CHICAGO -- Carlos Snow remembers lying in the hospital after the operation in the spring of 1990. The Ohio State running back, the one with waterbug-type moves, had just undergone surgery on a benign tumor on his hip.
"The nurses came up every night to give me a pint of blood," Snow said.
There was a loneliness during that time, but it was a loneliness by choice for Snow. After rushing for 990 yards in 1989, he was the obvious go-to player for Ohio State in 1990. Expectations were for him to be one of the Big Ten's top runners.
And then, suddenly Snow was strapped to machines and had tubes sticking out of him, his football career very much in doubt.
"I couldn't face my teammates," Snow said. "I felt like I let people down. That was a low point."
However, there eventually would be a high point in this story. It happened just before the start of the 1991 season. In front of all his teammates, Ohio State coach John Cooper walked up to Snow and said "Congratulations." The players had elected the soft-spoken Snow a co-captain.
It came as a shock to Snow, but his teammate, Scottie Graham, said it shouldn't have.
"I told him he was going to be a captain. He said, 'Nah, not me. You're more of a leader than I am,'" Graham said. "I said, 'No, man, you've proven to a lot of people you're a warrior. You can't keep a good man down, and you've got to be a good man because they can't keep you down.'"
Indeed, Snow, who sat out the 1990 season, has emerged as an inspiration for a team that desperately needed one. With a 4-0 record, Ohio State enters Saturday's game at Illinois on its best start since 1984.
Snow has been a key for the Buckeyes, rushing for 207 yards on 39 carries (5.3 yards average per rush). He has helped Ohio State make up for the loss of sophomore tailback Robert Smith, who quit the team in a dispute in August.
Snow has been hobbled this week after suffering a bruised chest in Saturday's victory over Wisconsin. Cooper, though, expects him to be available against Illinois.
Cooper named Snow a starter for the Washington State game Sept. 21, which in essence has made the comeback complete. Before last spring, the coaches didn't know if Snow could play, let alone start.
"There was some question," said running back coach Gene Huey. "You didn't know how he'd respond to the rigors of playing football. But he answered every question. He was determined to come back."
"It's almost like a miracle," Snow said.
Snow hardly thought he would need one when he was being examined by doctors for a sore knee in April 1990. Expectations were high after coming off a season in which he scored 12 touchdowns, rushed for more than 100 yards in four games and averaged 5.2 yards per rush.
Snow wasn't having any pain in the hip. In fact, doctors found the problem accidentally. Team physician Robert Murphy said because Snow is so bowlegged, the angle of the X-ray provided a view of the hip.
It revealed a tumor the size of "a handball," Murphy said. Snow had to wait two weeks before finding out whether it was malignant.
"That was probably the toughest time," Snow said. "You're not thinking about football then."
The tests showed the tumor was benign, but it had to go anyway. The tumor was eating into the hip bone, causing it to decay. Doctors took it out and replaced it with bone chips and a metal plate, which Snow still has.
At the time, the doctors told him that he should be able to play football again, but the 5-foot-9-inch, 200-pound Snow had his doubts. That happens when you spend six months on crutches.
He would hobble to practices in the fall, but he wouldn't stay long. It was too hard for him to stand on the sidelines and not play.
"Through that stage, you go through times when you want to give it up," Snow said. "But I loved the game too much. The players kept pushing me to come back. They wanted me to give it one more shot."
Snow started getting stronger once he threw the crutches away. Still, he didn't know. The coaches weren't expecting anything from him during spring practice.
Snow also had some uncertainty.
"I didn't know if I could make it," Snow said. "I had to learn how to play with this. You don't know until you try."
Much to Snow's and the coach's surprise, he found he could play again. He didn't miss a day of spring drills. His teammates couldn't believe how good he looked. Cooper said he was in the running for the top tailback job, and that was with Smith still in the fold.
"People kept talking about Smith and Butler By'not'e," Huey said. "They weren't talking about Carlos. But in the back of my mind, I knew he'd be in there."
Snow said he's about 85 to 90 percent back to where he was before the operation. He said at times there is something missing. "Although I can't explain exactly what," he added.
But Snow doesn't fret about it. His goals now are much more modest. He only wants to be healthy enough to play in all 12 games this year.
Pro football once was a dream for the senior, and it still remains a possibility. But Snow knows the book on prospects who are considered damaged goods. He's banking on other things.
In fact, the tumor might have been a blessing in some respects. It forced him to get more serious about academics. He hopes to have his degree in sociology completed this winter.
"I went through a lot of adversity," Snow said. "This has helped make me a better person. I have been at rock bottom, and I've come back. Whatever happens, happens (as far as the pros). I'm going to have something other than football."