One of the most dramatic personal accounts this magazine has published of an athlete's struggle between living and dying begins on page 56 with the first of two excerpts from the book Happy To Be Alive. It is the story of former New England Patriots Wide Receiver Darryl Stingley, written with SI Assistant Managing Editor Mark Mulvoy. The Stingley story begins on Saturday, Aug. 12, 1978, when Stingley was smashed into a state of quadriplegia by Free Safety Jack Tatum during a preseason game between the Patriots and the Oakland Raiders, and then describes Stingley's fight for life in a California hospital. In Part II next week, Stingley depicts the continual adjustments he's had to make in order to cope with his new life-style. It's an inspiring portrayal of Stingley's immense courage, both in the living and the telling.
When he decided that he wanted to do a book about what happened to him, Stingley and his representatives, Jack Sands and Steve Freyer of the Boston-based Sports Advisors Group, Inc., began interviewing writers, searching for the right person to collaborate with a man immobile, often in pain and always battling to maintain concentration on the task at hand.
Mulvoy was their choice. "When I first met Darryl," he says, "I had prepared myself for the worst, and it was true that he couldn't move at all from the neck down, except for the barest quiver of his right hand. But he was sharp, witty and very articulate. We rode in his medi-van to a Red Sox-Yankee game at Fenway Park, and we sat together for all nine innings, talking about football, family and life in a wheelchair. A couple of obvious Yankee fans kept standing up in front of us, blocking our view. 'Down in front, down in front,' Darryl said. The Yankee lovers had had more than a few beers and they made a few crude remarks to Darryl. I told Darryl that we ought to leave before things got out of hand, but he would have none of that. 'You go, I'm staying,' he said. Finally an usher saw what was happening, and he told the Yankee lovers to sit down—or else Boston's finest would be removing them from the premises."
In mid-1982 Mulvoy and Stingley started to work on the book. "I made eight trips to Chicago, where Darryl lives, and we taped for two days at a stretch, Mulvoy says. "Darryl would stay at a hotel, we'd have lunch and then we'd work straight through until dinner. I also visited the hospital in California where he was first taken and spent so many critical days after the accident, and talked to many Patriot coaches and players. This is Darryl's story. It's in his own words."
Prevailing medical opinion is that Stingley will never walk again, but it is worth noting that almost two years to the day after Stingley and Mulvoy went to Fenway, Darryl threw out the first ball at a Milwaukee Brewers game. " 'Threw' is not the precise word," says Mulvoy, "but he raised his hand to shoulder level and lobbed the ball.
"I've worked on books with athletes like Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Orr and Ken Dryden [Mulvoy has written, co-authored or ghosted 12], but all of them were at the peak of their physical powers at the time. This was a far, far different experience. It was unforgettable and humbling."
MULVOY GETS TO THE HEART OF THINGS