Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
30 Aug 2005
by Will Carroll
The first couple weeks of this column have been more about what it's not than what it is. As I try to find my footing here in the football world, seeing if we can do here what UTK has done in baseball, adding on to the established field of sports medicine by focusing our eyes on how injury affects the outcome of seasons, I'm taking baby steps. This isn't going to be an exhaustive guide to who will play and who won't. This isn't a comprehensive look at injuries, delving deep into the science. It's an overview, intended to whet your appetite to understand, to dig a bit deeper into the problem of injuries in sports, and to appreciate the work that the world-class medical staffs do across the game. I'm just a small cog in a big machine and I'm happy cogging along.
Let's get to it:
Maybe there's no such thing as the sophomore jinx. While we all wait to see if Ben Roethlisberger can make the AFC look more like the MAC again this season, his supporting cast keeps hobbling off the field. First, Duce Staley went down and now The Bus has a flat. Jerome Bettis has a severe strain of his calf, so much so that the swelling and blood prevented a meaningful image of the injury. Another try at the MRI should come mid-week, but current thinking is that Bettis will miss two to four weeks with the injury. Use the MRI as a guide -- if he's able to have it early, as in Wednesday or so, then the blood is dissipating in the leg and he'll come back at the short end of the range. If it takes longer, there's likely a more severe strain and he'll be out longer. Duce Staley's injury makes this one even harder on the Steelers, so they'll be watching the waiver wire closely.
There are few injuries more painful than the dislocation. There are apocryphal stories of players running to the wrong sideline, screaming for someone, anyone to reduce their injury. Once reduced -- or what most people would call "popped back in" -- the injury is seldom serious. There's always some swelling and occasionally some damage to ligaments or capsules, depending on the tightness and structure of the joint. With fingers, you pop 'em in, tape 'em up and move on. Javon Walker can do just that. If the game Friday had been a real game, he likely would have only missed a series or two. It's only surprising that cannon QB's like Brett Favre doesn't cause more injuries like this. We've all jammed our fingers on a catch in the backyard, so multiply that by Brett Favre and you can imagine what it was like for Walker.
The Packers also got away lucky with their other WR, Antonio Chatman. Chatman was making a play on an interception runback when he was hit and knocked out. It functioned like a boxing injury, with a torsional blow taxing his brain stem and shutting down. Chatman was unconscious and had radiating pain in his arms, again, classic signs of a torsional brain injury. The upside is that these don't have the lingering effects of an injury where the brain takes a linear blow, forcing it to slosh around inside the brain pan, bouncing off the inside of the skull. (Yes, it's as violent as it sounds.) Chatman could live up to his promise of getting back to practice this week. While there's still plenty of research to be done on concussions and other closed head injuries, the NFL keeps generating test subjects. It's difficult to say how this will affect Chatman, but my guess is minimal. It is just a guess.
The Raiders weren't counting on much from Doug Gabriel this season. It would have taken a slow start by Ronald Curry, more hamstring problems for Jerry Porter, and ... well, if the Raiders lose Randy Moss, then nothing Gabriel can do would help. Instead, it's Gabriel that's on the shelf. The Raider had surgery to fixate his left middle finger that was fractured. Add in a previous dislocation and Gabriel might want to keep this hand surgeon on speed dial. That or invest in some better gloves. Expect Gabriel to be out around six weeks. Once healed, he'll have no lingering effects.
The Jets lost Andre Maddox to the "terrible triad." Everyone open your book to my essay and read up on O'Donoghue's Triad, as if you didn't already have it memorized. Maddox should be able to return next season from this combination injury of ligaments and cartilage. It would be interesting to know if players that are injured before establishing themselves in the NFL are given as much chance to return from injury. Establishing a baseline of performance is something that college coaches talk about and some studies have shown that injuries to freshman players are considered a severe negative by major college coaches. Maddox heads to the limbo of the NFL injured reserve and hopes to be back in time for minicamp.
I sat trying to come up with some good To Kill A Mockingbird namecheck on Boo Williams, but I'll admit that I've got nothing. No Robert Duvall line, no witty play off the Harper Lee classic, so I'll just dig in on another terrible triad victim. The more interesting note here is that Williams was rushing back from a hamstring injury while battling for a job. Was he out there too early with some strength deficit in his left leg? Did this contribute in some way to the injury to his right knee? Small things can lead to big things, something my principle of "injury cascades" discusses. I'd expected to find them in football, but sometimes, we're just looking for explanations when Occam's razor tells us to just check the usual suspects -- bad luck, bad turf, and bad conditioning.
Allow me to make myself feel old. Back in the day, there was a wrestler named Cowboy Bob Orton who had this cast on his arm that was there for some never-healing injury of indeterminate cause. He'd come in there and the ref would check him for foreign objects, knowing full well that the second he could, Orton was going to clock someone with the cast. Orton's son is now a golden boy in wrestling circles, all bulging muscles and bravado. So what does this have to do with Dewayne Robertson? The Jets DT has a broken bone in his right hand and, given the non-guaranteed contracts in the NFL, has decided to strap on a cast and play. This isn't the first time this has happened, with several players acting the part of Cowboy Bob and using their casted hand as a club. Add this to Robertson's recently discovered lack of knee cartilage and the Jets have to be worried about his durability, if not his desire. The knee is much more problematic, unless you're lined up across from the guy with a club on the end of his arm.
"Stinger." That sounds like a Pop Warner team or another pro wrestling reference. Instead, it's a serious injury that is all too common. Also known as a burner, the stinger is actually a nerve injury caused when the shoulder is driven into the brachial plexus while the head is driven to the opposite lateral aspect. Whoa, now -- that's some big words. It's often easier to look at a picture, at least if you're as big-word-phobic as I am. The problem of stingers is not the short term pain and loss of function, it's the longer-term consequences that come from repeated instances. Dan Gable, the legendary wrestler and one of the greatest coaches in any sport, has nearly lost function in one arm due to repeated stingers. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila has had repeated problems with stingers, something that the Packers are definitely watching. Missle-type players like KGB and some rush-backers are showing a definite proclivity for this injury.
The Matt Birk situation deserves more than just an injury analysis; it's a case study in what goes wrong when there's a lack of trust between employer and employee. It leads to a discussion of the structure of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, including the rampant myth that the salary cap is good for sports. There are just as many loopholes in the NFL as there are in the NBA and frankly, the salary cap is as un-American as it comes. Birk has a torn acetabular labrum, an injury to the cartilaginous structure that cushions and helps structure the ball and socket joint of the hip. Birk elected to have surgery after the Vikings elected not to guarantee his contract for 2006. Get this -- the injury was caused by a succession of hernias that Birk played through. This damages the Vikings' running game and protection scheme while costing Birk only the pain and suffering he's played with for several seasons. The surgery is not major, in the sense that he's likely to make a full and reasonably speedy recovery, giving him time to find a new team in time for minicamp. Next time one of your buddies lauds the salary cap, point out Matt Birk.
Let's see -- Todd Sauerbrun is playing. Darrell Russell is back. Randy Moss isn't the only player rolling his own. Yeah, drug policy is working fine here ... It's worth noting that any player with a bruise, sprain, or paper cut won't play in the last preseason game. Don't read too much into it ... Correll Buckhalter blew out his knee. Again. Redo's on major knee surgeries actually have a good rate of success, assuming Buckhalter wants to go through the pain and suffering of rehab again.
63 comments, Last at 03 Sep 2005, 11:37pm by Carl