It happened on Saturday, October 27, 2012.
You remember it well. Hosting the Tennessee Volunteers at Williams-Brice. A routine running play in the second quarter. The sickening helmet-to-knee hit. The look of absolute agony, shock and horror on his face. The way he was carted off the field.
For many of us, even two years later, it is still too painful to watch.
Did you realize yesterday was the two year anniversary of that devastating injury?
An injury which robbed Marcus of the balance of his final collegiate season ... which deprived him of the honor, and monetary rewards, due a first round pick in the 2013 NFL draft ... which has sidelined him from his chosen profession for two and a half precious years.
It was also the day Marcus Lattimore received formal word from the 49ers that he will begin practicing with the team on Wednesday.
Honestly, could you script it any better than that?
This is actually the second time Lattimore has been activated off the Non-Football Injury (NFI) list.
Under NFL rules, a team can hold a player on the NFI List (and its sister, the Physically Unable to Perform [PUP] list) but still activate him for three weeks of practice. At the end of the three weeks, the player must either placed back on the NFI or PUP Lists - or he must be signed to the 53 man roster.
If he goes back on the Reserve NFI List, then he is ineligible for the remainder of the season. If he goes on the 53 man squad and doesn't pan out, then the team has wasted a roster spot; if they cut him, then he's a free agent.
Obviously, a lot is riding on the team's evaluation - for both the franchise and the player. Ever cautious with their supplemental fourth round pick, the 49ers sent Marcus back to the NFI after three practice weeks in 2013. He wasn't ready. Everyone probably knew it intellectually at the time. Still, it had to be a bitter pill for Lattimore. His recovery for the 2012 right knee injury was taking longer than it did for the left knee ACL injury he sustained against Mississippi State in 2011.
Things are looking different this season. Niners Head Coach Jim Harbaugh sounded guardedly optimistic Monday:
"I've been watching him off to the side and I'm excited to watch him out there playing football again. We saw some of it in the offseason, but I think he's further ahead from where he was two, three, four months ago and excited to see that progress on the field. I'm looking forward to it."
Its been widely reported since earlier in the month that - if the knee responds well in practice - the 49ers' goal is to activate Marcus to the 53 man roster.
Since releasing LaMichael James after Week 1, the Niners have only two RBs currently on the team, Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde. Thus, there certainly seems to be room for him to make the 46 man dress list.
He could see the field as soon as this weekend against New Orleans, or as late as November 23 against the Redskins.
Don't expect him to go against the Saints though. Currently, the 49ers plan to use the whole three week evaluation window for Marcus. If Gore or Hyde is hurt that could change, but his debut most likely will be against Washington at Levi's Stadium.
Of course playing time is never guaranteed -- especially in the NFL. If Marcus cannot cut the mustard at practice speed, the Niners won't hesitate to banish him back to the Reserve NFI List, regardless of their personal feelings for him.
For his part, Lattimore has told reporters that he will have to control his emotions on Wednesday. "But I've also got to go out there and be myself," he said. "Run like I know how to run and just go out there and play football."
Those cannot merely be words if he is going to make the team.
Marcus is also going to need to get hit in practice - and hit hard - in order convince the organization he is back. And himself, for that matter. So does Coach Harbaugh:
"I think we can get him a little extra contact when we have the pads on," he said. "Pass protection, hitting sleds and maybe thudding-up a little bit extra outside of the normal practice drills."
I am going to be on pins and needles the next three weeks. It's not going to be easy for Marcus. There will be a risk of a practice injury. And he's got two years of rust to shake off, not to mention stepping up to an entirely different level of play. Gore and Hyde are not going to want to surrender carries, ether. He's going to have to fight for his chance.
Remember when I asked if it could be scripted any better? I lied.
Tomorrow, October 29 - Marcus' first day of practice - is his 23rd birthday. Can you imagine?
I guess in the Hollywood version, he'd be getting his start on his birthday against the Seahawks, Cowboys or Packers. But for real life, this is pretty good stuff.
Happy Birthday, kid. It's really happening.
Dammit, I'm getting emotional about this.
Keep him in your thoughts and prayers.
GO COCKS! GO MARCUS!