By KURT VOIGT, Associated Press
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Bobby Petrino walked slower than normal, his face swollen and red. You couldn't miss the white brace around the Arkansas coach's neck.
But the fact that Petrino was even at Razorback Stadium on Tuesday, hours after being released from the hospital following a weekend motorcycle crash, was remarkable.
The 51-year-old spoke for the first time since Sunday night's accident, minutes before the Razorbacks opened practice. Petrino observed the session in the press box, cleared to do so by doctors after being released from the hospital late Tuesday morning.
The accident occurred on Arkansas Highway 16 in Madison County, about 20 miles southeast of Fayetteville, and Petrino said he wasn't wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.
The avid motorcycle enthusiast said he plans to wear one in the future, particularly after suffering four broken ribs in his upper chest and cracking the outside of the C-2 vertebra in his back.
"I'm very fortunate," Petrino said. "I feel very lucky to be here and be in good health."
Petrino said he was returning home after an evening ride on the scenic road, a favorite of local motorcyclists. He had ridden in the area before but remembers noticing the sun in his eyes moments before the accident.
"I remember coming around the curve, I was noticing the sun was going to be in my eyes the rest of the way home," Petrino said. "And then there got to a point where I was not going to be able to maneuver the turn.
"It seemed like 15 seconds where I said, 'Oh no, here I go.'"
State police spokesman Bill Sadler said Tuesday that Petrino's accident report wasn't ready for release yet, but Petrino said he ended up in the ditch following the crash. Petrino said a passing car was waiting when he climbed from the ditch and took him to meet his state police escort before the two went the rest of the way to the hospital.
Razorbacks running back Knile Davis found out about the accident via Twitter when he woke up Monday morning. Davis immediately texted Petrino to express his concern, and he and his teammates weren't surprised in the least to see the coach address the team Tuesday and return to practice.
"That's just him," Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said. "He works hard, and he cares a whole lot about what he does.
"... You'll never have to question that."
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long was in New Orleans on Sunday night at the time of Petrino's accident, preparing for a Monday meeting with NCAA president Mark Emmert. Long found out about the accident at approximately 1 a.m. Monday morning and flew home to see Petrino.
He said the coach, who just completed his fourth season with the Razorbacks, looked much different on Monday morning than he did at his Tuesday afternoon news conference.
"The human body is amazing, because each day it heals faster," Long said. "When I saw him yesterday, he looked markedly different than he does today. He looks much better today.
"I was concerned when (I) initially saw him yesterday. I could tell that he was in pain."
Long said he advised Petrino to take his time in returning for spring practice. Arkansas practiced Tuesday and will go again Wednesday and Friday this week, and the school's spring game is scheduled for April 21.
"He's strong," Long said. "I guarantee you he's masking a lot of the pain that he's in here. But he's strong and he wanted to be part of the team. He wanted to talk to the team today, and I admire him for it.
"... He'll rest in between practices."
Long wished Petrino would have worn a helmet but also pointed out the lack of a state law requiring adult riders to wear one. He called Petrino's statement that he would wear one in the future a "good decision."
Petrino said he "absolutely" had no alcohol on Sunday and that he spent the day with his wife, Becky, at an area lake.
"It's something that really puts a scare in you," Petrino said. "I can't say that I'm not going to ride a motorcycle again because I might do that. The ironic thing is we were sitting there in the kitchen, Becky and I, and I had two helmets out. I said, 'This one's going to be really heavy and hot, and then this one makes me look like a cone head. I think I'll just go with the hat.'
"Obviously, bad call. We wouldn't have converted the third down."
Petrino insisted he felt fine mentally Tuesday, despite the breaks, bumps and bruises. He even showed a rare glimpse into his sense of humor.
"I don't think I have any brain damage, but that's yet to be seen," Petrino said. "If I start not punting at all in games or something, then we've got a problem."
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