Commentary

Fickle fortunes after stars collide

As NFL's No. 1 pick, Bradford rebounds from hit by BYU LB, whose playing career ends

Originally Published: April 22, 2010
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- They've never talked to each other. Never texted. Never e-mailed. Never called.

But Thursday evening, when Sam Bradford walked onto the Radio City Music Hall stage as the No. 1 pick of the 2010 NFL draft, Coleby Clawson was getting updates, bittersweetly, as it turns out, on his cell phone from his new apartment in Billings, Mont.

Clawson and his wife, Breanna, just moved to Billings a day ago and don't have cable yet. He's spending his summer selling alarm systems door to door. Bradford will be spending his summer -- and his foreseeable future -- playing quarterback for the St. Louis Rams.

"I can't wait to get there," Bradford said.

They don't know each other, but Clawson and Bradford are connected by a single defining play that essentially ended Bradford's 2009 season, his chance at a historic Heisman two-peat and -- Who knew at the time? -- maybe his hopes of an NFL career. Now Bradford will make millions and Clawson will make sales calls.

"It's going to be tough watching [the draft], knowing I'm done," Clawson wrote when we traded texts earlier Thursday.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Jackson Laizure/US PresswireAfter suffering a shoulder injury last September, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford seemed far away from becoming the 2010 NFL first overall draft pick.

Clawson is the now-former BYU outside linebacker who, on Sept. 5, delivered the clean hit that first turned Bradford's right shoulder -- and Oklahoma's season -- into Gerber's mush. He ran a blitz stunt that overloaded the left side of OU's inexperienced offensive line, came off the edge virtually untouched and caught Bradford as the Sooners' QB tried to escape.

"We kind of went airborne, he landed weird on that shoulder," said Clawson, this time in a phone interview. "I could tell he was hurt. I could hear him kind of grumbling under there."

The official diagnosis was a sprained AC joint. All Clawson knew for sure was that Bradford spent the second half on the Oklahoma sideline with his shoulder plastic-wrapped as if it were a Thanksgiving leftover.

Bradford missed the next three games, gutted it out in an Oct. 10 win against Baylor and lasted exactly eight plays before reinjuring the shoulder against Texas the next week. He had surgery Oct. 28.

"I wanted to see him after the game, but I didn't get a chance to catch him and tell him good luck or stuff," Clawson said. "I'm not sure how he felt about the whole thing.'"

Bradford is just fine now. At 7:36 p.m. Eastern, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell intoned the magic words: "With the first pick of the 2010 NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams select Sam Bradford …"

Three minutes later, a beaming Bradford was handed a white Rams cap, then a blue Rams jersey -- NFL merchandise marketing at work. He walked across the blue-carpeted stage, shook hands with Goodell, posed for the obligatory photo shoot, gripped the draft card Goodell gave him as a keepsake and then happily went through the media post-pick car wash. You'd never know he was almost exactly six months removed from shoulder surgery.

"Obviously it's a dream come true," Bradford said.

But in September, when he was lying on the Cowboys Stadium turf in pain, did he think the dream was still possible? "No, I didn't," he said.

[+] EnlargeColeby Clawson
Derrick Tuskan/Icon SMIBYU linebacker Coleby Clawson, who delivered the hit that put Sam Bradford's 2009 season on hold, probably has played his last football game.

Clawson's playing career ended less than two months after Bradford's shoulder rehab began. There would be no TV face time with Jon Gruden of the Fired Football Coaches Association. No Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. debates about where he would go in the draft. When Clawson took his helmet and pads off after the Dec. 22 Maaco Bowl Las Vegas, that was it.

He wants to play --gawd, does he love to hit somebody fair and square -- but his body has other ideas. Clawson, 25, is a Type 1 diabetic, which means a lifetime of insulin shots and monitoring. He woke up the day after games feeling as if he'd been T-boned in an 11-car pileup.

And then there was the series of concussions. Nothing serious -- yet -- but what about the next one? After all, he and Breanna have a 2-year-old daughter.

So he and his wife prayed about what to do next. They spent months considering their options. According to McShay, 6-3, 234-pound Clawson likely would have been drafted (McShay had him as a seventh-round possibility) or signed as a free agent.

Instead, he quits and Bradford plays.

"No NFL," Clawson said. "We just felt it was in the best interest of my health to move on with school and hang up my cleats. It hasn't been easy. I've gotten calls from different teams asking why I'm not posting pro day numbers. It's been tempting."

So Clawson, an Academic All-Mountain West Conference selection, will work his summer gig selling alarms in Billings. Then he wants to return to BYU, work as an assistant strength and conditioning coach, get his master's degree in exercise physiology, then go to medical school or physical therapy school.

With or without cable TV, his football withdrawal pains weren't helped by Thursday night's draft. But through it all, Clawson is thrilled for Bradford.

"It's a tribute to the kind of athlete he is, the kind of football player he is, that he can sit out almost a full season and still be the No. 1 pick in the draft," Clawson said. "I already kind of felt bad about [his injury], about him having to watch games for the rest of the season. I would have felt bad had I maybe ruined his career plans."

I told Clawson that I would pass along any message he had for Bradford.

"Tell him … that I'm sorry the way things turned out, but I'm really happy for him," Clawson said. "I think he's not only a great football player but a great person. I know he does a lot of good things in the community. I look up to him. He's a great guy."

So later, in a downstairs interview room, I asked Bradford whether he remembered playing against Clawson.

"BYU," Bradford said. "I remember that because someone brought it up to me this week."

"He said to tell you congratulations, that he felt bad about the injury," I said.

"He has nothing to feel bad about," Bradford said. "It's part of football."

Somewhere in Billings, Mont., a linebacker/alarm salesman/future doctor thanks him.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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