It was supposed to be one simple play. A forgettable moment in a lifetime spent together as teammates on football fields from tiny Warren, Ark., to the mighty Southeastern Conference to the National Football League.
It began simple enough near the end of a long intrasquad scrimmage a summer ago. George Stewart, Vikings receivers coach, turned to the sideline long enough to holler a command that already was familiar as the first week of training camp ticked into its final seconds.
“He’d always say, ‘Put my Arkansas guys in the game!’ ” said Jarius Wright, one of those two former Razorbacks. “So we went in, like we always do.”
Wright lined up to the right. Wide left was Greg Childs, Wright’s sworn third-grade enemy turned inseparable friend. Wright was the small, quiet rookie fourth-round draft pick. Childs was the big, gregarious rookie fourth-round draft pick.
Two plays were all that remained of a Saturday night scrimmage at a packed and purple-clad Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato. Just two more plays until Wright hopped in Childs’ car, or vice versa, for a high-tailed escape up Hwy. 169 to the Twin Cities to enjoy a Sunday off.
Unfortunately, only one of them would survive those two snaps without having to face the likelihood that his once-promising NFL career has for all intents and purposes ended before it ever began.
Sneak preview goes awry
The ball was snapped. Christian Ponder dropped back, looked left and delivered a high-arcing pass. Perhaps it would be Childs’ six-point reward for a solid first week of camp. Perhaps it would be remembered as a harbinger of what the 6-3, 217-pound receiver would bring to an anemic passing offense when he runs a go-route fade into the corner of the end zone against a smaller defender.
“I got a good release, I’m in front by 7 or 8 yards and the ball came,” Childs said. “I adjusted to it and went to jump to go up and get it. Should have been a routine catch.”
On the other side of the field, Wright noticed something unusual. And haunting.
“I’ve been with Greg my whole life and he didn’t jump as high as I knew he could,” Wright said. “I thought to myself, ‘What’s wrong?’ Then I could hear the screaming from the other side of the field. That was tough because I was with him at Arkansas when I heard him scream like that the first time.”
That was 2010, their junior year at Arkansas, when Childs ruptured his right patellar tendon, which controls the four quadriceps muscles and extends to below the kneecap, where it is attached to the shinbone.
This time, the scream and the injury would be twice as bad. Literally. Both patellar tendons ruptured.
“This time, I didn’t even get off the ground on my jump before I heard a pop and felt both pull apart,” said Childs, who lost both knees on a play in which he wasn’t even touched. “You go into shock, but first it’s a terrible pain. And then you can’t move your legs because there’s nothing connecting them together anymore.”
Don’t compare injuries
Vikings head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman was among the first to assist Childs that Aug. 4 evening. Nineteen years earlier, Sugarman was an intern with the Chicago Bears when receiver Wendell Davis ruptured both patellar tendons when he got his feet stuck in the notoriously bad Astroturf at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.
“From our research, there have been two or three other guys who have ruptured both on the same play,” Sugarman said. “But I don’t think you can predict what’s going to happen because the science is changing all the time. Surgical techniques get better, the athletes are different, the rehab techniques are different. You can use the history to give you an idea of the success rate, but you can’t make a determination on that because it’s not fair to the athlete, the physician, the club, the athletic trainer.”
Davis missed the 1994 season and tried to make a comeback with the Indianapolis Colts in 1995. He never played another down in an NFL game.