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You Don’t Have to Play Both Ways to Be an Ironman

Andrew Mason
Sunday June 27, 2004


PHOENIX -- An hour after becoming intimately acquainted with the padded wall at the 7-yard-line, an unrestrained river of blood flowed down James Hundon’s nose, winding along the usually unseen crevices of his skin to his lips. The right side of Hundon’s nose was so swollen that it seemed a divine hand had lifted his skin and placed a golf ball underneath. The bandage across the bridge of his nose only served to draw the blood downward, keeping it against his skin where he was left to brush it off.

And this was over an hour after the San Jose SaberCats’ offensive specialist broke his nose, after most of the 17,391 at America West Arena had yelled themselves hoarse and then left within seconds of the final gun, not desiring to be witnesses to the party they hoped to avoid – a third consecutive championship celebration at the Arizona Rattlers’ expense.

Hundon’s bloodied face was not only the symbol for a league where guts and guile usually trump flat-out talent; it was the embodiment of the SaberCats’ run to their second AFL title. In 2002, they sailed; the only doubt in their ArenaBowl win would be whether they posted the first AFL shutout in over a decade. Two years later, the SaberCats slugged their way through, and took some hits of their own – none harder than Hundon’s collision with the top of the wall, leaving him with the visage of a battered boxer after a savage 15 rounds.

“I look like Thomas Hearns,” he said. “But that’s okay.”

When his face made its violent impact with the padded walls late in the third quarter, Hundon held onto both the ball and his consciousness.

“I knew it was broken when I hit the wall,” Hundon said. “I got up and I went back down. I said, ‘Oh my gosh, my nose is broken.’ Then I felt the blood rushing, and I didn’t know if I had a cut or I was bleeding from the inside.”

From over 10 yards away, SaberCats quarterback Mark Grieb saw his teammate fall to the turf and dashed over to check on him.

“I came over to look at him, and blood was just falling out,” Grieb said. “You go look over there on the field, and there are blood stains everywhere.”

Yet Hundon rose and walked away. At first, the moment seemed to embody the phrase “insult to injury,” as the path to the trainer’s room wound through the Rattlers’ bench area. .

“They wanted me to sit out for a minute and see how it felt. I felt fine,” Hundon said. “As long as I didn’t have a concussion, I was going to come back. They just didn’t know I was going to come back.”

The injury left him bloodied, but intact. He could still run his routes. He could still think. He could still see; after all, the blood went down his face, not into his eyes.
He’d just have to do both while pushing blood off of his face between plays and possessions – a minor nuisance that Hundon ignored.

“Unless I can’t walk or can’t run, I’m out here,” he said.

One possession later, he returned and resuscitated a dying drive by sprinting open for a 33-yard touchdown reception on third-and-10. The blood kept flowing. The bandage was ineffective. He kept playing.

“Every time I was on the sideline I was dripping (blood),” Hundon said.

The broken nose will take weeks to heal. The championship ring his return helped the SaberCats clinch will stay with him a lifetime.

“It’s ugly,” Grieb said. “That’s the type of character and heart this team has.”

With seven catches for 107 yards and a score, Hundon didn’t emerge from the game with any individual awards; they went to Grieb and James Roe, teammates who collaborated on five touchdown passes – two of which came on game-turning third downs. But his return epitomized the SaberCats’ path to a title. It wasn’t a direct route as it was in 2002. It meandered back and forth like the trickle of blood down Hundon’s face.

“(In 2002) we only lost one game and I believe we only lost one coin toss,” SaberCats head coach Darren Arbet said. “This team had to fight for everything it earned. I don’t think we even won a coin toss for the last eight weeks. We fought for every inch.”

In ArenaBowl XVIII, none fought harder than Hundon. His position reads “offensive specialist.” But one doesn’t have to play both ways to be an Ironman.


 
Andrew Mason was at the Tampa Bay Storm`s first home game on June 1, 1991 and has followed the game ever since. While in college, he served as content editor and co-founder of The Storm Shelter, a Web site which covered the Tampa Bay Storm on the Internet from 1996-99. He also volunteered with the team`s media relations department in 1998 and currently contributes to ColoradoCrush.com. He's covered the NFL for various on-line outlets since 1999.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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