ATLANTA -- Six seconds.
That's the official time elapsed on the game clock at Bobby Dodd Stadium. That's how long it officially took Lee Malchow to sprint 48 yards across the middle of Grant Field. That's how long Malchow's much-anticipated return to play football in his home state lasted before it ended.
Malchow - the former Aquinas star who refused to let a technicality like not being recruited by any college program dictate how his football career would end - was all set to make his second career start for Wake Forest on Saturday. That it would be in his home state in front of friends and family and across the field from his best friend, Patrick Nordmann, made it a very special occasion.
"The highlight of the year hopefully will be this weekend," Malchow said Tuesday of facing No. 10 Georgia Tech.
So you can imagine just how amped up Malchow might have been. It was a perfect autumn afternoon, not a cloud in the sky. A Navy flyover so close to the top of the bleachers that you could see the pilots' faces had everybody in attendance fired up for a significant Atlantic Coast Conference game.
And Malchow wouldn't have to wait long to apply all that adrenaline. Wake Forest won the coin toss and deferred. Georgia Tech elected to receive.
Cline Beam's kickoff was a squirrelly one. It bounced across the turf before Embry Peeples picked it up at the 10 and turned upfield. He made it as far as the 22 before meeting Malchow head on. It was a clean open-field tackle.
But as Malchow planted his leg and was twisting Peeples to the ground, somebody got blocked into him from the side. The full weight landed on Malchow's right leg, and his tibia is what gave.
From the bleachers, Malchow's parents were immediately mobilized by the sickened emotion any parent would feel when medical staff goes pouring onto the field to attend to their son lying prone on the turf.
"Just trying to figure out what was going on," said Leland Malchow of the initial emotions that sent him and his wife, Janna, scurrying into the bowels of the stadium to see their son as he was taken in for X-rays.
The film confirmed what the bulge in his leg looked like from the naked eye - a broken tibia midway between his knee and ankle.
"They're going to put a rod in it tomorrow in Winston-Salem," said his father as he was going to get the car so he could drive his son immediately back to North Carolina. Malchow had planned on sticking around after the game and going home to Augusta for the weekend.
From the opposite sideline, Nordmann was in his own state of shock.
"I can't remember Lee ever getting hurt before, so I knew it must be bad," Nordmann said of his friend since second grade. "I was jacked up for the start of the game and all of the sudden Lee goes down and I couldn't get it out of my head."
It was a devastating end to what one Wake Forest beat writer had called the "feel-good" story of the season for the Deacons. Malchow, a redshirt junior, had worked his way into the lineup as a backup linebacker and got his first start as a stand-up defensive end two games ago when Wake Forest faced Navy and its triple-option offense that Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson left behind.
Now facing No. 10 Georgia Tech's version of it had Malchow back in the starting lineup. But he never got to take the field with his defense. Instead he was taken off the field in a wheelchair with an inflatable cast on his leg. The Georgia Tech crowd gave him nice applause as he was wheeled through the tunnel behind the North end zone.
"He's in good spirits," said both his father and Nordmann, who tracked down his buddy in the hall at halftime to check up on him.
High spirits would be hard to muster considering the work Malchow has put in over the last four years since leaving Aquinas to get to this position. His story is a tribute to perseverance and determination and deserved a better climax. But it just wasn't a lucky day for Aquinas' Fighting Irish, who found out that a convoluted tie-breaking system bumped them from a spot in the Class A playoffs the day after a season-defining victory over Washington-Wilkes for the first time in 29 years.
Then Malchow's inspirational return home gets a rude welcome. Don't bet on those six seconds being the end of his football story, however. His mother told Nordmann he'd fully recover and be ready for next season. That sounds about right from a kid once written off by every college program in America only to forge a place for himself at an ACC school.
Malchow was featured in Friday's Augusta Chronicle along with Aquinas teammate and best friend Patrick Nordmann, a walk-on for the Yellow Jackets. That story is linked here.