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Sham: Former Center Rafferty Battling Disease

aren't sure exactly the cause. While Rafferty's body endured plenty of trauma during his playing career, doctors believe the condition was not related to football, but rather was either viral or autoimmune.   After a few days Rafferty was transferred to a rehab center and then eventually to Dallas on May 20. He was at Baylor Rehabilitation Center until June 11. Now, Rafferty is recuperating at the family's magnificent home in Keller.   But he's not resting. 

  "He is absolutely working his butt off," says Donna. "Honestly, I think it's part of the offensive lineman mentality. He's never been angry. A little frustrated sometimes, but not angry. This is what linemen do. They work extremely hard, and they don't get praised a lot. They don't do it for the limelight, they do it because that's what they do. That's what Tom is like. He's not perfect, but he's very strong. He's been amazing." 

  He IS amazing. Rafferty greets a visitor outside and walks, with the walker, up one of the three ramps they've installed at the house to accommodate his walker and wheelchair, which he still uses. He goes to physical therapy three days a week and to the gym to do upper body weight work three days a week. He tools around the newly refurbished house in his chair, he makes dinner (a trip around the island in the middle of the kitchen chasing the walker is a good barometer of strength and endurance), and he gets on his riding mower and takes a whack at the 2 ¾ acres on which the house sits. 

  "The worst part of all this," he says, and you have to know Tom, "is that I had Donna sold on how hard all the yard work was that I was doing. Now she loves getting up on the mower and up on the roof and doing stuff I was complaining about. I'm busted." 

  Tom Rafferty went from a vigorous, active salesman for Sports Supply Group, and husband and father, to a former pro football player who has to learn to walk again. In the last few weeks, he mastered climbing up a step in his swimming pool. He told buddies who had come to the house, "Hey fellas, this is new. I haven't done this before." 

  And never has Tom Rafferty cursed his fates or asked, "why me?"  

  "Those words will not come out of my mouth," he says. "I will not feel sorry for myself. I will just get better. I will walk again because there's no choice." 

  Of course, there IS a choice, and many people who get personally acquainted with disaster take it. The choice is to give up, to be overwhelmed, to feel the odds are insurmountable. It's not something Tom Rafferty will do. 

  Does his background as an athlete help him, as Donna believes? Rafferty has to think that over for a moment. "Yeah, it probably comes over," he nods. "You just have to surrender or beat it. I just want to beat it." 

  The trademark Rafferty humor is helping immeasurably. As a player and since, Raff had one of the sharpest needles. He loved to play practical jokes, and was chagrined when the favor was returned. Once in training camp, roommates including Roger Staubach grew tired of Rafferty consuming all the snack food, so they set out a bowl of dog kibble. Raff came in and helped himself heartily. Teammates changed "Raff" to "Ruff" for weeks. 

  One of my favorite Tom Rafferty memories is from the NFC Championship game in Los Angeles capping the 1978 season. In those days, I left the radio booth to Verne Lundquist at the end of the game to go to the field and then the locker room. On a radio show that week, I had picked the Rams to win by 3. With less than 2 minutes left, an interception return made it 28-0 Dallas. As Rafferty lined up to run down and cover the kickoff, he spotted me on the sideline. As Rafael Septien approached the ball, Rafferty turned his head toward me and yelled, "Hey Brad! #@$&!" 

  And now he's saying it to transverse myelitis. There was a big high school coaching convention in San Antonio last weekend. If you sell sporting goods, you go. Rafferty went. It's the least he could do to thank the dozens of co-workers who donated their vacation time to him. He's just gotten his car outfitted with hand controls, so as soon as he can get re-licensed he'll be on the road. 

  No big speeches

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