Happy to Be Alive: The Story of Darryl Stingley

C Douglas BakerSenior Analyst IMarch 22, 2009

Happy to Be Alive by Darryl Stingley with Mark Mulvoy

Review by C. Douglas Baker

On August 12, 1978, Darryl Stingley’s life changed forever.  On that date, in a meaningless preseason professional football game, after a vicious, unnecessary hit by Jack Tatum, Darryl became a quadriplegic.  This book is his story about his struggle to survive and live a meaningful life after going from a young, promising professional athlete to a wheelchair in single terrible moment.

Stingley’s book is fascinating on several fronts and he’s brutally honest about himself and those around him.  As a boy growing up in an inner city neighborhood, despite being a little better off than many, he was little hooligan—stealing, fighting, looting. 

Not that he did this constantly as a way of life, but he was involved in these activities despite his parents trying to keep him out of trouble.  As a big man on campus in high school he knocked up his girlfriend Tina, and then knocked her up again when he went to Purdue to play football on a scholarship. 

He was clearly very immature.  Even when he made it to the NFL, his lack of maturity showed and he freely admits it in his book.  To his credit he stayed with Tina pretty much his entire life, and she with him, despite some separation long after his injury.  She clearly was a solid person, nursing him back to health and dealing with an overbearing mother-in-law.  They eventually married.

Darryl gives a great deal of detail about his recovery process and the pain and depression that went along with it.  The people who stood by him and come out looking the best in all his travails were his partner Tina, John Madden who visited him frequently in the hospital and may have saved his life when a breathing apparatus malfunctioned and he yelled for the nurses, his therapists that put up with him, and the New England Patriots organization, at that time owned by the Sullivan family, who took care of all his medical bills and made sure he had everything he needed to recover.  His Patriots teammates were also an important part of his life before and after the injury. 

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Needless to say Jack Tatum comes off looking very bad, not only never apologizing or reaching out to Darryl, but making overtures of a public meeting that turned out to be to promote his book, showing a lack of sincerity.  He comes off as classless and crass.

This is an interesting, introspective, personal story of one man’s life.  Darryl did recover and lived a productive life.  This book was published in 1983, five years after the injury.  Darryl went on to work with youth and charities in his native Chicago and died in April 2007 of heart disease and pneumonia complicated by quadriplegia.