Arizona's Tim Croff won't let 173 shotgun pellets inside his body stop him.
By MIKE READLING
Published June 17, 2003
When Tim Croff's right arm begins to itch, the search is on.
It starts by Croff reaching over and, using his left index finger, finding a place just above his right elbow. Slowly, he'll follow a scar down the arm, starting at his biceps and heading to his wrist, until he finds just the right spot.
It is an odd routine for a 6-foot-3, 280-pound offensive/defensive lineman.
A 26-year-old who won two state wrestling titles in high school, finished second in the nation while at Carson-Newman college and has helped the Arizona Rattlers to the brink of the Arena League title isn't supposed to have to search up and down his arm just to scratch an itch.
That is Croff's life since a summer day almost nine years ago when he almost bled to death on the front seat of his friend's car.
It was a late July, maybe early August day in 1994 - Croff can't remember - when he and some friends were at a party.
Fall football workouts at Dobson High in Mesa, Ariz., were to begin in a couple of weeks, and Croff was looking forward to his senior year. The fact he would play fullback and defensive tackle for the Mustangs had come up in a conversation earlier in the night.
Eventually, Croff, David Lopez and a couple of other friends moved to a motel parking lot, where they were confronted by some gang members. Words were exchanged - "they were in a gang, we were a bunch of athletes, just normal stuff," Croff said - and a brawl was about to begin.
The situation calmed down, and Croff got into his friend's car when someone said something else and his friend jumped out. Croff followed, hoping to add a little defense against the increasing number of attackers.
That's when he saw it.
The flame was about a foot long, 3 inches wide and bright orange. The barrel of the sawed-off, 12-gauge shotgun was about 30 feet away, but it was pointed right at Croff, even though he wasn't the intended target.
"At first, I felt this pressure like a big, giant fist hitting me, and it knocked my breath out," he said. "It buckled me over and knocked me back. Then came the burning and aching. At the same time it would burn, ache and there was a kind of cold feeling.
"I was blacking out, but every time I started, I would fight (it) because I thought I was dying."
It was a 3-mile drive to the nearest hospital, and by the time Croff's friends screeched to a halt in the emergency lane, the floorboard in the front seat was a puddle of his blood. Shotgun pellets filled both legs, his groin, stomach, left hand and right arm.
Croff spent two weeks in the hospital and had several surgeries. One put pins in his hand, and another repaired nerves that ran from his right biceps to his wrist, which explains the scar, the recurring numbness and the fact Croff isn't sure where to start scratching when his arm tingles.
None of the surgeries were to remove the shotgun pellets, which is why Croff has one of the most interesting X-rays in the AFL. One hundred seventy-three pellets remain in his body because doctors said they would have done more damage fishing around for the pellets than if they were to stay.
Croff said he doesn't talk to any of the friends he was with that night, though he ran into Lopez at one of the Rattlers' games a couple of weeks ago and took his business card. He also said he doesn't worry that his arm feels like it's constantly trying to go to sleep.
In fact, the biggest thing on Croff's mind these days is forgetting another feeling: the one he felt for the first time last year when San Jose beat Arizona 52-14 in Arena Bowl XVI.