Before Jacob Rainey, there was Neil Parry

We shouldn’t have forgotten Neil Parry. Sure, there can be stunning courage in the way a moment of horror is handled, the way Parry did. That’s why he was all over the national news, and meeting presidents, a decade ago.

After a freak hit in a football game for San Jose State, Parry looked down and saw bone sticking out of his leg. He had to have part of that leg amputated but insisted all along he was going to play again. He made it, and all the networks were there. The thing is, coping keeps coming into regular life. That’s when you find how adversity can bring out the best in people.

I’d forgotten about Parry until Jacob Rainey, a highly recruited high school quarterback in Virginia, experienced a similar horrific moment. He lost his leg, too. And this past weekend, Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow flew Rainey and his family to Buffalo. They met with Tebow at Denver’s game against the Bills.

That sparked memories of Parry. Whatever happened to him after the cameras were off? And what does he think about Rainey now?

“People set limitations on everything,” said Parry, now a graduate assistant football coach at UC-Davis. “People don’t push the limit. There are limitations only because people put them there.

“Everyone said I couldn’t play again. I felt it could be done. I didn’t listen to anyone. I felt I’d be able to do what I wanted to do as long as I pushed myself.”

This wasn’t bragging from Parry. Instead, it was meant as long-distance advice for Rainey.

Rainey took a big hit during a scrimmage in September. An artery in his right leg was severed, and the story is just so similar to Parry’s. A few weeks ago, Rainey returned to Woodberry Forest School, partly to let his friends know he was OK — and that they don’t need to feel awkward around him.

He has been an inspiration for his courage. He has gotten letters, notes and autographed jerseys from some of the most famous people in football, including Alabama coach Nick Saban and Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. And Tebow.

Rainey added Parry as a friend on Facebook a few weeks ago, and the two have traded messages.

“I hope he’s not listening to people tell him what he can and can’t do,” Parry said. “He’ll be able to do whatever he wants to do. To be honest with you, if he wanted to be a college quarterback, I bet he could.”

Parry changes prosthetics now the way you change shoes, depending on what he wants to do. They are advanced enough now that they almost can keep up with the human spirit.

“They have different legs for weightlifting, for rock climbing, for hiking,” Parry said. “The socket, the thing that fits on your leg, that stays the same. The only thing that changes is the foot.

“There can be more spring from the toe. I have multiple ones, yeah. You take it off and put it on.’’

There is something a little too Hollywood about the way these kinds of stories are told. First, the happy-go-lucky guy, then the unexpected tragedy and then the triumph, with a big, concluding moment. The End. Parry’s story and now Rainey’s are wrapped up a little too neatly.

Rainey said he never was going to ask “Why me?” It would have been counterproductive to feel sorry for himself. Parry said some of the same things way back when. It was part of the grand story when he came back on the special teams at San Jose State.

Let’s get real. Parry famously told his parents, when they first saw him after the amputation, that at least they wouldn’t have to spend so much money on socks anymore. But did he never ask, “Why me?” Did he really just go along happily to the next phase in his life, never looking back?

“There were probably a couple weeks I was definitely down,” Parry said. “My parents were definitely talking to doctors about putting me on antidepressants. I didn’t want more medication. I thought, ‘This is something I want to take care of myself.’

“I wondered, ‘What are people going to think of me now?’ My friends I went to high school with, what are they going to think when they see me? Am I going to have to have people help me do everything? I wanted to be self-reliant. I didn’t want to rely on my parents.”

Nobody ever gets that part of the story. But courage isn’t blind oblivion. In Parry’s and Rainey’s cases, it takes years of fighting real doubts and real baggage.

Parry knows better than anyone what Rainey is going through. So when Sports Illustrated and ESPN did huge features on Parry in 2003 when he came back to play, the story was incomplete.

From there, Parry went into adulthood. He now has a wife, Rougeyar, and two sons: LJ, 3, and Kianoosh, 18 months. Parry has been a high school coach, a radio broadcaster. And all the way, college football has continued to call him, just the way it did when he was a young man recovering from a horrible accident. This year, Parry took the job at UC-Davis. All of those things were part of the process, part of Parry’s story.

It happened in October 2000 in the third quarter against UTEP.

Parry was covering a kickoff when a teammate was knocked into him and rolled into his right leg. Bones burst through the skin, and he suffered severe damage to an artery. Parry once said his foot was basically touching his knee. Soon, doctors told him that there was no choice. With an infection worsening, he had to undergo the amputation or risk his life.

“I had never missed anything due to injury,” he said. “I had never even missed a single practice.’’

Nine days after the injury, his leg was amputated just below the knee.

“For me, the first month after, I didn’t want to talk to a whole lot of people,” Parry said. “It was really just me trying to figure out what I was going to be able to do. When I first got hurt, I didn’t think I would be able to do anything. I was concerned about being able to walk again.”

Rainey also didn’t speak publicly for a while after losing his leg. His parents requested that people give him space. It was all so familiar to Parry. This is what he told me at the time:

“He is probably concerned about trying to figure out what he’s going to do, how to move on with his life from here. I’m sure he just wants to get regrouped, centered. It was a month after I got out of the hospital that I started walking again.”

Six months after the surgery, Parry started running again. It was another three years before he was back on the field for San Jose State, covering a punt.

In some ways, after losing his leg, he became more whole. He started going to class more, and his grades went up, from C-pluses to Bs. He stopped drinking entirely, figuring it was only hurting his chances to return to the field. He still doesn’t drink.

He underwent 28 surgeries before he played again, not to mention fights with insurance companies that weren’t sure whether to help a guy who was planning to use his prosthetic to play college football.

Now, a total of 40 surgeries later, he is back on the college football field as a coach. It’s the regular grind of the grad assistant, all the hours and time rarely spent with the family.

He used to avoid doing things in public that would show off his prosthesis. He’s moved past that, though he still worries at times about what people think when they see it. He still misses his leg, still thinks at times about what he could do if he had it.

Parry’s attitude and courage have gotten him to incredible successes, even without the leg. Rainey will have to find his own path, and it won’t be easy, but he’ll get there.

This isn’t a fairy tale. The truth is better.