John Hessler

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John Hessler Takes His First Steps Since Hit-And-Run Crash ...


John Hessler Takes His First Steps Since Hit-And-Run Crash. He wasn't expected to live and now a former CU football player is showing his incredible courage ...




Hessler gives sign of hope


By Mark Kiszla

Denver Post Sports Columnist




When it is your son lying on a hospital bed in a coma, any little sign of hope qualifies as a miracle. A single wiggle of the thumb feels like an answered prayer. A light squeeze from a comatose patient's hand can contain the power to bring tears.


Has there ever been a more unlikely, more likable Colorado football hero than John Hessler, the "asterisk" quarterback who came off the bench and led the Buffaloes to a No. 5 national ranking in 1995?


Too hurt to regain consciousness but too tough to quit, Hessler has been in a coma since Oct. 19, when his Honda was rear-ended by an SUV on Interstate 76, only to be sent spinning across the median until the 29-year-old former quarterback was T-boned by an innocent, unsuspecting driver of a pickup truck.


While the cops are relentlessly chasing suspects in the hit-and-run accident, Hessler is staging a rally, one small miracle at time.


There cannot possibly be a more graphic definition of purgatory than rising day after day to a visit a loved one whose hospital chart reads "critical but stable."


When the sun went down on the weekend, after three long weeks of bedside vigils, June and Keith Hessler dared to believe they saw solid indications of getting their son back. They immediately sent word out on a website established after the accident to relay news to family, friends and fans.


"OK, everyone, you had better be sitting down on this note 'cause it is finally encouraging. No, he is not awake yet, but he is responding to commands," the Hesslers wrote Sunday evening, the words so strong with faith you could practically hear their hearts beating. "He lifts his thumb on command. He squeezes your hand and then will let loose on command. Huge step for a traumatic brain injury and much-needed encouragement for the family."


There is no cheering in the press box.


Praying, however, is allowed.


So pardon me for the interruption while I make a confession to June and Keith Hessler: In 20 years of following the Buffaloes from the sunny beaches of California to the sleet-pelted Cotton Bowl, your son was the best story any ink-stained wretch could ever tell.


Hessler made it almost impossible not to root for him from the introductory handshake. The first time he ever trotted toward the Colorado huddle, you swore Alfred E. Neuman had jumped off the pages of MAD magazine and started calling signals for the Buffaloes with uncanny skill. Smiles ensued.


"What, me worry?" has never applied better to any quarterback. Utterly lacking in ego-driven pretense or any visible evidence of tension, Hessler replaced the injured Koy Detmer, then passed for 2,136 yards for a Colorado team whose 10-2 record was one of college football's most pleasant surprises of 1995.


His CU coach was Slick Rick, and while Neuheisel worked every room like an ambitious politician hustling votes, Hessler served as the perfect antidote, with less of an agenda than a fishing-pole bobber floating on the water during a no-shoes, no-worries afternoon.


When the foe was unbeaten Oklahoma, Sooners coach Howard Schnellenberger harrumphed about not wanting an "asterisk" of beating a Colorado team with some scrub QB. What, Hessler worry? He went out and kicked Schnellenberger's asterisk, 38-17.


Walking off the practice field before a lopsided victory in the Cotton Bowl, I asked Hessler if it bugged him to be known as CU's accidental quarterback. But here was a player who always felt more comfortable wearing a cockeyed grin than a chip on his shoulder.


"I guess," Hessler responded, "I'd rather be known as the 'asterisk' quarterback than not known at all."


After chasing athletic dreams down paths that never ended in a big, fat paycheck, Hessler decided to coach. He began working this autumn as an assistant with the Regis High football team in suburban Denver. When the Raiders ran on the field for the playoffs Friday, they all wore the No. 7 that Hessler did at Colorado.


Although not married, Hessler is a proud father. There is a young boy patiently waiting for his old buddy to play catch again. Last week, Devin Hessler saw his sixth birthday come and go, wishing his dad could wake up to see the geese flying south for the winter.


The television in Hessler's hospital room has been tuned to football on Saturdays, even if he cannot see or hear the action. When CU upset Missouri at Folsom Field, coach Gary Barnett gathered his team to distribute kudos. Hessler soon will be the owner of a new game ball with his name on it.


"You know, I grew up watching John play quarterback here," Joel Klatt told reporters, after throwing for 187 yards against the Tigers. He must feel a kinship with Hessler, for both were local kids who grew up wowing scouts on Colorado baseball diamonds before becoming football stars by happy circumstance. "Just because you've graduated from CU doesn't mean you've left the Colorado football family. John is a part of this program. We're thinking of him and about his family, and we're all praying for him."


Maybe you believe in the power of prayer. Maybe you don't.


When the Buffaloes needed somebody, anybody to come to their rescue, the "asterisk" quarterback arrived out of nowhere and kept the faith.


If you can spare a minute off your calendar and clear a tiny corner of your heart, Hessler could use a little prayer now.


There is a 6-year-old boy who needs his daddy back.




In Need of a Miracle


by Chris Fowler host of ESPN College GameDay


Thank you for this wonderful article Chris.




Thursday, October 23, 2003


This is one of those tragic stories that only seem to happen to one of the good guys


John Hessler was a quarterback at the University of Colorado in the mid-'90s. He is perhaps best remembered for a heroic performance at Oklahoma in 1995. Starter Koy Detmer was injured and a green Hessler was thrown into service against a Sooner team that was unbeaten and riding a wave of Howard Schnellenberger-created hype. GameDay got caught up in it, too, inviting Schnellenberger to the set.


He stirred up the Colorado camp by stating that when his Sooners won, he didn't want "an asterisk" on the W and thereby hoped Detmer would be healthy enough to go. Mr. Corso even predicted that OU's defense would clobber Hessler and knock him out of the game.


Hessler did get beaten up pretty bad in the first half, but refused to come out of the game, telling then-coach Rick Neuheisel that he HAD to go back in. He did not want to see Lee proven right. John has joked about that story often since then. Hessler led a complete turnaround in the game, as Colorado overwhelmed an embarrassed Sooner team, 38-17. His job done, Hessler returned to his backup role until 1997, his chance to finally become the main guy.


Hessler is using his people skills as a science teacher in a middle school in Brighton, Colorado and an assistant football coach at Denver's Regis High School.


Hessler was driving alone on a freeway near his home Sunday afternoon when his Honda was rear-ended by an SUV. He careened across the highway and collided head-on with a truck. John suffered massive head injuries and a collapsed lung. As I write this, he is comatose, in critical condition.


The driver of the vehicle that created the accident fled on foot and is the subject of a search by the State Patrol. If there is any justice, the guilty will be caught.


John's prognosis is unclear. His bedside has been visited by many former teammates, and many others have called to offer support to the family. Current Buffs players and coaches have also visited. My prayers join theirs in hoping for a miracle.


His hospital room has not been a tearful place. Doctors and loved ones alike want only positive, hopeful energy to surround John as he tries to fight his way out of this. He has always been a battler, getting the most of his abilities.


The TV in his room will be tuned to Saturday night's Colorado game. It's ironic that OU is the opponent this week. No one knows if John is aware of what's said or what he hears on TV. The hope is that he might be.


Chris Fowler is host of ESPN College GameDay