Ukrop returns to put injury, Heat behind him

January 14, 1994|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

The last thing Jane and Bobby Ukrop expected when they drove up from Richmond, Va., for the Spirit-Harrisburg Heat game Nov. 19 was to see their son collapse on the Baltimore Arena floor.

Spirit rookie Rob Ukrop caught Denis Hamlett's elbow in the face and went down. The Ukrops had no more idea of the nature of the injury than anyone else in the crowd of 4,701.

Turning to her husband, Jane Ukrop said: "I hope it's his nose. It needs fixing anyway."

Only a mother gets away with a line like that. In fact, her son had a broken jaw that would keep him out two months.

Tonight, eight weeks to the night after he was injured, Rob Ukrop will resume his season. It's not lost on him that the opponent again is the Heat.

"It's a chance for me to show Harrisburg I'm a tough kid," Ukrop said. "To show them I can come back and maybe score. The only revenge I want is a few balls in the back of their net.

"No one is going to retaliate for me or for the team. This taught us all a lesson. It's time to move on. Parents don't want to bring their children to a game to see stuff like that."

Arena officials will increase security for the game, as much in acknowledgment of the intense Interstate 83 rivalry as in response to the Heat's announcement that several letters postmarked in Baltimore suggested Harrisburg players might be danger at the game. The letters apparently were triggered by the Ukrop-Hamlett incident.

Arena general manager Donna Patterson said additional security officers will work the game.

But she did not anticipate the need to check fans at the turnstiles.

"We have the option to, but I don't foresee the need," Patterson said. "Hand-held detectors are available, and it's not uncommon for us to use them for certain events, like concerts. We've never used them at a Spirit game, and I don't see any reason why we would now."

Ukrop was on his way to a banner rookie season with six goals in the first five games when he got hurt. His mother mentioned that she wanted to write a letter to Hamlett, but Rob talked her out of it.

"I wanted to say that every time he ate a pizza or a hamburger to think of Rob, because he couldn't eat," she said. "For 3 1/2 weeks he was like a toddler, taking cider, broth and food chopped up in the blender through a straw. The blender broke one day and there's Rob in the kitchen saying, 'Mom, I'm hungry.' "

Before he underwent surgery to have his jaw wired shut and a permanent steel plate inserted, Ukrop vowed to coach Kenny Cooper that he would return on Jan. 14.

"It gave him something to shoot for," Cooper said. "The fact it happened to be Harrisburg was motivation."

In part because Ukrop met his own schedule, Cooper will start him tonight.

"He deserves that," Cooper said. "He'll give us a lift. For him not to start would be disappointing. There's no need to be cautious. He'll just work shorter shifts because his fitness isn't 100 percent yet."

Ukrop returned to Baltimore last week with a goatee to cover the scar under his chin left by the insertion of the steel plate and also to honor his former Davidson teammates. When Ukrop led Davidson to the NCAA Final Four in 1992, three defenders grew goatees. Ukrop didn't, thus this belated tribute.

Ukrop still has braces on his teeth connected by rubber bands to keep his bite properly aligned. He insists he will not be gun-shy.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing," he said. "How many times have I been hit in the face? I can't remember another time, maybe a ball off my cheek but never an elbow."

During his convalescence, Ukrop received more than 60 cards from Spirit fans. He also received two cards from Harrisburg fans. He especially appreciated that.

SPIRIT TONIGHT

Opponent: Harrisburg Heat

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7:35

Radio: WWLG (1360 AM), WAMD (970 AM)

Tickets: Many available

Outlook: This is the first of back-to-back games for the Spirit at the Arena; the Canton Invaders visit tomorrow night. The Spirit (13-3) is the winningest team in the National Professional Soccer League and is 9-1 at home. Harrisburg (5-11) is last in the American Division, but only one game behind fourth-place Canton. In the teams' previous encounters this season, the Spirit has a pair of two-point victories, one on the road. The Heat's newest player is Domenic Mobilio, who played for the Blast. He has 12 points, including six goals, in his first three games. Harrisburg has two players in the league's top 20 in points -- Doug Miller (55) and Franklin McIntosh (50). Paul Wright leads the Spirit with 59.

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