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This item appeared in The Times & Free Press on Sunday, January 2, 2000.

[Times & Free Press: Ratliff Will Finish Career On Sidelines]

Ratliff Will Finish Career On Sidelines

Executive Sports Editor

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Billy Ratliff will be on the Sun Devil football field again today during the Fiesta Bowl, but don't look for him to show his face.

Ratliff, a senior defensive tackle, won't be in uniform, but he will be wearing a helmet.

It's a helmet he won't likely remove because if he does, people might see this 6-foot-3, 275-pound giant crying.

Ratliff broke his leg and tore two ligaments in the fourth game of the season this year. Needless to say, it ended his season and his career.

Last year, he was one of UT's defensive stars, recovering a fumble and making five tackles against Florida State, one for a loss. The Vols won the game and the national championship.

Perhaps he should have been a trainer because he's spent more time in the training room than on the field. He would be perfectly fit for a role in ER because in five years at UT, he's spent more time on the operation table than any three Vols combined.

Ratliff has managed to play just one full season and that was last year. In addition to the broken leg and torn ligaments, he has had three knee operations, a broken shin bone and a serious back injury.

Why me, Lord?

"I've gotten beyond that point," he said. "I think the good Lord has a plan for everybody. He'll give you a door to walk through if He wants you to. Right now I'm still looking for (the door he would like to see)," he said.

The Mississippi native has put a lock on the door to practices here, partly because his rehabilitation activity at the team hotel sometimes conflicts with the practice schedule, but primarily because it is difficult emotionally for him.

"I did go to two practices, but I couldn't handle it anymore," he said. "It's tough, real tough for me to be around my teammates at the motel or at practice, so I basically stay in my room.

"You have to understand how much I love this game. I can't play and when I see (my teammates) it makes me want to shed a tear. It's why I'll be wearing a helmet during the game."

Ratliff, who recovered the fumble in the waning moments of the Arkansas game last year that led to the winning touchdown, will be at the game tonight.

"I can't get past that one. I've got to go, but it won't be easy for me. I'll do anything I can to motivate them, though. I'll be the biggest cheerleader on the field."

Despite all the injuries, Ratliff still hasn't give up the possibility of playing football professionally.

"Although I've had all these injuries, I've never had any smash injuries, you know the kind where you could actually see the leg or ankle being broken or shattered.

"This last one, I thought I had just sprung my ankle. It didn't seem to hurt that much and I don't even remember anyone rolling over on my leg or anything. They say it is better to break a leg than tear a ligament. Well, I did both.

"But if I get the chance to play pro football, I'll take it. I'm not going to quit until I know I just can't do it anymore."

If that door isn't open, he'll take another.

Ratliff receives his degree in May.

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