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College punter suffers Joe Theismann-like injury, then gets call from Joe Theismann

College punter suffers Joe Theismann-like injury, then gets call from Joe Theismann


Prime time at Penn State is known at the “greatest scene in college football.” Here is a glimpse …

Frank Bodani, fbodani@ydr.com

After suffering a gruesome, Joe Theismann-like broken right leg during a college football game, Buffalo punter Evan Finegan was being transported back from a hospital when he got the most surprising phone call.
From Joe Theismann.
“He was very worried,” Finegan, a sophomore from Bishop Foley, said. “He wanted to know all of the details.”
Finegan was injured on Sept.7 while punting against Penn State at Beaver Stadium. Penn State’s Journey Brown came up the middle, trying to block a punt. As Finegan made contact with the ball, Brown’s leg or knee smashed into Finegan’s lower leg, snapping his fibula and tibia. Finegan spun in the air, his leg bent at such a disturbing angle that Fox did not show a replay.
Theismann, the former Washington Redskins quarterback, suffered a broken leg against the New York Giants on Nov. 18, 1985 — an injury that was one of the most gruesome in professional sports history.
“We talked in the car,” Finegan said, of Theismann. “The phone reception went out a couple of times, going through the mountains. Cell service wasn’t the greatest, but he called back every single time.
“Joe Theismann is being very supportive and gave me his phone number. We’ve been texting back and forth since then. He asks if there is anything he can do and he gives advice. ‘Here’s what to watch out for. Look out for these symptoms.’ “
Finegan, who was named to the preseason Ray Guy Award watch list for the nation’s top punter, had surgery to repair the injury. A surgeon inserted a rod and five pins and he is expected to recover and play next season.
Theismann, 70, did not play again after suffering a compound fracture while being sacked by linebacker Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson.
“He was telling me some of his complications,” Finegan said. “I’m pretty lucky how my turned out, compared to his. His was pretty rough. He said he still has a lot of ankle damage. Mine was pretty high up and stayed away from the ankle – I was lucky and pretty fortunate.”
“Did you ever see the Theismann video?” I asked.
“Yes, his was pretty ugly.”
“Have you seen yours?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’ve watched it. If you Google my name and go on images, there are some pretty funny photos,” Finegan said, laughing.
“My leg kind of looks like a hockey stick,” he said and laughed again. “And the ankle is all out of whack.”
Finegan can remember everything about the play. “When I went to get up, I couldn’t move my leg,” he said. “I looked down and it was pretty crooked, it was hanging weird.”
Finegan doesn’t blame Brown. “He went up to one of my teammates and said, ‘I’m sorry,’ ” Finegan said. “He didn’t mean to hurt me. No hard feelings. It’s a violent sport. It’s going to happen.”
Classy Penn State fans, coach
This situation has brought out the best in college football fans, starting with the Penn State crowd. “When they got me on the cart, I remember the entire stadium clapping and cheering,” he said. “When I gave them the thumbs up and waved to the student section, they started to roar. That was kind of cool. They were very supportive.”
Finegan was taken by police escort to Mount Nittany Medical Center, where he had surgery about 12 hours after the game.
Fumi Franklin, the wife of Penn State coach Joe Franklin, visited him in the hospital.
“She was really nice and sincere,” Finegan said. “She brought me lunch. We were just kind of talking.”
He was also visited by Coach Franklin, and a couple of the Nittany Lions specialists — a visit that he found both classy and touching.
Finegan’s injury became a national story — he was interviewed live on ESPN last week and has received thousands of text messages.
“My apartment address at school got out on the Penn State fan blogs,” he said. “I’ve been getting 30 to 35 letters a day from Penn State fans. They say, ‘We were at the game, or watching the game, or we are college football fans, and we are praying for you and hope to see you back on the field, soon.
“After this, I have the utmost respect for the Pen State fan base. I see them as really sincere people. Everyone was so kind and willing to help. It makes me feel loved and supported. It’s cool to see college football fans across the country come together. I think I’ve gotten a letter from the majority of the states. A lot of Buffalo fans, too. They are still coming in, every single day.”
Hopes to return next season
Finegan will miss the rest of the season. “The doctors and trainers are saying everything looks good,” he said.
Fifteen staples were removed on Sunday, and the swelling has gone down.  “I’m healing up pretty fast, but it will still be a long process,” he said.
Finegan will have to stay off his foot for six to eight weeks. “They are saying, by spring ball, I will be able to kick,” Finegan said. “I’m pretty excited for that. When I broke my leg, I didn’t know if I would be able to kick again. I’m not a science major. This is my first injury, other than a pulled hamstring. I really had no idea. But the doctors did a really nice job. We have top-line doctors here at Buffalo and at Penn State. They’ve worked together.”
Finegan is majoring in international business and trade, and he returned to the classroom on Monday afternoon. “Today is my first day,” he said, in a telephone interview. “At 2 o’clock, I’m supposed to go to my first class. I’m curious how it’s going to go. I’m supposed to keep my foot elevated. I’ll be in a wheel chair. I have some teammates who will be pushing me around campus.”
Finegan set the Buffalo single-season record for punt average in 2018 (41.8 yards) and will take a medical redshirt this season. “I’ll still have another three seasons after this season, which is pretty amazing,” he said. “That’s actually one of the first things our head coach talked to me about.”
He can’t wait to get back on the field. But now, he’s got a whole different perspective, not just about college football. But about some amazing college football fans from all across the country.
Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.
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