It was much like anything he’d done before.
This one was different.
Maverick Viñales was heading home when a truck jumped the median and slammed into him, burying him under nine tons of concrete.
It had been 16 months since Viñales had gotten through a full practice before his fourth season with the Atlanta Falcons. He was experiencing pain. He was missing a chunk of the offseason program. He was not prepared for those ankle injuries again.
He had to get hurt for real this time.
It didn’t take a doctor’s order or much planning. He just had to shut off his foot for two hours at a time. He couldn’t do two kicks without pain. It was hard to keep warm. And if he didn’t do those stretches, he would be in that pile of concrete.
So he did that. And, again, nothing happened. He hopped through the play and didn’t break a sweat. The soreness dissipated with his fellow linemen. The team wasn’t too concerned with Viñales’s mobility.
There was another thing that was different this time. He hadn’t driven the car before.
You have to remember, this is a 22-year-old kid. He has never been in trouble, and his mom wanted him to go to college before she sent him off on this car-driving adventure.
In the past, he might have stayed out of trouble. Now, he knew he had to put himself first and make sure his family got help. He wanted to get his daughter, Jesusita, to and from school. He wanted to buy a house for them.
So this guy drove a car in Atlanta. In the past, he would’ve stayed home. He would’ve stayed in Washington. But he knew where he wanted to go. So the other day, he went. He didn’t have time to be with his mom. He didn’t have time to be on the phone with her. He was going home.
In April of last year, he didn’t know that road. He knew he was headed there but he wasn’t sure how he was getting there. He didn’t know who was driving him. He didn’t have a cell phone. So he dialed. And someone picked up.
On the other end was an Atlanta police officer named Brian Brooker. He’d been in the police department for just shy of eight years. He didn’t work alone. He was in that car, too.
Someone had to be in that car. Someone was.
“I didn’t know what he was doing,” Viñales said. “I didn’t ask questions.
“He kept on telling me what to do, and I kept on telling him what to do. And I couldn’t say no.”
When the accident happened, they didn’t know each other’s full names.
The accident happened at about 3:10 p.m.
But they did. For a little more than an hour.
“He’s a great person,” Viñales said. “I’m glad I had him. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
He jumped in the car, with no driver’s license, no insurance, no ride home, and just a father-daughter birthday trip to East Tennessee.
His daughter got a little boy named Michael for Christmas, which is interesting because she got him last year, and then Michael for Christmas. They named him Samuel. It’s the part of the journey where he stops.
At first, they walked on the highway, looking for help, thinking he was in a real accident.
“At first, it was real foggy in that area, and we were like, ‘What are we doing out here?’” Christen said. “We thought he’d have his phone. And we thought he’d have somebody else driving with him.
“But he was the one.”