It was a second and 10, Chicago Bears from their own 25 on the chilly ground at Gillette Stadium, well into the second quarter of their game against the New England Patriots on November 26, 2006. Runningback Cedric Benson was handed the ball and headed for a gap in the line over right tackle.
Patriots linebacker Junior Seau had other ideas.
He lunged after Benson from behind, fell into the runningback's legs, and his reward for the single tackle he would record that night was a snapped forearm, which hung at a gruesome angle in slow-motion replays on the Jumbo-Tron. Junior, on his knees, doubled over it in agony, so far that the top of his helmet touched the turf.
Fellow linebacker Tedy Bruschi approached as the trainers did, took one look at his brother in the 'backerhood and patted him on the shoulder in condolence for what was to be a season-ending injury.
Seau finally got up, cradling the mangled limb in front of him, and walked off the field. As he left, he saluted the fans who were giving him a rousing sendoff.
I was one of them; I was on the third deck gasping at the ghastly replay with everyone else. And the memory is still so clear, I find it hard to believe right now that i didn't really write about it at the time.
It was the first thing I thought of when I heard about his apparent suicide yesterday, news which took my breath away. How willing this man was to sacrifice his body on the field. How stoically he had handled physical pain, with the presence of mind to give that little wave as he left the field that night.
And how mental pain is a different ball game, as more and more retired NFL players seem to be finding out once they leave the field.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
More is being discovered every day about the effects of chronic head injury, or chronic traumatic encephelopathy (CTE), among them debilitating depression, that are wreaking havoc on the lives of ex-NFL players. News of an ex-player's suicide is sadly all too common, even though this is the first one that's hit so close to home for me.
I'm not here to debate whether football is fundamentally harmful to one's health; I think these men who play the sport professionally do so from the heart and do so with knowledge of the risks. What saddens me about the fact that so many of them wind up dying is the fact that -- league responsibility and helmet design and children's experiences in football all set aside for the moment -- depression is an illness as biological and concrete as that broken arm Seau walked off the field with, and just as treatable,
But we also still live in a society where people, especially men, especially big, tough, athletic men who've spent their lives being pillars of physical strength, learn instead that it's a character flaw, and where they die before seeking help. Today, I remember Junior, and I dearly wish that it was otherwise.
If there's any lesson to be taken from his tragic passing, I wish it would be not a moratorium on the game he loved, but that depression can strike the strongest among us; that it can be described as many things, but "weakness" is one thing that shouldn't be on the list.
If you or someone you love suffers from depression, help is abundantly available. There are organizations like NAMI and DBSA in the community that are absolutely free and open to all. There are hotlines, including 1-800-273-TALK.
The good news is that we also live in a world where the resources to deal with this illness are growing ever more plentiful, where understanding and awareness are slowly beginning to bloom.
There's hope. There's help. It doesn't have to be this way.
Rest in peace, Junior.