A November appointment

4-11-02, 4:35 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Candidates for the Bengals' comeback story of the season?

Forget Rodney Heath and Neil Rackers and Armegis Spearman. Good stories. But they can't top Stewart Williams. Not this year.

Williams picks up the award Nov. 17, when he walks into Paul Brown Stadium to watch the Bengals play the Browns.

And after watching him struggle trying to walk in physical therapy for the first time Thursday morning, his mother guarantees her son will walk into that game. Into that building where he nearly lost his life 364 days before.

And why would Cheryl Roddenberry think anything else? Back in November, about 48 hours after a runaway SUV barreled into a group of fans walking to the Bengals-Titans game just outside the stadium, doctors had sentenced her 21-year-old son to the life of a vegetable.

The head trauma was just too much, they said. A limp body under a sheet and a blank face on the pillow is all his year-old daughter was ever going to get from her father.

But this week, Stewart Williams answered the phone in his room at Cincinnati's Drake Center. You have to get him there now because by the first of May he'll be back home in Middletown, Ohio.

"The Bengals?" Stewart said. "The Bengals are awesome. Yeah, I'll be there."

The Holy Roller? The Immaculate Reception? The Hail Mary?

Nope.

This is truly a football miracle. Stewart Williams picked out the date for the game he wanted to see at Paul Brown Stadium. The accident was Nov. 18, 2001. The Browns' game is Nov. 17, 2002.

"When they told us he was just going to be a vegetable, that was the toughest time. Those first 48 hours," Cheryl said. "But I didn't think he would end up like that. I believe in a higher being."

Nancy Brown was so happy and so sad when she heard the news this week that Stewart is so close to going home. Nancy, the wife of Bengals owner Mike Brown, has kept in touch with the Roddenberrys since the accident and will be their host this November.

"A very upbeat lady," Mrs. Roddenberry of Mrs. Brown. "She was supportive."

But Mrs. Brown wanted to make another call this week. To the home of Scott Ashbrock, the Mason High School freshman killed in the so horrific and so senseless accident that also hurt several.

"I think," Nancy Brown said, "his parents would like to know about Stewart. It must be so hard."

Cheryl Roddenberry thought she had lost her son. For three months. Then about Feb. 23, as his 22nd birthday neared, Stewart rustled out of

the sleep. Slowly at first as he shook off the heavy medication, nodding his head yes and no, and then stringing together some syllables. By the first of March, Cheryl began to recognize her son.

"He got his sense of humor back," she said. Asked how she knew, she laughed. "He probably said something rotten."

Now the things they could only talk about are happening. At some point, maybe this summer, he is going to marry his fiancée, Jami Henderson. His daughter, Kayleigh, is sharing laughs with her father. He still has a difficult time getting around, but then it's been only four weeks since they moved him from the bed at Communicare of Clifton.

As Cheryl watched him try to move through his therapy Thursday, she ached. "How could this happen?" she thought. She had to remind herself how far he has come from those grim days in winter when he was not only unresponsive, but prone to illness. He had fought through one bout of pneumonia before he re-awakened.

Before the accident, Stewart built elevator platforms. His mother isn't sure if he'll be able to do that kind of work again, or exactly what kind of work he'll be able to do.

Stewart pretty much remembers most of his life before, except what he did for a job. He doesn't remember the accident and he's having some trouble with short-term memory.

But he does remember he went to a Bengals' game at Riverfront Stadium. And he knows he is going to his first game at the new stadium on Nov. 17.

"It should be quite a day," his mother said. "We'll all be there."

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