Steiger knows well what Mackay going through

INJURED COUGAR football player Cory Mackay doesn't have to look far to find inspiration in his fight to walk and play football again. Bill Steiger, an All-American end at Washington State in 1956, returned for his senior season of 1958 after he was temporarily paralyzed from the neck down during a diving accident that sidelined him the entire 1957 season.

Like Mackay, Steiger is a Redmond resident who had vertebrae fused after he was left paralyzed in an accident. Steiger and Mackay (who has at least temporarily lost feeling below the waist since a May 7 highway rollover) both expressed optimism from the beginning that they would play football again.

"I remember being encouraged all the way that I was going to come out of this," Steiger said Friday. Steiger has been in contact with the Mackay family and said he plans to meet Cory soon.

Steiger, now 73, was coming off his All-American season when he was injured in a swimming pool in Walnut Creek, Calif. Steiger and fellow end Ray Taiple, a teammate at WSU and Olympia High School, had stopped at the home of relatives of Taiple en route to their summer jobs as surveyors in the Sierra Mountain Range.

"We were just fooling around," Steiger recalled. "I tried to dive through what turned out to be an aircraft tire inner tube from a springboard. I just caught the thing wrong and snapped my neck forward."

Steiger said he was "instantly paralyzed" and "probably would have drowned" if one of his arms had not hooked around the inner tube.

"I'm hollering in shock I guess, ‘Help, help, help me,'" Steiger said. "He (Taiple) leans down at the edge of the pool and starts splashing me, thinking I was joking.

"Then he ends up pulling me out of the pool over the edge of the pool, which was a definite no-no. Trying to move anybody with a broken neck is a no-no."

A doctor playing golf near the pool heard Taiple's cries for help and provided care until Steiger was rushed to the hospital. Steiger said doctors waited several days to see if he would recover without surgery, but soon it became apparent that an operation would be necessary if Steiger was going to possibly walk again.

Steiger said he was "doped up a lot" and is "kind of vague" in regard to time frames in his recovery. However, he does recall the encouragement he gained from seeing one of his big toes move soon after surgery. He was back on his feet and out of the hospital within a month.

"I do remember distinctly," Steiger recalls, "lying on my back looking up at the ceiling with the little holes in it ... I remember trying to count every hole in that ceiling, because there was absolutely nothing else you could do but look straight up without any movement."

Steiger wore a neck brace for several months. He missed all of the '57 season but came back to play on one of WSU's most successful teams in years in 1958. Steiger said he didn't contribute as much as he hoped during that 7-3 season, but he did win the Fred Bohler Award as the Cougars' most inspirational player.

"I didn't play that well my last year," Steiger said. "I ran with my head up a little more than I wanted to. And you know, you try to avoid some things that you wouldn't have a year earlier."

Steiger scored a touchdown in his first game back, and fans were seen with tears in their eyes.

"I read that ... it was just another game to me," Steiger said.

Steiger signed a contract with the Los Angeles (later San Diego) Chargers to play in the first season of the American Football League in 1960. He was driving from Olympia to San Diego when he pulled over, phoned the Chargers and told them he wasn't coming to training camp.

"I got about halfway down there and started realizing how stupid that really was," Steiger said. "It wasn't that much money, anyway -- it was 10 grand. You just realize all you have to do is snap that thing (neck) one more time."

Steiger, retired after a long career in sales, said a stiff neck is the only lingering effect from his injury. For that, he thanks football.

"I had an 18-inch neck at the time," Steiger said. "The doctors said that's what saved my life, because my neck was well developed and very strong. Otherwise, it probably would have snapped the whole (spinal) cord."

NOTABLE:
Steiger was No. 2 in the nation in receptions in 1956 with 39 catches for 609 yards ... In addition to earning first-team All-American honors that season from both the Football Writers Association and Look magazine, he was a second-team choice by AP. He also earned first-team All-Coast and all-conference recognition that season .... Steiger's quarterback, Bobby Newman, went to visit Steiger in the hospital after the neck surgery but nobody told him that doctors had to drill holes in Steiger's skull to secure the traction. "Newman keeled over in a dead faint" upon entering the room, remembered Dick Fry in his remarkable book The Crimson and the Gray ... Well wishes for Cory MacKay can be emailed to him HERE.

Friends and colleagues of Cory's family have established a foundation to help defray climbing medical costs and to fit the Mackay home with the proper ramps and other needs Cory will have when he is released from the hospital, the family said today. The foundation's aim is to assist Cory through the coming weeks and months and then continue in perpetuity to help other people facing similar challenges. To donate, send checks to: Mackay Spinal Injury Foundation, PO Box 814, Redmond, WA 98073-0814.

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