Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Gruesome tale loses some of its nail-biting intrigue

BLACKSBURG -- The pinky's made the rounds now.

It got a mention on ESPN's "Mike and Mike" on Tuesday morning. It found its way onto the websites of Sports Illustrated and ESPN. "College GameDay" is planning a short segment on the digit for Saturday's show.

Greg Nosal's mangled pinky is officially famous, mostly because the guy who owns it decided to keep playing football, even as a piece of the finger -- found inside the Virginia Tech lineman's glove during Saturday's game against Central Michigan -- lay wrapped in gauze and chilling on ice, waiting to be reattached.

You know, as soon as the game's outcome was decided.

So far, the prevailing question has been this one: Is Nosal the toughest son of a gun ever to lace 'em up at Lane Stadium, or is he just nuts?

Answer that one however you want.

But the question I had was different: Why on Earth was this guy even allowed to play?

When I first read this story in Tuesday's paper, that's immediately what came to mind. Perhaps it came to your mind, too. I pictured blood spurting out of Nosal as if he were a Michael Myers victim. I pictured the conversation between Tech's medical staff and Nosal being like a scene out of some cheesy war movie.

Doc: "We gotta take you out, Greg!"

Nosal: "Never! Tape it up!"

Doc (after pausing to wipe spurting blood off his eye): "But ... but ... you can't be serious."

Nosal: "Did I stutter? I've got Chippewas to smash! I said tape it up!"

Doc: "Whatever you say. Ice the nub, boys!"

But then I realized this was Tech trainer Mike Goforth we were talking about. The same Goforth who once saved a kid from drowning. The same Goforth who, during a dozen years on Tech's medical staff, has been nothing but competent and professional in everything he does.

As such, the fake scene made no sense.

So I called Goforth. And while the things he told me took a little of the sizzle off Nosal's tale -- "I guess it's a big deal if your pinky gets ripped off," the lineman told the media Monday -- it did restore my faith in Tech's medical personnel.

"It was just the tip of his pinky," Goforth said. "The fingernail was still there, the whole nine yards. If it was a bad laceration on another part of the body, that probably would have kept him out faster than this one. It's an easy one to control and stabilize. He was in no danger."

But what about all the blood loss we're hearing about?

"Not a lot at all," Goforth said. "A lot of times when you sever something, you sever part of the nerve, which makes it not as painful. And also it completely seals off most of the blood vessels, so it doesn't bleed as bad. That's how people survive when you have amputations and some of these freak accidents that you hear about."

OK, so maybe pain and blood loss weren't huge issues. But why give him an option of returning to the game? Forget opponent, score, desire, all of that. He did lose part of his finger, after all.

"There wasn't a reason not to," Goforth said. "What Dr. [Gunnar] Brolinson likes to say, our head team physician, is that the health and welfare of the student-athlete is first and foremost. If we'd have thought that this jeopardized that, it wouldn't have been up for debate. You'd be surprised how many times we keep athletes out when they want to go back in."

So ultimately, Nosal got to make the call. Goforth had no second thoughts about it, even when guys like me questioned the move.

"It was nothing that would have jeopardized Greg's future, being able to type, being able to tie his shoes, anything like that," Goforth said. "I kind of did the same thing to the tip of my finger this year putting a tetherball pole together for my youngest son for his birthday. It's not that big a deal. People have far worse than this happen on a daily basis and never miss work or anything."

Don't get me wrong: Nosal's still tough.

But when he's telling this tale to his grandkids, he might want to stick with the "pinky gets ripped off" angle. He can leave out the part about Goforth's tetherball mishap.

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