If you'd like to read this story without taking another glance at the accompanying gruesome photo, Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch understands.
Crouch hates looking at it, too, and he was the victim of the face mask penalty that Kansas State linebacker Travis Ochs committed with impunity last season to help preserve the
Wildcats' 40-30 win over the Cornhuskers.
Crouch is healthy, ready for Big Red's rematch against visiting Kansas State on Saturday and fully recovered from the sudden and swift head-twisting that caused him no serious injury but left him as stiff as an Al Gore mannequin.
"I wouldn't say that I was injured to where I couldn't play," Crouch said, "but I was pretty affected by that for a couple of weeks.
"I can tell you one thing, I practiced the next week, and I was like this."
He quickly feigned a quarterback who places his hands under a center, allowing his neck only to turn in the direction of his upper body, moving gingerly as if a wrong move might detonate the pain.
Then he chuckled.
"I couldn't move my head to save my life," he
Crouch's reputation as a tough and resilient Husker is merited. His 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame, his dark hair, and his choir-boy looks belie a mean streak.
Remember how he lowered his head, reduced a poor Iowa defensive back to road kill and rumbled to the end zone in the Huskers' season opener? The collision was highlight fodder for many television sports shows.
He has bounced back from the disappointment of initially being named backup quarterback behind the more-heralded Bobby Newcombe.
But now Crouch is the starter, a leader of seventh-ranked, 8-1 Huskers and a dual threat who has thrown for 1,101 yards, rushed for 536 and scored 18 touchdowns.
No, Crouch is not faint of heart. Yet he draws back when he sees that famous photo of himself, appearing to do an impersonation of Linda Blair in "The Exorcist."
"The first thing I do is look away," Crouch said. "It's not a pleasing sight to see. I'm glad that I don't have a broken neck."
Ochs' face mask, which dropped Crouch to the artificial turf, was recorded as a sack.
The play happened on fourth down. It was the final possession for Nebraska's offense, and the Wildcats had snapped a 30-game losing streak to the Huskers.
Crouch has accepted the defeat but not the no-call.
Anger surfaces when he lowers his voice to question why the officiating crew never threw a flag.
"I'm not disappointed because we lost the game or because it stopped our drive," he said. "I could have been seriously hurt. Yet they (the officials) allowed that to happen."
That Crouch escaped without injury baffles Don Wallas, an orthopaedic surgeon in Lincoln, Neb.
Wallas, who did not examine Crouch, is a Nebraska fan who collects action photos of Husker football games. He purchased a print of the face mask photo from Craig Hacker, the freelance photographer who took the shot.
"It's just kind of a shocking picture," Wallas said. "I'm surprised that he didn't have a neck injury after that."
Wallas wonders if Crouch's head turned inside the helmet, saying that the "normal person allows about 70 degrees of rotation" in his neck.
Crouch says his head never turned inside the helmet.
The speed of the play makes it hard to know the facts. Ochs' face mask happened in an instant. So fast, in fact, that Hacker says he only had the shot in a single frame and he never saw the face mask through his super telephoto lens.
Crouch said he knows his head did not turn inside the helmet because his chin strap remained buttoned.
"And if my chin strap is on," Crouch said, "my head follows it."
The photo is a classic.
After originally being published on Nov. 23 in the "Leading Off" section of Sports Illustrated, Hacker's shot has received several journalism honors.
Those include: An award of excellence in the magazine sports action category of the Pictures of the Year contest, the nation's largest photo journalism competition; and a spot in the July 26 Sports Illustrated issue recognizing the "Century's Greatest
Crouch doesn't mind being part of sports history, though he would have preferred being on the winning team.
As he prepares to play 9-0, fifth-ranked K-State, Crouch says the face mask hasn't caused him any timidity on the football field.
"Oh, no," he said. "But I did have my face mask changed. I do have a smaller one now."