All the talk this summer is centered around Adrian Peterson's rapid recovery from his knee injury on Christmas Eve last year. You remember the game, I know you do. It was week sixteen, the season long over for hope. and Peterson went down vs. the Redskins. He would tear his ACL (anterior collateral ligament) and his MCL (medial collateral ligament). A bad season got much worse. The thought of not having AP available to start the 2012 season horrified us all.
And now the news is he is ready. Ready for contact. Ready for week one. It is remindful of an old commercial I used to watch as a kid. There was Quick Carl, who did everything fast except eat a Marathon Bar, because it lasted a 'good, long time'. Adrian is healing at the same rapid speed in which he attacks the line of scrimmage. Coaches are logically hesitant to put him in contact drills, but AP is forcing the issue. He is almost ready.
Others have healed this quickly. Most do not. Wes Welker came back in seven months to play from an ACL surgery. But there are far more stories of careers ending due to injuries.
I was dropping my brother off from his knee surgery on Thursday at his place and ran into a neighbor wearing a Vikings' uniform with Brett Favre on the back. I struck up a conversation, and it turned out he (Terry) was really a Lions' fan in Viking clothing. We talked about injuries. The Lions have certainly had their share of tragedy toward injury. Terry reminded me of a few. I have compiled a short list below:
The Detroit Lions' Mike Utley. One of the saddest stories in all of football. 3rd year player who went for a seemingly routine tackle, and never got up. He injured his 6th and 7th cervical vertebrae and was paralyzed in a game vs. the Rams at the Silverdome in 1991. His famous 'thumbs up' to the crowd showed that he had some movement and relieved them of their worst fears.
The Raiders' Napolean McCallum. After being drafted in 1986, McCallum instead of playing in the NFL, fulfilled his commitment to the U.S. Naval Academy. It would not be until 1990 that he actually played. In the first week of the 1994 season he was brought to the ground on a twisting tackle by Ken Norton Jr. of the 49ers. The brutality of the play would come to light. He suffered three torn ligaments, a ruptured artery, nerve damage, torn calf and hamstring muscles (form the bone), and complete hyperextension of the knee. He never played again.
The Buffalo Bills' Kevin Everett. Not a famous name due to the fact he never really got his chance. Everett was a tight end with a good future when he was injured tackling Domenik Hixon of Denver on September 9, 2007. The spinal cord injury ended his career, many feared he would never walk again. He proved them wrong by walking after intense therapy three months later. But his career was over.
The New England Patriots' Robert Edwards. Edwards impressed many his rookie season, rushing for 1,115 yards in 1998. Then Edwards was injured (blew out knee) in Hawaii, playing a flag football game directed by the NFL. He would be out of football until 2002. He did make a miraculous return, and was given the Halas Award for his comeback from surgery.
There are other ways to leave via injuries. Maybe no injury startled me so much as Darryl Stingley's of the Patriots paralyzed at the pre-season hit of Jack Tatum. It was 1978, Stingley was becoming a star, and the Raiders were earning a reputation for being a violent team. Stingley never walked again. Stars like Steve Young, Ed McCaffrey, and Chris Spielman received too many concussions and neck injuries, and were forced out of the game before their time. Likewise, Michael Irvin, Joe Theisman and other stars suffered scary injuries late in their careers and retired. Theisman's injury has been made famous by the movie, "Blind Side". In November of 1985 the Giants' Lawrence Taylor with help from Harry Carson sacked Joe and broke his leg under the scrutiny of the zoom lens. Even greater tragedies like Dennis Byrd of the Jets, Reggie Brown of the Lions, Eric Wood of the Bills, whose injury was so grotesque that NBC chose not to replay it. I could go on and on.
Sadly, there are hundreds upon maybe thousands of similar stories. It is a violent game. Many in society are angry at the exorbitant salaries and high-risk behaviors that are apart of today's game. I tend to have a little more sympathy. History demonstrates that behaviors get out-of-whack then people live in fear. Each player has to block out this possibility, but it remains. While I do not have a specific number, simply perusing each camp in football will demonstrate how seemingly daily a player's season and/or career ends.
Here in Minnesota we have witnessed first-hand the devastation of injury. Most recently, Charles Gordon, a Vikings' punt returner, was injured on a play that resulted in a fumble returned for a TD vs. the Packers. I remember my initial reaction was "What an idiot!". But the destruction to Gordon's leg changed my sentiment. I do not believe he ever played again. Nor could I ever forget Billy Sims, the promising star for the Lions, injured by Walker Lee Ashley in 1984. His 5th season would be his last. Like Gale Sayers before him, Sims' star career cut down by injury.
And so when Robert Smith left the game and us I was unjustly resentful. How could he drop out with all that talent and the money reward waiting? Barry Sanders was going to be the one player who could help the Lions finally return to playoff success, and he up and quit. Can anyone really blame them?
As a youth coach I just spent a few hours recently going over new information on heat acclimization, concussions, and other coaching practices. It is now mandatory training for even youth coaches. The number of kids signing up for football at my school appears lower. Soccer signups have increased. While this could be an abnormality, it makes one worry for the game.
Still, my own sons played football through high school. They loved it. They were not stars, their body sizes much more aligned with soccer, basketball, or baseball. But they insisted on staying in football. I even remember discussing possibility of injury. They were adamant. Football was better than all the other sports. Practices made them feel strong. Playing in games with their friends developed a bond maybe similar in a way to veterans who fight in a war together. They wanted to be there for each other. Having coached those other sports at some level I must concur. The team relationship in football is superior to all other sports.
It is why superstars can recover in seven or eight months.