Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

18 Nov 2005

The Hit That Changed a Career

I'm sure I'm dating myself here, but I have vivid memories of Joe Theismann breaking his leg in that Monday night game against Lawrence Taylor and the New York Giants. Even though I was pretty young, I remember being impressed by LT jumping up after the play and frantically waving the medical staff onto the field, even though he was primarily known for his on-field tenacity and off-field problems. I also remember wondering why the network insisted on showing replay after replay of Theismann's leg actually snapping. That's something I didn't get then, and I don't get now. Hey, networks, I don't like seeing replays of gruesome injuries ... unless it's part of the "Faces of Death" series. Just kidding. (free registration/bugmenot required)

Posted by: P. Ryan Wilson on 18 Nov 2005

48 comments, Last at 20 Nov 2005, 12:19pm by little red tractor


by Mike M (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 10:21am

I'm a little too young to remember Theismann, but the worst injury I remember ever seeing was a Raiders RB, running into the line (this was probably in 96 or 97). He took a hit to the front of his knee (not unlike Roethlisberger's hit a few weeks back), and his leg bent in the opposite direction that it's supposed to. Gruesome, and yes, SportsCenter showed it 78 times, with the disclaimer "If you have a weak stomach, we suggest you don't watch."

by Bockman (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 10:55am

I would also like to take this opportunity to remember another famous Giants hit (one of the cleanest, blindside hits of a QB I've ever seen) -
"In a loss to the New York Giants in the 1990 NFC championship game, defensive end Leonard Marshall delivered what Montana says is the hardest hit he ever took - a blind-side sack that bruised his sternum, fractured a rib and knocked him out of the game. Montana said that Marshall snapped back his right hand after they were on the ground, breaking a bone."

by MET (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 11:15am

I remember Ed McCaffrey breaking his leg against the Giants in 2001. It looked pretty gruesome, with the leg twisting in about four different directions and then going all floppy

by Bruce (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 11:21am

#1 I believe that player was Napoleon McCallum out of Navy. You are right, it was even worse than Willis McGahee. The Theissmann story reminds me of one of the great calls in Joe Gibbs tenure. After Theissmann, the hero, the pillar of the franchise gets taken off the field everyone felt like the season was over ... it had to be. Jay who? The guy never started a game at UCLA as I remember. What does Gibbs do? He has him throw a successful bomb to Monk on the first play. It was a stunner. Schroeder goes on to throw for 4000 yds next year and leads them to the NFC Championship game. Gibbs always could win in so many different ways.

by I.K.S.R.F.O. (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 11:27am

some recent gruesome injuries:
Pothro from bama breaking his leg.
Priest holmes dislocating his hip in denver.
roy williams on tyrone calico and musa smith. Calico sprained both his knees at the same time, never saw that before

by Independent George (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 11:29am

#3: If I remember correctly, McCaffrey held on to the ball, too.

I remember watching Bryant Young's leg breaking on MNF. Ken Norton got blocked into Young's path, and his helmet snapped the lower leg in two. The worst part is that Young's cleats stuck in the turf for a second, creating a gruesome angle. They didn't show the replay, but it was vivid enough that I could see it clearly even through the fuzzy reception I had at the time.

by Bassett (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 11:33am


Watching that leg go flopping around... horrific.

And Ryan, Theismann injury was pretty nasty... which reminds me of the commercial in the 90s with the ESPN poker dogs snapping stuff in front of Theismann.

by Parker (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 11:40am

Am I dreaming or does anyone else remember seeing Theismann, a few weeks after the injury, doing a short interview via satellite with the MNF team or whoever. Thiesmann appears to be in his living room, with a fire going in the fireplace, he's wearing a tan sweater, his leg is elevated and he has a afghan covering his lower have. He looked more like a grandmother than an NFL quarterback. Joe boldly tells the MNF guys, "I WILL be back", while everyone watching is thinking, 'Ummm, no you wont.'

by Joon (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 11:51am

i second ryan's call to tone down the replays of really gruesome injuries. i was just a kid, and big redskins fan, when i saw LT destroy theisman. it's still a traumatic memory for me. tim krumrie in the super bowl, kenyon martin in the C-USA tournament, mcgahee, jason kendall on the 4th of july--these are some of my worst sports memories ever. and yes, i may be unusually squeamish, but what is the appeal of seeing these plays over and over?

by Dave (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 12:01pm

Worst injury? Two words: Darryl Stingley.

by ToxikFetus (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 12:07pm

Anyone remember Wendell Davis blowing out both knees at the same time against Philly? Nobody even touched him, he just planted and *POP*. Even if the defenders couldn't tackle him, the Vet could.

by White Rose Duelist (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 12:08pm

Not football, but I remember seeing Jason Kendall's leg injury. Yipes.

by Mike M (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 12:10pm

#4: Thanks, good memory. Some research clarifies that he's who I remember, but not the time. I wasn't in college in 94, but I swear I remember seeing the replays on SC in the student center at VT. Guess not.

From this article: In surgery, doctors were concerned that if the operation did not go well, his leg could have to be amputated. In the end, McCallum endured six surgeries, including two knee reconstructions. The rehabilitation was as painful as any of the surgeries, but now McCallum can walk, even if he cannot run or ever play again.


A video of McCallum's injury. I didn't watch it.

by James Gibson (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 12:27pm

I remember that Theismann injury although I was young at the time. I, however, WAS in college when McCallum got his knee bent backwards (and living in L.A., forced to watch either the Raiders or Rams every week), and remember how gruesome that one was.

by pawnking (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 12:29pm

As for myself, this year when the Alabama receiver Prythro went down, it was possibly to most horrific injury I'd ever seen live. They showed one replay of it during the game, I think because they didn't realize how bad it was in actual time, but the announcers were speechless upon seeing the replay.

The thing that I got upset about was that Sportscenter showed the replay again in their highlights, which was totally unnecessary and unforgivable. My jacka-- brother sent me an email with a picture of the injury, which I am still mad about.

I actually had nightmares about that one that night. Wow.

by MilkmanDan (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 12:33pm

The McCallum injury was a Monday night game against the 49ers and was the game where Jerry Rice set the all-time TD record. Remember it VERY clearly. I actually screamed out loud when I saw the injury and fell off the couch. Still gives me a bit of nausea to this day, and that was back in '95 I believe.

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 12:39pm

Parochial, I know, but in terms of "hit that changed a career", there's also Mo Lewis knocking Bledsoe out of that Jets game, thereby changing two careers.

And not football, but I was at a Celts/Rockets game back in the real Gahhhhden in the late 80s when Ralph Sampson went up for a rebound, collided with someone in mid air which knocked him backwards a bit such that when he landed, he landed on his heels instead of flatfooted or on the soles of his feet. His feet immediately slid out from under him and he landed flat on his back with a thud so loud that you could clearly hear it all the way up in the nosebleed seats where I was. It was freakin' scary. And then you could see that he wasn't moving. Play was stopped for 10-15 minutes while they got the stretcher out and slowly got him into it and strapped him down. You could see that he was completely limp. Over the radio (I would always bring a radio to games so I could listen to Most while watching) came the reports that Sampson couldn't move his limbs. It was just horrible. Thankfully, it the paralysis was some sort of temporary impact-induced thing, and by the next day he was fine. But it was a gut-wrenching experience to watch and very disturbing.

by Dennis (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 12:45pm

Another non-football one was Clint Malarchuk of the Quebec Nordiques getting his jugular cut. He was holding his neck and you could see the blood squirt out in pulses with his heartbeat.

by Devin McCullen (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 1:01pm

The ironic thing is you could make a very good argument that Protho had the worst and the best looking plays of this season (the best being that unbelievable catch he made on the back of the defender's head).

by Erasmus (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 1:43pm

#15. You think that is bad about SportsCenter? I go to U of Alabama and the Birmingham News decided it would be nice to have Protho's injury on the front page of the Sports section...Not him leaving the field or his previous TDs, but him on the ground holding onto his leg with his foot dangling.

by I.K.S.R.F.O. (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 2:17pm

Re 18:
another non football one, hasim rahman's forehead after holyfield headbutted him, it was the biggest lump i have ever seen in my life. if holyfield would have hit that lump and it exploded rahman would have been dead.

also, people forget this one but there was a redskins-cowboys game on thanksgiving a couple of years ago and someone stepped on the punter's face. now this punter had a single face bar so his nose caught the brunt of the force. His nose looked like playdoh it didn't look like any bones were in the right place.

by krugerindustrialsmoothin (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 2:20pm

anybody remember Tim Krumrie (sp?) for the Bengals in the superbowl vs the niners? The one where Montana to John Taylor wins in in the dying minutes. Anyways, Krumrie looked alot like the McCaffrey incident as he rolled over and the leg whipped in a few different directions, you just prayed that noone would fall on him as he went down. still sends shivers down the spine

by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 2:30pm

The worst injury I ever saw was from the other football, you know, the one with the round ball that they kick.

1997 season, David Buest, a Coventry City player, went for a ball with the Manchester United Goalkeeper, Peter Schmichel, His leg got caught under Schmichel's body, and what you were left with was a double compound fracture of the Tibia and Fibula, with the bones on display through Buests' sock.

Not only did Schmichel wave the trainers on immediately, but he promptly vomited in the goalmouth. This injury was horrific.

After several (10+) surgeries the doctors saved the leg. Buest never played again, and is now a soccer physiotherapist.

by No Touch (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 2:35pm

Non-football again but most of my memories of horrible injuries are hockey related (sorry I'm Canadian). Bryan Berard getting a high stick in the face, basically destroying his eye. Trent McCleary taking a slaphot in the throat, needing an emergency tracheostomy on the ice. Marco Sturm crashing feet first into the boards, with his foot twisting back around Prothro-style. Steve Yzerman getting hit in the eye with a slapshot, then trying to skate to the bench, but collapsing in a pool of blood. Kris Draper getting hit from behind and hitting his face off the edge of the boards.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 3:02pm

The Malarchuk injury was weird, almost surreal - on the one hand, there was that stereotypical male reaction to blood (Holy cow! Look at how far that's spurting!). On the other hand, there was the realization of what happened - that dude could die from this!

by Mike M (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 3:20pm

Lordy. This thread needs one of those "not for the squeamish" disclaimers. Cringe-fest.

by Joon (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 3:20pm

there's something disturbingly fascinating about a "grossest injuries ever" thread. it's akin to passing a terrible accident on the highway, yet somehow even worse than that because there are all these painful suppressed memories being evoked. it's downright sinister.

all that said, i will never again revisit this thread. i'm about to puke as it is. have fun, boys.

by Richie (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 4:15pm

Malarchuck's injury was the worst sports injury I've ever seen.

by Brad (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 4:30pm

I'm partial to Steve Young's injury myself. Not a fall sunday goes by when I haven't asked 'what if?'

by RCH (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 4:54pm

I was playing college football when Theisman got hurt. Obviously Tuesday's were a heavy hitting day in practice. The day after his injury its safe to say that guys really weren't getting after each other.

by Becephalus (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 5:08pm

On a "slightly" less disgusting note, I was involved in a pretty gruesome hockey injury I hear (no video at game and I cannot remember it). During summer league in highschool one person hip checked me from the front just as another was pushing me from behind. I hear I landed right on my head and my neck twisted at a gruesome angle.

Appearantly, before anyone could get to me I skated back to the bench. They also told me I was kind of randomly rambling and fairly incoherent. But, as I was the player/coach (no coaches allowed in summer league in my day), no one was there to stop me and I played the rest of the game and even scored a goal. They then let me leave and drive myself home (tisk, tisk), and when I woke up the next morning I was VERY confused as to why I wasn't still at the game as I remembered nothing after the hit and still don't.

Anyway that was probably one of the most interesting things which will ever happen to me and it was a very odd sensation.

by Mike M (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 5:18pm

#31: Maybe you're in a coma and we're all just a figment of your imagination. (If that's the case, I really hate what you've done to the Vikings this year.)

by Ouch! (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 5:23pm

One time I was playing ball, and as I was tackled I cut my stomach on someone's cleat, and my entrails started to hang and drag from my stomach, getting caught up in someone's face mask, then the ref threw the flag and it hit me, tearing my left eye from its socket, I really haven't been the same since.

by Becephalus (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 5:26pm

The most horfiying and gruesome part of that article is this.

“Starting next season, he will be the analyst on “Monday Night Football�"

by Michael David Smith :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 5:31pm

Hasim Rahman's head looked weird, but it was nowhere near as disturbing as some of the others because it didn't look like the type of thing that would have long-term repercussions. Klitchko's eye looked nasty in that fight when he would've beaten Lennox Lewis if he could have continued, although, again, it was the type of thing where you knew they could patch it up and he'd be OK. Prothro is the one that makes me saddest because that's a guy who looked to have a great career ahead of him, but he relies so much on his speed that it's just about impossible to imagine him ever being the athlete he was. And it was so unnecessary to throw him a pass when Bama was already up by four touchdowns.

by FastEddy (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 6:21pm

Let's not forget Tommy Maddox's injury. I think he was partly paralyzed for a while and they weren't sure he'd ever play again. Well he is, but he's never been the same since.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 6:34pm

I don't want to get into the most disgusting injuries, and I also don't like seeing the replays repeatedly. They can't show us a replay of a 4th and 1 run or 2-point conversion that might have made it, but thet can show us a limb being mangled repeatedly. Way to have the priorities straight, TV guys.

Anyway, the thing that jumps out to me is the reaction of the guy(s) who caused the injury. For all the crap we know about Taylor, his reaction showed that there is good in him. Compare his reaction to someone like, oh I dunno, Tatum. Can you imagine him calling for help or showing genuine concern for Theismann? The guy who celebrated paralyzing another player during a preseason game? I have no idea how he could be a pro athlete with that circulatory system, because it's clear the guy had no heart.

by Chris Owen (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 6:45pm


Klitchko was indeed ahead on points in that fight at the stoppage, but there was no way that he was going to go the distance and win a decision. As for getting a knockout, Klitchko had his chance early, but unlike McCall and Rahman in their first fights against Lewis, he blew it.

When Lewis first opened the big cut under Klitchko's eye, it was a somewhat lucky punch in that it was Lewis' thumb that tore open Klitchko's skin. From there, there was nothing lucky about the fight. Lewis steadily worsened the main cut and opened up a half dozen others. I know people don't like Lewis, but to say he was going to lose that fight in the later rounds is just wrong. As Lewis said afterward, "Look at the state of his face." Do a google search for Lewis, and you can see for yourself, along with Rahman's forehead, at the top of the search results.

Sorry to go off topic, but I just get riled when Lewis doesn't get the credit he deserves. You can blame Lewis for coming in unprepared, but then you'd also have to blame Klitchko for not taking advantage of Lewis' suspect chin. It was a gutsy performance by Klitchko, sure, but he blew his early opportunity, and as the fight went on, he just got more and more beat up.

by charles (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 6:51pm

Jayson Williams from the nets, when stephon marbury fell into his knee while trying a layup. That one was bad, go check it out if you have a chance.

by Balaji (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 7:51pm

None of the worst ever, but I can think of some bad Pittsburgh injuries.

The Maddox one comes to mind. I was in a bar full of people watching, and the whole place went completely silent. We weren't even sure if he was alive. Scary.

Jason Kendall's ankle...ugh. I shudder to think about it.

Or Kevin Stevens from the Penguins in 1993. Got hit, went into the air, and landed on his face. He was barely a shell of his former self after that hit.

by PhillyCWC (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 8:10pm

I'm thinking of Randall Cunningham breaking his leg, can't remember the exact year but it was in the early '90's. It was all over the Philly news with detailed descriptions in the newspapers and on TV how his leg would be reconstructed, kind of like the Six Million Dollar Man (boy am I dating myself here)!

We can rebuild him...we have the technology...we can make him better...faster...stronger...

by wr (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 8:40pm

#22 - Yeah, I remember Krumrei.
Although it wasn't quite as bad, in that same game a Niners OL-man by the name of Wallace also broke his leg. You could that extra "joint" appear
between knee and ankle.

by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 8:49pm

Re #37.

Following on fron the David Beust injury, the back page of every newspaper in the UK had a full colour close-up of the break. IIRC, some had the picture on the front page also.
It wasn't the most pleasant sunday morning reading.

by David/DeadTeddy8 (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 9:26pm

I saw McCallum live on TV. I saw Garrison Hearst live on TV. I saw Bryant Young live on TV. But the one sports injury that made me shriek aloud was Robin Ventura's ankle mangling a few years back, during his later years with the White Sox. IIRC, the umpire called him out at home, saw his ankle, and immediately turned and dry heaved.

by calig23 (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 10:16pm


What's amazing is that Bryan Berard did come back from that injury.

by james (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 11:52pm

sid vicious(sic) wwe wrestling landed awkwardly after jumping off of the top rope and broke his leg upon landing, you could see it through the boot

there's a practice where a bengals reciever(northcut maybe) is blocking and the runners gets tackled into the back of his leg breaking it while he is still standing up

Barry Sanders blew out Rod Woodson's knee with a juke that was an entirely different kind of disgusting than the injury was

A dude I played ball with rolled under a fence and cut his achilles...he said it rolled up the back of his leg

Rodney harrison was pretty gross

Bo Jackson was just said...a piece of me died that day but it became revived when I realized that he would have been exposed as a roid later

by Chris (not verified) :: Sat, 11/19/2005 - 12:55am

Re # 3 & 6 above.

Recall that the Ed McCaffrey injury noted above seemed so very gruesome when it happened. Also recall that this was 9/10/2001. If I had a time machine ...

Sorry for such a glum post, but this is my last clear memory of "before"...

by little red tractor (not verified) :: Sun, 11/20/2005 - 12:19pm

Recently an Austrian footballer scored a goal, jumped on top of the fence surrounding the pitch, and caught his wedding ring on a spike on top of the fence when jumping back down.

Yep, finger attached to the fence, striker running around showing every one what had just happened.

There was another soccer injury in 1992 when a Danish player clashed with Van Basten, then, just as the camera went to his face, he looked down where his knee used to be, then saw it appearing to be half way up his thigh.