The Victim of A Cowardly Act

June 03, 2007

HEY, TITANS cornerback Pacman Jones. I noticed you took out a full-page ad in The Tennessean, saying that when the NFL suspended you for the entire 2007 season, on April 10, it was "one of the worst moments of my life."

And I just wanted you to know you're lucky. Because Tommy Urbanski is having a helluva time deciding what the worst moment of his life is.

Urbanski is the 6'6", 340-pound former pro wrestler who was shot three times and left paralyzed below the waist shortly after the melee you helped whip up at the Vegas strip club where he worked.

It was 4:45 a.m. on Feb. 19, NBA All-Star weekend. Urbanski was just coming on as the morning manager at Minxx. He didn't know about all the fun you and your posse had had that night, how you came in with a trash bag full of money, how you started raining the bills on the strippers, how they started scooping them up and how you bellyached that the money was still yours, as if you were throwing it around for visual effect.

Let me get this straight: You've got a contract with $13.5 million guaranteed and you want your tips back?

Nor did Urbanski, 44, know anything about the brawl that broke out next or the woman in your group who smashed a champagne bottle on the head of security guard Aaron Cudworth. What he does know is that you and your posse had been thrown out of the club by security about 10 minutes before he arrived.

True, Pacman, the Clark County district attorney's office hadn't filed any charges against you as of Sunday. And Vegas police have recommended charges against you related only to the brawl involving you and your crew: one count of felony coercion, one of misdemeanor battery and one of misdemeanor threat to life. But in an account of the incident in a search warrant, witnesses said you kept reaching behind your back during the melee as if you had a weapon; and that threat-to-life charge is based at least in part on club employees' contention that they heard you say you were going to kill someone.

Soon, three people were shot—Urbanski, Cudworth and a woman, though the latter two would walk out of the hospital on their own. Police said that you personally are not a suspect in the shootings, Pacman, but it is rather an alarming coincidence.

Urbanski was saying goodbye to customers at the front door when, he says, "I turned and saw a guy walk out from around the palm tree and start firing a gun at me." Urbanski was shot twice in the stomach (one bullet lodged in his spine) and once in the left hand. The last thing he remembers is lying on the ground, watching his blood pool and searching for his cellphone, wishing he could call his wife, Kathy, to tell her he loved her "because I thought I was dying." Three weeks later he awoke from a medically induced coma in the kind of pain that can make someone wish he had.

Now he's rehabilitating at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo., wondering how he's ever going to play guitar again, or go back to selling real estate, or pay medical bills that would break a mailman's back. People are trying to help—on June 3 there's a Harley-Davidson benefit ride for him in Las Vegas and another in New York City (tommyurbanskifund.org)—but it's going to be a long haul.

Urbanski says he didn't get a good look at the shooter but knows he's a coward. "Real tough guy—shoot people and run," Urbanski says. "Where I come from [Commack, N.Y.], a tough guy says, 'I'm coming down there to kick your ass.' That I can respect. But just shooting me for no reason, that's bulls—."

It's so weird to see the big wrestler like this. Wasn't he once The Eliminator? Used to pick up 275-pound lugs, hold them upside down and give them the dread brain buster? He hardly gets a scratch in the ring, yet he ends up with wheels for legs because he stood by the wrong door?

So, yeah, Urbanski has a hard time choosing the worst moment of his life, because the daily headaches are "20 on a scale of 10," and he's got only a 6% chance of walking again, and his hands don't work right, and his spleen is gone, and he's on two-hour megadoses of painkiller that last only an hour and a half.

If Urbanski could talk to the man who shot him, he'd say one thing: "You took my legs, but you'll never take my life."

I saw in your ad, Pacman, that you believe NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who suspended you for conduct detrimental to the league, was giving you "unprecedented punishment."

Urbanski can relate to that. He's just trying to figure out what he did.

TALK BACK
If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to reilly@siletters.com.

The last thing Urbanski remembers is lying on the ground, watching his blood pool and searching for his cellphone, wishing he could call his wife.

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