STILLWATER – Brandon Garrett couldn’t look.
His mom, Tammy Helms, didn’t want to look.
Still, they knew it was bad – really bad – by how squeamish everyone was acting on the field last January in the Cotton Bowl, after Garrett’s lower left leg had been rolled and snapped.
A Tib-Fib fracture as it’s known, with both the tibia and fibula broken.
Garrett knew by the sound – crack!
And by the pain.
“I remember, I kept trying to breathe and stay conscious,” said Garrett, who started that Cotton Bowl game for Oklahoma State at right tackle.
“I feel like I knew right away what happened, although I never suffered an injury like that. I just laid on the ground, trying to not look at the leg and trying to hold it together at the same time.”
Garrett has rehabbed and worked to make it back, just in time, oddly enough, to return to his own personal house of horror – AT&T Stadium for Saturday’s matchup with No. 1 Florida State.
That was the scene of Garrett’s gruesome injury nearly eight months ago.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Garrett said, “that something like that could happen and then go back to the same stadium, same atmosphere, play another huge game. Pretty amazing.
“It’s always going to be in the back of my head. But at the same time, I’ve got to approach it just like any other game. I’m not going to worry about what happened before, although it might be there a little bit. I’m just going to do my thing, prepare with the team and try to get a win.”
Garrett joined the Cowboys last year from Trinity Valley Community College. He played in 11 games and started four, including the final two.
On the first play of OSU’s second series, Garrett was blocking downfield on the linebacker, clearing the way for a Desmond Roland gain.
“Just out of nowhere, I collapsed,” Garrett said. “I was told that someone was trying to dive and make the tackle, and came onto my leg.”
Garrett still doesn’t know because he still hasn’t watched the play on tape.
And he has no plans to do so.
“Not for quite some time,” Garrett said.
Zac Veatch, one of Garrett’s linemates, saw Garrett down. And saw a leg that didn’t look so much like a leg.
“I saw what happened and I looked,” Veatch said, “it was shocking”
As the play developed, Tammy Helms sat in the stands, chatting with another fan about how well things had turned out.
“I was talking to the lady next to me about them playing and how exciting it was for Brandon in his first year, to be playing in the Cotton Bowl,” Garrett’s mom said. “And all of a sudden I look up and I see a player on the field. Of course, you’re worried who it might be. Then I see him lean up and I say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s his number.’
“Here I am, second row from the field. I’m like, ‘How do I get to him?’”
As they carted off her 6-foot-5, 295-pound son, she was eventually led across the field and into the ambulance that carried her and her son to the hospital.
“To see your big boy not sure what’s going on,” Helms said, “it’s like he’s your little boy again, if that makes sense.”
Once at the hospital, doctors said Garrett could be taken to Houston, their home, or back to Oklahoma for surgery that would be required. But they warned of possible complications with such a move, most notably the risk of blood clots.
So the surgery to put a stabilizing titanium rod in the leg was done in Dallas. And it was completed before the game ended.
In the recovery room, still drowsy from the anesthesia, Garrett sought a final score.
“That was one of the first questions I asked, ‘How did we do?’” he said. “I definitely wanted to know how the guys did.”
The Cowboys lost, 41-31 to Missouri.
And the game turned late when Tigers defensive end Michael Sam struck for one of his two tackles, sacking and stripping Cowboys quarterback Clint Chelf on a play that turned into 73-yard fumble return for a touchdown as OSU was threatening to take the lead.
Sam came around the Cowboys’ right side, where Garrett had once been stationed.
“It was kind of disappointing, just knowing it could have been me over there preventing it, Garrett said. “I definitely wouldn’t say anything bad about my teammates who took my place, because that can happen against anybody.
“But it kind of sucked that it could have been me over there that it happened to, or could have stopped it.”
Maybe Garrett can help a better script this time.
He’s close to returning to 100 percent. Following a rugged rehab and recovery, the realization of a return was always in his sights.
Not that it was always obvious.
“I couldn’t imagine breaking my leg in half and coming back,” said OSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. “He’s doing really good. He’s working to improve every day; has a great attitude.
“A guy like that obviously loves the game of football. That’s awesome.”
Not that it was always easy.
“There were some bad thoughts in the beginning, but I don’t know if it was, ‘Will I ever play?’” he said. “It was, ‘When will I play?’
“I don’t think I ever counted myself out completely. I just wasn’t sure when I would be back.”
Garrett’s hoping he’s back in action Saturday night.
Back at the scene.
“Of course, there’s still things I need to work on individually, to get back in there as good if not better than last year,” Garrett said.
“But it’s great to know that I’ll have a chance to play and help and go out my senior year.”