EUGENE — Twenty-eight years have passed since Colorado tight end Ed Reinhardt Jr. collapsed from a seemingly routine hit that would change his life forever.
Reinhardt was the nation’s leading receiver on Sept. 15, 1984, when the Buffaloes visited the Ducks. With about two minutes left and Colorado trailing 27-20, he was tackled.
“I didn’t know the issues until we came off of the field, because we were in the process of driving down and trying to win the game," said current Colorado head coach Jon Embree, then a fellow tight end with the Buffaloes.
“When we turned it over on downs, I went over and that is when he collapsed and that is when I knew something was bad," Embree added.
After losing consciousness on the sidelines, Reinhardt was taken to a Eugene hospital where doctors discovered he had a blood clot in his brain. Reinhardt underwent emergency surgery and spent some three months in a coma.
The neurosurgeon who rushed to Reinhardt’s aid on the sidelines and eventually performed the surgery was an Oregon season-ticket holder.
Reinhardt’s family was never given much hope for his recovery. But the 19-year-old tight end overcame the odds.
Now 47, Reinhardt remains paralyzed on his right side. He walks with a limp, and he speaks mostly in short sentences — but that is something no one ever expected him to be able to do. He travels the country with his father, Ed Reinhardt Sr., passing along his inspirational story.
This summer, Reinhardt was asked by the Denver Post if he thought he was a miracle. When he said he didn’t know, his dad stepped in: “We think so. We believe it."
He is still a big fan of the Buffaloes, and especially of Embree, his former roommate on road trips.
The feeling is mutual, Embree said.
“Ed’s a huge reason, a huge part of why I am, what I am today," Embree said. “He was the guy that always drove me. He was the guy I always competed against. I knew that if I wanted to be all-league or all-state or whatever, that was the guy I was going to have to beat out. So every time, no matter what I did, running in the summer, lifting or whatever, he was the guy I was thinking about."
Reinhardt has been back to Eugene on a few occasions since that fateful game. His younger brother, Matt, played for the Ducks as a tight end in the early 1990s and was with the team that went to the Rose Bowl in 1995.
With friend Embree as Colorado’s coach, and now that the team has joined the Pac-12 Conference, Reinhardt and his father decided today’s game would be a good time for a return trip. Colorado (1-6, 1-3 Pac-12) faces a tough challenge in No. 2 Oregon (7-0, 4-0).
The Ducks will honor Reinhardt with a pregame ceremony.
“That program has always held a unique place in my heart, just because of what they did for him and his family, and it will be good for him to be back there and be around those people," Embree said. “I think they have tremendous fans and that is why I think it is a hard place to play. They are classy, they are respectful. It is just a unique environment, but they have always been like that."