NOT many people can claim that a head-on collision saved their life, but Rodney Trafford's existence has not been of the conventional variety. A family fishing trip to commemorate Father's Day took a disastrous turn when he, along with his father and brother, were involved in an accident 30 miles outside of New York City.

Miraculously, given the circumstances of the crash, there were no fatalities - his dad, Rob Sr, sustained a crushed leg, and his sibling, Rob Jr, a broken femur - but Trafford's outward injuries paled into insignificance when tests showed up a long-standing heart defect.

For a sports-minded 13-year-old, a hole in the heart threatened more than merely his sporting career. It was decided that immediately after the car crash wounds healed, he would undergo a series of further tests and, ultimately, an operation to cure the condition.

''I was told it was something which could affect me when I was 60 or tomorrow, so after two weeks in hospital recovering from the accident, I was then operated on for the hole in my heart,'' he said of the teenage trauma from which even now he has occasional flashbacks.

''Looking back, the crash was a blessing in disguise but when I was told I had an irregular heartbeat that was the last thing on my mind.''

The operation required the opening of his sternum and the healing process took almost a year, with half of it spent on his back. Even when he received the medical all-clear, the doctor was adamant that he should never attempt to play football again.

''The guy didn't even let his son play football and while I was still sore I went for a second opinion.''

That was more favourable but the physical and psychological fragility ensured his return to the football field would be a long and painful process. He was forced to play with a Kevlar body suit to support his sternum, the material used in bullet-proof vests, and for the next four years he had to take regular medication and return to the heart specialists for routine tests.

''I cannot remember too much of the accident, except that apparently my lips turned blue. My dad had obviously tried to protect us in the car and ended up with an imprint of the radio on his chest, right down to every detail.''

The local community rallied round the family and even founded Rob Trafford Day as a fundraiser in honour of his older brother, a highly-rated athlete and all-state quarterback until the injuries ended his aspirations.

That same area of north-east Jersey has found fame as the setting for the most popular television series of the new millennium. Indeed, the Trafford family home is only a few blocks away from the dwelling of the Sopranos.

Surprised by its global appeal, the Godfather of the small screen provides a constant reminder of home.

''It's amazing and the guys in the dressing room are always asking me about it,'' he says. ''I enjoy watching it because it is a great series but it is also kinda weird seeing things on television that are just outside your window. For example, I was watching it one night and was shocked because they dumped a body in the park where I walk my dog.''

Needless to say, he is also familiar with the show's favoured exotic hotspot, the Bada Bing strip club, and jokes that the Kevlar jacket he so detested during his recovery might come in handy after all.

The New England Patriots tight end grew up ''wanting to be a Giant or a Yankee''. His three-month Europe League experience with the Scottish Claymores will be used as a stepping stone towards NFL recognition.

He has confounded medical expectation since that fateful car crash but Trafford's subsequent success story is certainly no accident.