Tyrone Prothro, Former Alabama Star Turned Bank Teller
Five years after his career ended on a pass play against Florida, former Alabama wide receiver Tyrone Prothro works as a Regions Bank teller across the street from the Alabama football complex. From 8:30 to 5 each day, one of the most exciting playmakers in Alabama history helps Crimson Tide fans make their checking and savings deposits and withdrawals.
"People don't believe it's me," said Prothro, "I've got a name tag and a nameplate. They look down, then they look back up, and I'm like, 'It's me.' "
Five years ago, no one could tackle Prothro.
The Crimson Tide led Florida, 31-3, and was in the process of delivering the worst beating of Urban Meyer's coaching career. As the Alabama faithful rose to their feet, it was fourth and 5 with just under nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Prothro was unstoppable that day, having already caught seven balls for 134 yards and two touchdowns. In fact, the only time Florida had stopped him was when officials threw a flag to call back his punt return for a touchdown. Now, on the snap, Prothro, the diminutive number four in the crimson jersey and white pants, streaked past his defender. "I had him beat by five yards," Prothro said, five years later, "It was going to be a touchdown."
The ball hung in the air. Florida's defender loomed and arrived before the ball did. Pass interference.
Even still, Prothro made a play, fingers touching the ball at its apex, as the Gator defender flew into him. The ball tumbled into the green turf as Prothro rolled over, pinning his left leg beneath him. When Prothro rolled back over, his foot flopped to the side, dangling.
A nation watching on television recoiled as one. A teammate waved frantically for a trainer. For a moment, Prothro sat with his hands on his knees, stunned silence reverberating through the stadium. Then Alabama's star receiver rolled over, face down, pinning his helmet into the earth. It's an agonizing image, an athlete coming to grips with his mortality in an instant.
The junior receiver on the Heisman watch list never played another down of organized football.
"It was the best game of my career and the worst game of my career," Prothro said. "Coach (Mike Shula) had already told us that every starter was coming out on the next play."
Football life is like that, fickle. Sometimes Prothro can see it in the eyes of the people at Regions Bank. He's been there three months now, smiling, trying to put them at ease when he accepts their deposits or doles out cash into the hands of a freshman stocking up for the weekend's game festivities.
It's harder to cheer as loudly when you come face to face with how violent the game can really be, see how quickly great talent can be stripped away, the fine sporting line between celebrated ability and relative anonymity.
Five years after the injury, Prothro can run again, but he's never reclaimed the physical grace, the full speed change of directions on a dime, the cutting ability that made him one of the most difficult players in the world to tackle. In 2005, Prothro spent almost the entire month of October in a Tuscaloosa hospital. While there, he received a letter from President George W. Bush that his mom still has hanging on the wall in her home.
"I definitely think that if I didn't get hurt, I'd be in the NFL right now," Prothro said Thursday, two days before the Alabama-Florida game. "I'm not sure if I would have come out early or not, but I might have. I was a junior."
While other members of the millionaire draft class of 2006, most notably Pacman Jones, have made it rain at strip clubs, Prothro has a different experience when it comes to rain. Thanks to a metal rod still in his leg, "I can tell when it's about to rain," he said.
In a quiet moment's reflection Prothro acknowledges, "I've had my down times." He pauses, speaks louder. "But now when I think about that game, I don't think about that play. I think about everything before it."
Two years removed from graduation, Prothro holds on to a different dream. The 2008 Alabama grad would like to coach football one day. But a good football job has been hard to find. "It's a longer process than I thought," he said, sighing.
Come Saturday, when Alabama takes the field, Prothro will be signing his book, "Catch and Hold," as well as photographs and jerseys for Alabama fans. "They've been great," he said, "the best fans in the world." By kickoff, five years and one day after his football career ended, Prothro is not sure where he'll be. "I've heard rumors they want me to carry out the game ball," he said, "but nobody's told me."
"I hope it's true. I'd like to do it."
Now 26 years old and a bank teller, Prothro speaks softer still, almost a whisper, "Running on that field never gets old," he said.
And just like that, Prothro has to go, yet another change in direction. The man who seemed to defy the laws of football physics is not immune to the working world's clock. His break is over and it's time for Prothro to go back to work.
Follow Clay Travis on Twitter here. With All That and a Bag of Mail returning for the football season, you can e-mail him questions at Clay.Travis@gmail.com