by Bud Finlayson
I did attend the University of Montana that fall semester of 1974, but my life was in such disarray, still confused where it should head after football, that I dropped out with a .087 grade point average after the first semester. Although I might have compromised my studies in high school to focus on football, my lack of success in college was from the turmoil inside me, not insufficient schooling. I'd gone with high expectations to start life anew. Free of the neck brace and the negative stigma of being an ex-communicated football player, I hoped to excel with new relationships in a new world where my soiled past was immaterial. My psyche was so battered, though, that I remained bitter and resentful, unable to fit into a normal flow of life, so I continued as a nonconformist and settled into despondency.
While I was in school though, Marc mailed me an edition of the hometown paper, the Herald Coaster, reporting on the front page, that the Lamar football program was found guilty of numerous UIL rule violations. There were illegal practices, unauthorized donations, and various other allegations. The Mustangs would be on probation for the following years, forfeiting the right to win district titles and advancing to the play-offs. Lucky couldn't win district as coach and as result of his underhanded dealings, assured that future teams would be denied that honor, also. He never publicly admitted his own guilt, but he did resign from the position of athletic director and head football coach but remained with the school as head of transportation because he had a long term contract to stay on at Lamar Consolidated. I was overjoyed with the news, for it meant my protests were justified; that I was right after all. I wrote Coach Lucky a long letter but he didn't write back.
The Montana Rockies were beautiful beyond description, but I found myself longing for Texas, within a year's time. From college and working on a ranch outside Missoula, I discovered that Texas wasn't the only state with prejudice and closed minds so I was back "home with the armadillo" in August of '75. At least I'd know where the Texas rednecks were coming from. I got a job doing framing carpentry in Houston and was just living day to day. I'd started drinking in college, and was then drinking every day, so my life continued to be very reckless. Five or six shots of whiskey or tequila were as effective as a good Quaalude.
In April of '76, my illicit drug use and drinking came to an abrupt end. I had eaten some Quaaludes, shot up some PCP (a pig tranquilizer), smoked some joints, and drank some whiskey and went out with friends to score a pound. We drove home, empty-handed, down Farm Rd 359 at 2:30am, as many times before, but I lay passed out in the back seat of a '65 Mustang. We didn't make it around a long curve, and we flew off into the bar ditch, crashing into the concrete culvert pipe of a connecting side-road. I was rushed, unconscious, into Houston by ambulance and arrived "DOA" at the Ben Taub Hospital's emergency room. My heart was restarted there, and then again, it stopped five days later, after I'd been transferred to St. Luke's intensive care unit. I came out of it with another broken neck, but this time there was paralysis.
My neck broke at the C-3 level, rendering me with no movement below my neck. I lost the involuntary ability to breathe, and require a respirator to ventilate me through a tracheotomy. I found myself in tongs for a third time and doctors explained that my football injury had caused my paralysis to be so complete. Most upper spinal injuries occur around the C-5 or C-6 levels, which are the most vulnerable points of the neck. If there is paralysis, you retain some arm movement and can breathe naturally. My 5th and 6th, being fused together,were much stronger, and therefore my neck had to give higher up, causing the more severe damage.
So, ironically, in a way, football had contributed to my life as a quadriplegic. Maybe I was destined to have a normal life taken from me, for Lucky had always said, "Football is like life. If you can't make it in football, you'll never make it in life." At least the nightmares stopped. I'd been having reoccurring dreams over the last few years of Lucky haunting and belittling me; trying to kill me with a machete. I guess the painful reality of paralysis heavily outweighed the emotional distress Lucky caused me. I was too concerned with holding on to my fragile life and surviving death.
In 1984, at our ten year high school reunion, everybody was talking about Peter Daniels, our former quarterback, having cancer. His hair was falling out, his face was dark and gaunt but he seemed in good spirits. A few years later, three other Mustang football teammates of the '74 graduating class were diagnosed with testicle cancer, and it was just too coincidental that four guys of the same class, team, and school contracted similar cancers, all before the age of 35. There was a link. All suspected that they had been given steroids by the Lamar coaching staff in the early '70's. They were all given the "Vitamins" which were kept under lock and key by Doc, in the training room. Montoya wouldn't specifically admit to issuing them, but he confided in my friend and ex-team mate Marc years after that he went to Lucky at the time and told him that he didn't think what they were doing was right. That was all he would say, nothing more.
When Lucky was confronted by one of the cancer victims about the charges, he literally laughed at them in his face, telling him it was ridiculous to question a man of his integrity. Nothing has been proven, for most inventory records for those years have been conveniently misplaced, and it would be virtually impossible to prove guilt in a court of law. You don't buck the football system in Texas. I found that out the hard way. It's a no win proposition.
In 1987 I was admitted to a San Antonio hospital and needed some units of blood. After testing for my type, I learned that I had O-negative, identical to Warren's. Fourteen years after his death, I was struck with guilt and regret that I could have maybe helped save his life, but didn't. I questioned the nurse of its availability and she replied that there should be no trouble getting any, as if puzzled by my concern. Within the hour, the bag of dark, red, syrupy looking fluid was hanging from an IV pole, dripping into my veins. I was mad at the ease of receiving that blood, remembering how Warren had suffered over two days waiting for his. The events surrounding Warren's death became a frustrating, agonizing mystery, all over again; and always will be.
The legacy of Bill Lucky will not be of winning football. It will be one of ambition and greed, of trying to win at all costs. Not one of guiding and building character in young men, but one of using and discouraging them, of death and destruction. Lucky and God know the lives he's ruined and know the lies he's told. I can only hope that their memories come back to him every night when he lies down to sleep; if his conscience will allow him the luxury of sleeping.
End of Chapter 22
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