When Deatrich Wise went down Saturday night, his left foot stuck in artificial turf and his knee twisting as a 290-pound teammate accidentally rolled over it, the Tampa Bay Storm lost more than a football player.
It lost a leader, both on the defensive line and in the locker room. "Deatrich was our true captain, the guy who keeps everybody up, who kept our spirit going," lineman Joe March said.
Results Tuesday of a magnetic resonance imaging exam were as bad as Storm officials had feared: completely torn anterior cruciate ligament, meniscus tears, plus multiple fractures of bones in the joint.
Though not necessarily career-threatening, the injury certainly will end Wise's season. At Wise's age (30) it is difficult to say.
"Players do come back from this _ it's not out of the question," Storm trainer Jon Cole said. "But this is a bad one. The guy who did the MRI said it was the worst he's ever seen, and he's probably done thousands of them."
Doctors, Cole said, likely will wait for the fractures to heal before repairing the ACL, after which Wise will face up to a year of intensive rehabilitation.
Once a star for the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League and one of the mainstays on the Storm's 1993 Arena League championship team, Wise didn't play last season because of a shoulder injury but helped the Storm as an assistant coach.
Coaxed back into playing this season, he revitalized a defensive line that slumped in '94.
"Deatrich's a leader, not only on the field but off the field, too," line coach Al Tanara said. "It's a big loss for us, but I think the rest of them will respond."
The line of potential successors to Wise as team leader is a lengthy one _ and more than one player may succeed him. "I hate to pick out one _ it could be Joe (March), it could be Willie Wyatt, Lynn Rowland, Sylvester Bembery. It could be any of them," Tanara said. "Everybody, actually, is going to have to elevate their intensity and their leadership."
"It's really going to have to be a collective thing," said Wise, who is keeping an open mind about trying another comeback. "Whenever you lose a link, you've just got to solidify the cohesiveness immediately and all get closer."
All this comes as the Storm (4-2) tries to overcome a two-game losing streak at midseason. Tampa Bay opens its second half Saturday night against Memphis at the ThunderDome.
"We all have to step up, period," said Wyatt, a nose guard and former Tampa Bay Buccaneer. "With Deatrich gone, we just have to all pick things up."
After Wise was lost late in the opening half of Tampa Bay's 38-37 loss to Las Vegas, March and Bembery were among those to respond. They combined for 12 quarterback pressures.
"A lot of leadership is just doing your job," coach Tim Marcum said. "That's what they're all going to have to do."
Said March: "Not just one person, but everybody. With a single leader, whenever we got down, Deatrich was always there to pick us up. Now that he's hurt, everyone has to be a leader."
Fortay to start for Miami: Former University of Miami quarterback Bryan Fortay was named to start for Miami of the Arena League.
Fortay is the team's fifth starting quarterback this season. He played briefly for the Miami Hurricanes before transferring to Rutgers, where he played in 1992 and 1993. He spent some time this past spring with the Frankfurt Galaxy of the World League.
His $10-million lawsuit against the University of Miami is awaiting trial. He says the school broke a promise to make him a starter.
_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.