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Super Bowl Bound Player Survived Horrific Car Crash Before Turning Pro

Irving shows off the tattoo he got to remind him of his accident. (Ed Andrieski/AP Photo)
Irving shows off the tattoo he got to remind him of his accident. (Ed Andrieski/AP Photo)

Five years ago, Denver Broncos linebacker Nate Irving was sprawled out in a North Carolina ditch, bleeding, with his truck ablaze right next to him. Five days from now, Irving will suit up in his first ever Super Bowl.

Irving only knows the details of the post-accident scene because of the detailed police report.

“All I remember is seeing that 18-wheeler,” Irving said. “I went from seeing an 18-wheeler to seeing the white lights in the hospital. I don’t even remember any of the pain.”

Irving was driving back to North Carolina State at 1:00 a.m. after leaving his house. He fell asleep at the wheel and overcorrected his truck to the point where it rolled a few times and hit a group of trees. A man driving an 18-wheeler saw the flames from the road and called 9-1-1. Irving had been laying in the ditch for over an hour.

Irving was rushed to the hospital, where it was discovered that he had a punctured lung, an open break in his left leg, a separated shoulder, and a broken rib.

“I saw two people in the hospital where the same thing happened to them,” Irving recalled. “One person had his leg amputated. The other person died. Their accidents weren’t as bad as mine when you look at pictures of their cars. I figure I’m here to impact a few lives.”

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Irving spent the next six months going through the rehabilitation process. He started off not even being able to bathe himself. He had to relearn how to walk.

“It taught me to appreciate even the smallest things in life,” Irving said.

Irving was college teammates with Super Bowl foe and quarterback, Russell Wilson, at the time. He said all of his teammates including Wilson got him through the ordeal.

“They kept me upbeat about coming in every morning getting treatment,” Irving said. “My teammates were right there in the training room making it fun for me by joking around, and just giving me support.”

Irving missed the entire 2009 season, but came back his senior year and ended up being a first-team All-American selection. He also won the Piccolo Award for being the most courageous player.

Come Super Bowl Sunday, it will be fireworks, not accident flames that illuminate the night sky. Literally and figuratively, it will be the kind of sparks that shatter the darkness.

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Kim Constantinesco

Kim Constantinesco

As the founder and editor-in-chief of Purpose2Play.com, Kim Constantinesco dives under the surface hype to illuminate heroes in the sports world. Whether talking with the first man with cerebral palsy to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro, or the first woman to mountain bike across Afghanistan, Kim has a keen interest in shining the spotlight on ordinary people doing extraordinary things. She believes it's time media starts placing a higher value on the people and communities who are actively doing something to make the world a little better. Previously, she covered the Denver Broncos and the NFL for seven seasons. Her work has been featured on NFL.com, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, The New York Times, and USA Today. She resides in Denver, CO. When not working, she can be found deep in the Rocky Mountains throwing backflips on her snowboard. Follow Kim on Twitter: @KimCon14
Kim Constantinesco

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