The Super Bowl was billed as a showdown between the game’s best quarterback and the league’s hardest hitting linebacker, a stoic known as Harp, a brute of a man: 268 pounds, lighting fast and thick-necked. He’d put a half-dozen players in the hospital, all on clean hits. He refused to talk to the press before and after games. Even his own players avoided eye contact with him.
His pre-game ritual took place in a private room where he knelt on a mat and put himself into a trance that people had only heard about, but not seen. On the field he was so focused that the offensive players, other than the one with the ball, were fuzzy to him. When he tackled, he did not think about missing—it wasn’t relevant.
Finally, the game viewed by millions was underway. Near the end of the first half the fabled quarterback dropped back in the pocket. He hadn’t been touched by Harp yet, although he’d come close enough to smell his breath. He spotted a wide receiver open 25 years downfield and cocked his arm, unaware that Harp was already in midair.
The quarterback was taken off the field in a motorized cart. Without expression, Harp watched from the sidelines. He knew this moment well—it was void of joy.
In the final seconds of the game, Harp’s teammates slammed into each and shouted—they paid no attention to the linebacker who sat alone, unable to celebrate what he did better than anyone else.