Tyrone Prothro made a play so spectacular it's known in Alabama as “The Catch,” immortalized both in photos and an advertising campaign by automaker Pontiac.
But when it came time a few years ago to get surgery on the leg he broke during a 2005 game — his 10th surgery for the injury — he was told by a trainer that his college benefits were about to run out.
Prothro took the witness stand Wednesday in Oakland as one of the plaintiffs in a landmark antitrust suit against the Indianapolis-based NCAA, detailing the highs and lows of his life as a football player at a school he always wanted to attend while growing up in Alabama.
Wearing a shirt with a ’Bama logo, he said he still loves the school, and loves the attention he gets for “The Catch.” But the general studies degree he finally got from Alabama in 2008 hasn't led to the riches he once thought would await him in the NFL.
And he's still trying to pay back $10,000 in student loans taken out for living expenses in summer school.
Prothro was the second former college athlete to testify in a case that is being closely watched for what it might do to the way major college sports are operated. He and 19 other former players are seeking an injunction that would allow top basketball and football players the right to profit off their images in broadcasts and video games.
If successful, the plaintiffs envision setting up a fund that would allow players to be paid once they graduate for the services they rendered on the field and court of play. The players earlier waived their rights to individual damages in the case that features former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon as the lead plaintiff.
Prothro was an undersized wide receiver with a passion for the game and his eyes on the pros when he went up for a catch with just a few seconds left in a game. Alabama was losing to Southern Mississippi in September 2005. He leaped up over a safety at the goal line, cradling the ball behind the safety's back with his arms wrapped around him, and the Tide would score on the next play and eventually win, 30-21.
He would get an ESPY award for the play, which came with an expenses-paid trip to California for the televised ceremony. And an Alabama artist paid him $9,000 for his autograph and the right to make a painting of the famous play.
But he didn't get the $10,000 that Alabama received from Pontiac for the game-changing play of the week or the $100,000 the school received when the now-defunct brand made it the game-changing play of the season.
Three weeks after his play, he suffered a complete fracture of both major bones of his lower left leg in a win over Florida, effectively ending his football career.
He works for Coca-Cola as an account manager.
Prothro acknowledged under cross examination by an NCAA attorney that he probably would have never gone to college without a football scholarship, and probably would not have become the first member of his family to get a college degree.