John Thornton was accustomed to being the deliverer of hits and blindside sacks during his football career, but on Sunday he was on the receiving end. While standing on the Mountaineer sideline watching the 34-13 win over the Herd, Thornton was knocked down and run over by the lift truck that carries one of the primary game cameras.
"I was just standing there with Charles Fisher and Aaron Beasley, and had been talking with Oliver Luck," Thornton said. "I was watching the game and the team was coming down the field in our direction. I was right behind the photographers, and I felt tap on shoulder. I turned around and it was the guy that was clearing a path for the truck. It was loud, and I couldn't hear what he was saying, so I asked him what he wanted. Then I turned and looked and the truck was on me."
For those that haven't observed TV trucks on the field, they basically consist of a mobile lift platform with 8-12 wheels. Different versions are employed depending on which crew is doing the game, but it serves as one of the primary cameras for game coverage, as it follows the teams up and down the field. It's very dangerous, as many people are moving around on the sidelines, including photographers, game workers, team staff and security personnel. Typically, there are 3-4 people running interference for the truck, making sure that people are out of the way when it was moving, but that apparently wasn't the case on Sunday.
"I was talking to the State Police [afterward], and they were really upset about it," Thornton related. "They said they had warned them about going to fast, and they only had one guy doing spotting, where they usually have more. I didn't think I was in its way, because I wasn't back near the wall where it usually runs. So I was shocked when it hit me."
'Hit' only begins to describe what happened to Thornton. Not only did the 3,000-pound machine strike him, it rolled up over his leg and pinned him to the ground.
"It got stuck on my leg, and I have no idea how my leg didn't shatter. It was the weirdest thing," he recalled. "I think I was in shock, but I know I am lucky not to be seriously hurt. It sat on my leg for about ten minutes. They didn't want to back up because it would have to roll back over my leg and foot, and they couldn't lift it up because it was so heavy. Finally, Beas and Fisher led the charge and got my leg and foot adjusted so they could pull the truck off of me. [WVU trainer John] Spiker was there too, and he's a guy a trust to help me. He helped me get up, and then I stood and walked away."
If there was ever any doubt about Thornton's toughness, the incident removed all doubt. Although his leg was badly bruised, he shook it off.
"That's probably not the hardest I've ever been hit, but it was the biggest thing that ever hit me," he said with a laugh.
To add insult to injury, ESPN didn't even apologize to Thornton – although that was par for the course on a night in which the network made an erroneous report and aired a mistake-filled broadcast.
"That was just crazy," Thornton said. "I couldn't believe I got hit by a truck and no one apologized."
Thornton hopes to make his own mark in the television world when he teams with Rob King on Root Sports' broadcast of Saturday's game against Norfolk State.
"They contacted me and asked me if I had done any television announcing, and I told them no, but that I do radio shows in Cincinnati. They asked me if I was interested in doing those games, and I told them yes, so we got an agreement together. It all happened pretty quicky," he related. "I'm doing research on Norfolk State now, and we'll be talking with the coaches this week. I still talk with Mark Thurston, who played at WVU and is a coach at Norfolk State now, so I'll get some background from him too."
As a WVU alum, Thornton is conscious of the fact that he can't take sides. He believes that his experience doing radio and commenting on the Cincinnati Bengals, one of his former NFL teams, will allow him to remain objective.
"I'm just going to talk abut the game and keep it simple," he said of his plans. "I'm not going to worry about getting really deep into anything. I can provide analysis of the things I know about, and I can be honest and critical if need be. I am very open to calling it right, because I am always honest about football. I criticized some of my former teammates when I was doing radio, so it the situation calls for it, I can do that."
Thornton, a two-time all Big East performer at WVU and a ten-year NFL veteran, is scheduled to do two games with Root Sports. In addition to the Norfolk State game, he's also set for the Oct. 1 game vs. Bowling Green.