Injuries are hardly anything new to Todd Shell. After becoming the San Francisco 49ers' first-round draft choice in 1984, he was hurt so many times teammates nicknamed him Crystal.
He learned to deal with the pain and the nickname with good humor. He knew he would persevere and come back.But during a morning workout in training camp July 21, Shell collided with Ron Heller and suffered a new injury. This one had no pain. No feeling. It was the most frightening moment in his life.
His spinal cord had been pinched and he could not move. But his memory worked fine. He remembered an article he had read about former New England Patriot wide receiver Darryl Stingley, who was paralyzed 10 years ago. Shell remembered the picture of Stingley as he is today, confined to a wheel chair.
"As I lay there on the ground, unable to move, I flashed on that article and that picture of Stingley with a halo thing holding up his head," Shell said. "I thought how those are always things that happen to everybody else, but never to you, right?
"Then I really got scared. Would I be able to move some part of my body in a few minutes? A few hours? Days? Then I thought of Stingley again. I'd never been so scared in my life."
When Shell visited his teammates this week, he was happy about one thing - he was walking. He wore a neck brace, but said that was only a precautionary measure. He even talked about the possibility of playing football again, despite the fact he hasn't regained total feeling on his right side.
At least two doctors have told him to forget about football. Coach Bill Walsh said Shell would once again be placed on injured reserve.
"I know some people might think I'm crazy for even considering playing football again, but it's what I've spent my whole life doing," Shell said. "If the doctors told me I could play and only face the usual risks, I would play. But if they told me my chances of getting paralyzed were 75 percent, then I would have to forget it."
In 1985 49ers wide receiver Mike Wilson received a spinal injury during a game against Washington. Although he seemed to be normal within days, doctors said he had stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column that makes it more susceptible to paralyzing injuries.
Team doctors told Wilson he should give up football. But he sought other opinions and finally proved that he did not even have stenosis. Swelling in the area made it appear as if he had a narrowing of the spinal cord. Wilson returned to be the starting lineup in 1986.
Shell says he would like to make a similar comeback.
"I took the same tests as Mike and the fact is I do have cervical stenosis," he said. "It was so obvious that even I could see it on the screen. You didn't have to measure anything, you could just tell by looking.
"There is a chance that the swelling in there is deceiving. We will do another test in a few weeks and see what it looks like. They really don't know how long it will last - two weeks, three months ... a year."
Also, Shell still hasn't recovered all his feeling.