cross-country ski races. "I'd forget to bring my skis every time," says Krumrie.

At the end of each dream he would thrust a hand under the sheet, grab his left leg and gently shake it to remind himself that it was broken in three places. "I think I'm losing my mind," he whispered to his wife, Cheryl, after one of the dreams woke him up one night. "Can you go nuts knowing you're going nuts?"

Dr. Michael Welch, a team orthopedist who assisted in Krumrie's surgery, assured him that the dreams were a normal reaction to a traumatic injury. Krumrie was relieved, but the dreams continued. On Feb. 21, the day he began riding an exercise bicycle, they stopped. "When I broke my leg, it was no longer a part of me," says Krumrie. "Subconsciously it had broken off from my body. When I could exercise, I was becoming whole again. In my mind I was getting closer to being myself."

The nightmarish moment that psychologically separated Krumrie's leg from the rest of him came on the first play of the San Francisco 49ers' second offensive series in the Super Bowl. With 8:16 remaining in the first quarter, the scored tied 0-0 and San Francisco on its own three-yard line, running back Roger Craig took a handoff and barreled around right end. Krumrie grabbed 49er center Randy Cross and tossed him away from the play. Then he went after Craig, who had turned upfield. "I thought I had a good angle," says Krumrie. "My adrenaline was really flowing. I pushed off my left leg—I was trying to fly—and I heard a crack, like a dry stick snapping. I said to myself. 'That wasn't me.' There wasn't any pain. I figured it was pads or helmets hitting. I stepped on my right foot and came back down on my left, and I heard another loud crunch. My momentum carried me. I made the tackle."

When he hit the ground, Krumrie noticed his left leg was "kinked out" at the calf. Only then did he realize it was broken. "My first thought," he says, "was, O.K., how am I going to play with a broken leg?" In Section 116 of Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium, Cheryl tried to stay cool. She thought her husband had been knocked unconscious. "I kept thinking, He'll get up," Cheryl says. "His famous words are 'They'll have to carry me off the field to get me out of the game.' " When he didn't get up, Cheryl started to panic. Jim Rose, Tim's football coach at Mondovi High, squirmed uneasily in the seat beside her. "Coach, he's down too long," said Cheryl. "Something's wrong. You know he never stays down unless he's hurt bad."

The television screens in the end zones showed a gruesome, slow-motion replay of Krumrie injuring himself—and that is literally what he did, for no one else made significant contact with his leg on the fateful play. As Krumrie planted his left foot, his lateral momentum generated enormous torque on the bones of his lower leg, causing what orthopedists call a "high-energy fracture." Watching the replay, 75,179 fans saw the leg turn almost 180 degrees as Krumrie fell to the ground. They let out a gasp. Cheryl began to sob. Rose, who also was in tears, put his arms around her.

"The replay took my breath away," says Rose. "Our entire section [which was filled with Bengal families] got quiet. A number of people were crying. It was something I don't ever want to go through again." Kelly Krumrie, 4, sprang to her feet and shouted, "You dummy 49ers. Why did you do that to my daddy?"

Cheryl and Kelly rushed downstairs and arrived in the Bengal locker room as Tim was being told what his X-rays showed—two bones broken, one in two places.

When Cheryl and Kelly left, Dr. Robert Heidt Jr., the Bengals' chief orthopedic surgeon, told Tim that the leg needed to be set but that it would take several minutes for the paramedics to get morphine, with which to deaden the pain, from their van. "If it's going to take that long," replied Krumrie, "just set the damn thing."

"There'll be a lot of pain," said Heidt.

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