|08-17-2007, 03:39 AM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2006
Broncos accept injuries as breaks of the game
Opinion: Broncos accept injuries as breaks of the game
BY DAVID RAMSEY, THE GAZETTE
Al Wilson was the victor in a thrilling, vicious game. Now, he’s just another victim.
In July, Denver Broncos safety Nick Ferguson talked with Wilson at a party hosted by wide receiver Rod Smith. They talked about the upcoming season. They talked briefly about Wilson’s career-ending neck injury. Remember, Wilson is only 30.
“It was an emotional thing,” Ferguson said. “To see him there and know I won’t see him here.”
Ferguson paused during the conversation last week. He sat at the edge of the Broncos’ practice field, where Wilson used to work.
“He’s always been here,” Ferguson said. “It’s very sad.”
But here’s the strange part of the story. Ferguson still spends his professional life smacking into huge, muscle-bound men. He still partakes in the violence that ended Wilson’s career.
Ferguson can’t afford to worry. He can’t stop in the middle of a play to avoid jeopardy. Danger is part of his job description.
“You can’t play the game thinking about the possibility of what can happen,” Ferguson said. “My mother worries about me because it seems I play like I’m not even thinking about my body at all.”
Wilson, a marauding middle linebacker, never paid attention to safety, either. He was too busy engaging in mind-altering collisions.
His greatest hits collection includes smack downs of Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap, Kansas City Chiefs receiver Dante Hall and San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
He was a master of this destructive realm. He was a perceptive, sensitive man off the field, but with a helmet on he happily delivered agony to his opponents.
Big hits lure massive crowds to TV sets and NFL stadiums. ESPN features a Sunday night review of the most malicious collisions. Studio hosts laugh uproariously while watching the destruction.
Can I ask a question?
What’s so funny about all this pain?
On a December Sunday late in the 2003 NFL season, I was relaxing at halftime in the media lounge at Invesco Field.
A jolting vision of football reality walked into the room. Linebacker John Mobley started the 2003 season as the fittest of men, but in an instant his world disintegrated. On Oct. 26, he collided with Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis. The hit severely bruised Mobley’s spinal cord.
Mobley once propelled the Front Range into a frenzy of joy after batting down Brett Favre’s fourth-down pass in the waning seconds of Super Bowl XXXII. The play clinched a Broncos victory.
But on this afternoon, the knockdown seemed a long time ago. Mobley wore a neck brace as he struggled on his slow walk to the soda machine. He resembled an old man.
One instant had transformed him, reduced him. He never played another down.
For me, football never has been quite as much fun since Mobley walked into that lounge.
Safety John Lynch had a brush with an early exit. He suffered his own neck injury in 2003, and his career teetered.
He wondered if he could summon the fire required to survive in the NFL, but when he returned to the field he felt the same rush, the same ability to dismiss danger, as the old days. He ignored his brittle neck.
Still, at times Lynch must evict worries from his mind. He has a wife and four children, and their smiling faces fill him with motivation to stay healthy.
“With a wife and kids, you think about things like that a little more,” Lynch said, “but really, you can’t think about it, because if you’re thinking about it you need to move on.”
But who moves on? I’ve never heard a football player announce “I’m scared” and leave his sport. This brutal culture has been ingrained in them.
NFL players seldom lack courage, though they do struggle with perspective.
Broncos linebacker Warrick Holdman suffered a spinal cord concussion Aug. 2, which left him unable to move for a minute.
Holdman wanted to return to practice four days later.
He said he was “in a battle” for playing time and couldn’t afford to miss a single session.
Coach Mike Shanahan said no. He knew Holdman wasn’t anywhere near ready for contact. Holdman later discovered he’ll need three months to recover.
Holdman is part of a brave brotherhood. NFL players enjoy the rewards, accept the risks. They watch the departures of men like Wilson and deny, or at least accept, the perils.
Cornerback Domonique Foxworth sometimes talks with his family about the risks of his job, but only for a few minutes.
“I hope my friends and family are worried about my safety,” Foxworth said, “We’re all aware of it, but there’s nothing they can say to me that’s going to make me any safer, and there’s nothing I can say to them that’s going to make them feel any better, so everyone goes about their own business.”
Foxworth excels at the mental gymnastics required to accept his brutal game. All of us — players, coaches, fans — push the perils to the back of our minds.
Football is our most popular game, a game that thrills us. And yet — and we should never forget this — it’s the same sport that wounded Wilson and Mobley and Holdman.
|08-17-2007, 12:49 PM||#2|
Join Date: Apr 2006
It's a tough game of course and it's sad to see 2 of my fav players of all time out way before they were suppose to go in Al and John.