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Thursday, August 30
Updated: September 1, 8:59 PM ET
Taliaferro's return to Beaver Stadium inspires many

By Scott Brown
Special to

"Adam is our miracle."
-- Penn State coach Joe Paterno

The Miracle is one of the greatest running backs ever to come out of an area that produced Hall of Famer Franco Harris and Heisman Trophy winners Mike Rozier and Ron Dayne.

Yet Adam Taliaferro is unsure whether his legs will allow him to even jog onto the Beaver Stadium field Saturday prior to Penn State's game against second-ranked Miami.

"That's the big question," Taliaferro said from his on-campus apartment earlier this week. "Jogging's still a little tough."

Adam Taliaferro
Adam Taliaferro receives electrical stimulation during a physical therapy session at Penn State as he continues his amazing comeback.
Jog, walk, it doesn't matter.

What matters is that almost a year after Taliaferro broke his neck while making a tackle in a game at Ohio State, he will return to the football field.

And it won't be in a wheelchair, where doctors initially feared Taliaferro would spend the rest of his life. Or with the crutches that Taliaferro ditched not long after leaving Magee Rehabilitation Hospital last January.

Whether he jogs or walks, Adam Taliaferro will do it on his own.

Beaver Stadium has seen its share of electric moments, from Todd Blackledge's last-second touchdown pass against Nebraska in 1982, to a late defensive stand against Notre Dame in 1987, to the comeback from a 10-point, second-half deficit against Ohio State in 1997.

All are in danger of being trumped by Taliaferro, who will lead the Nittany Lions out of the home tunnel Saturday to deafening cheers.

"I can't imagine myself what it will be like," Taliaferro said.

It will be cathartic for the teammates who held hands and prayed in the agonizing moments following Taliaferro's life-altering tackle last Sept. 23. Cathartic for the legendary coach who briefly pondered retiring in the wake of the injury. And cathartic even for a sport that is still reeling from the deaths of Florida's Eraste Autin, Northwestern's Rashidi Wheeler and the Minnesota Vikings' Korey Stringer.

"I think Adam Taliaferro has been a great inspiration, not just to Penn State," Paterno said, "but to people across the country who all of a sudden are faced with a very, very difficult situation and wonder whether they will ever survive."

Taliaferro will be the first to parcel out credit for his miraculous comeback.

His parents, Andre and Addie, were literally with him day and night. Just as important, they never let him find out that he wasn't supposed to walk again.

Also, fate, strangely enough, smiled on Taliaferro the same day he could have lost his life.

There is no doubt I'm going to miss watching my son play football. At the same time I realize how things could have turned out. My boy is walking and back to living a normal life.
Andre Taliaferro, Adam's father

Taliaferro fractured his C-5 vertebrae while making a helmet-first tackle, but was fortunate enough to do it right in front of the Penn State sidelines. That allowed medical personnel to get to him quickly and prevent him from involuntarily thrashing around and causing more damage to his bruised spinal cord.

Also, Ohio State University Medical Center is less than a mile from Ohio Stadium. That made for a short drive to the hospital where doctors administered steroids to stop swelling in the spinal cord. Penn State's director of athletic medicine, Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli, credits the steroids for playing a major role in Taliaferro's recovery.

Taliaferro, who underwent successful spinal-fusion surgery two days after his catastrophic tackle, made slow but sure progress after he was transferred to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital on Sept. 27 and then Magee on Oct. 6. Both are in Philadelphia, about 15 miles from Taliaferro's home in Voorhees, N.J.

On Jan. 5 -- four days after Taliaferro celebrated his 19th birthday -- he gave everyone a present when he walked out of Magee on crutches. A little more than a month later, he reduced Ron Jaworski to a blubbering mess when the former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback presented Taliaferro with a spirit award at the Maxwell Football Club's annual banquet.

In April, Taliaferro returned to Ohio State University Medical Center to thank the doctors and nurses there, and less than two weeks after that he visited Penn State for the annual Blue-White scrimmage.

Even during a festive weekend in which he signed autographs for fans and dined with former Penn State All-Americans O.J. McDuffie and Ki-Jana Carter, Taliaferro got a reminder of what he had lost.

The same day Taliaferro stood on the sidelines for Penn State's spring scrimmage, Bhawoh Jue got taken in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. Before he got hurt, Taliaferro had been heir to Jue's right cornerback position.

Hearing that Jue got drafted made Taliaferro wonder what might have been. A two-way standout in high school, Taliaferro played as a true freshman and Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said he had a certain NFL career in front of him.

Taliaferro's father still struggles at times with the loss of football.

Adam Taliaferro
Adam Taliaferro fractured his C-5 vertebrae against Ohio St. on Sept. 23, yet stunned many by walking out of the hospital on Jan. 5.
"There is no doubt I'm going to miss watching my son play football," Andre Taliaferro said. "At the same time I realize how things could have turned out. My boy is walking and back to living a normal life."

Normal this week means lifting with teammates and walking to class (though he still walks with a slight hitch, Taliaferro said he has no trouble negotiating Penn State's sprawling campus). Normal means driving to the store to get food for his pet snake and breaking down tape on Miami -- part of his duties as a student-assistant coach.

The mundane in Adam Taliaferro's life is magnificent for anyone who has followed his heartbreaking and heartwarming story.

And maybe it shouldn't be surprising that Taliaferro, who returned to Penn State for classes this summer, is living a normal life.

After all, a day after the injury, a heavily-sedated Taliaferro assured his mother that he would walk again, that he "was not going out like that."

That sound bite made its way back to his devastated teammates, and they upset Purdue, 22-20, the following Saturday.

"I mean he's 18 years old, he's laying there, not being able to walk, saying, he's not going out like that. That's a real big man," said former Lions safety James Boyd who spearheaded State's inspired effort that day and is now a rookie with the Jacksonville Jaguars. "I don't know what I would do if that was me. I might have just sat in the bed and cried."

There doesn't figure to be many dry eyes when Taliaferro leads Penn State onto the field at newly-renovated Beaver Stadium, which now holds around 107,000 people.

"I will be applauding Adam Taliaferro for the courageous thing he's done to get back to where he is in life," Miami coach Larry Coker said.

Coker has to be concerned about the emotional lift Taliaferro will give the Lions. Then again, Penn State is coming off a 5-7 record, has an inexperienced quarterback, an unproven offensive line and more questions than answers in its secondary.

As Paterno said, "Adam can't win the football game for us."

Then again, he's already won something far more important.

Scott Brown co-authored "Miracle in the Making: The Adam Taliaferro Story" with Sam Carchidi. The book is available at

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Adam Taliaferro leads the Penn State Nittany Lions out of the tunnel (Courtesy: ABC Sports).
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