Lombardo Makes Last Game of Season

Published in the November 28, 2007 issue of Stow Independent

By Jordana Bieze Foster


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As the slim figure wearing number 25 slipped through the fog and the North Middlesex defensive line for a 21-yard gain, public address announcer Steve Kendall had to double-check the Nashoba roster to be sure of the player's name before he announced it to the crowd. It didn't seem possible that this was the same young man who three months earlier had awoken in a hospital following a devastating motorcycle accident, the team captain whose season had begun in a wheelchair on the sideline.

But it was, in fact, that number 25, the same player who led the Chieftains in rushing last season as a junior, the one who never does anything halfway. And if you were one of those who thought his appearance on Thanksgiving Day would be a gratuitous one, lining up as a split end with no hope of touching the ball or standing by as the quarterback took a knee to end the game, well then, apparently you don't know Bobby Lombardo.

“I knew he would do something like that,” said fellow running back Alex Warila, who has been Lombardo's friend and teammate since their days at Hale Middle School. “That's just Bobby.”

For Lombardo, the Thanksgiving Day game was a chance to finally give something back to the team that lost so much back in August when the motorcycle he was riding hit a pothole on the way to Solomon Pond Mall. Lombardo doesn't remember any of the details of the accident, but he remembers waking up in the hospital and knowing—even before the doctors told him about the vertebral fractures, the shattered pelvis, the damage to his spleen—that he wouldn't be playing football this season.

“Nobody had to tell me,” he said. “I knew.”

The first days home from the hospital were the worst. For the first time since he could remember, Bobby Lombardo was at home while other kids were playing football.

“The first couple of weeks were very emotional,” he said. “I'd stay up all night thinking about it.”

But head coach Ken Tucker and the rest of the Chieftain coaching staff made sure Lombardo knew he was still a team captain, and encouraged his involvement in practices and games. It wasn't easy, not for a guy who prefers to lead by example. But chair or no chair, Lombardo wasn't about to miss the Clinton game, and he was there on the sideline as his replacement, junior Travis Patterson, rushed for 171 yards in the Chieftains' 28-7 victory. Almost every Chieftain player in that game had Lombardo's number inked on his cleats, on tape wrapped around his wrist, or directly on his skin.

“Even if the game wasn't going well, we'd look down and see that number, and we'd know that Bobby would give anything to be out there,” said fullback Dustin Greene, Lombardo's friend and teammate since second grade. “It just made us play a little harder.”

After that, it got a little easier for Lombardo. Not that it was ever easy, the not playing. But as Lombardo learned, there is more than one way to be a leader. Even if he couldn't be out there himself, he always had words of encouragement and advice for Warila (who made the switch from tight end following Lombardo's injury), Patterson, and the other Chieftain backs.

“Being on the sidelines, it's tough,” Lombardo said. “But you're still part of the team. You can do a lot to get the team pumped up, get their intensity level up. I try to do my best to get everyone going.”

In the meantime, he was doing everything possible to get back on the field before the end of the season. He traded the wheelchair for crutches ahead of schedule, then ditched the crutches too. It took more than a little negotiating with doctors, coaches and parents—but there was nothing Lombardo wanted more than to be able to take the field one last time on Thanksgiving Day. He'd asked to be able to run his favorite play—49-dash—but didn't know for sure if it would happen until he got the go-ahead early in the fourth quarter.

“My heart was racing,” he said. “It felt like I was a freshman going into a varsity game for the first time.”

And although his parents and coaches might have felt differently, Lombardo swears that aggravating his injuries was the last thing on his mind.

“If anything I kind of wanted to get hit, just to get it over with,” he said. “On my second run a guy actually landed on me, but it didn't hurt at all. I was pumped about that.”

That's also good news for the Nashoba-Clinton ice hockey team, who started practice on Monday with Lombardo on the ice. He still hopes to play football in college, despite the setback of having missed essentially all of his senior season. But he'll always have the memory of playing in that last Thanksgiving Day game.

“It meant everything,” he said. “The season couldn't have ended any better.”

Copyright 2008 Jordana Foster – 24 Kirkland Dr, Stow, MA – Email: – Fax: (815) 346-5239