Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Between a rock and a hard case

Football players sacrifice their bodies for a lot of reasons. For many it's the large salaries, for some it's the love of the game, and for others it's the glory that a championship brings. They sacrifice their health and well being. They put a lot on the line.

They are professional sports' tough guys (face it, hockey players are tougher, but that's only because they're certifiably insane - it' not the same thing as just being tough).

Players garner reputations for toughness and durability. Brett Favre has played in every game since he got his first start...in a leather helmet. At least it feels like that's when he got his first start. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning also have started every game since starting - in spite of being banged up. Drew Bledsoe won consecutive games with a pin holding together the tip of his index finger on his throwing hand (and he wasn't leading those comebacks by handing the ball off). He even tried to come back into the now famous Jets game after shearing an artery in his chest (sure, he wasn't in his right mind, but you get the point).

Hall-of-Fame Rams defensive end Jack Youngblood famously played in the NFC Championship game and subsequently Super Bowl XIV with a stress fracture in his left leg. Lawrence Taylor and Emmitt Smith were both major factors in playoff games for their respective teams while each played with a separated shoulder. Terrell Davis famously suffers from debilitating migraines, and had one during Super Bowl XXXII. According to Davis it was so bad that he had trouble seeing. It didn't stop him from lining up, if for nothing else, as a decoy in Denver's backfield.

Recently Antonio Gates and Philip Rivers, both listed as questionable and game-time decisions for the Chargers' loss to the Patriots in this past weekend's AFC Championship game, toughed out the game in the hopes of landing that Super Bowl berth.

Why? Because opportunities to get to the Super Bowl are rare. Many players never get there. Half the teams in the NFL have never won a Super Bowl. Eleven teams account for 35 of the 41 titles. Approximately 18 percent of the league's teams haven't even played in the game.

Dan Marino lost in the big game in his rookie year, and then never got back...in 17 seasons. Linebacker Clay Matthews played for 19 seasons and never made it. Neither did quarterback Vinny Testaverde in his 21 seasons.

As Ron Jaworski is fond of noting - winning in the NFL is hard.

It's why so many of these players play hurt. They believe they give their team the best chance of winning.

Which brings us to LaDainian Tomlinson.

Tomlinson is catching a lot of flack for being on the sideline while his team put up field goal after field goal in Sunday's match-up with the Patriots. He might be as injured as he is now claiming, however, that doesn't mean he doesn't deserve to be called out by the former players that are now part of the entertainment machine that is sports journalism (and when your toughness is questioned by Deion Sanders...well that's just sad).

Tomlinson is defending himself, saying he was no better than 50 percent and that he felt that the healthy duo of Michael Turner and Darren Sproles gave the Chargers the best chance to win. He can defend himself in this manner all he wants - but he dug himself this hole. HE told the team doctors in the days leading up to the game that he was well enough to be taken off of the injury report. HE told the press that he was 90 percent in the days leading up to the game. So, either HE lied to the doctors, press, and San Diego fans in the days leading up to the game, or HE's lying now in order to deflect criticism.

Either way, he deserves to be questioned...deserves to take the hit, so to speak - whether for his toughness, or for unrealistically raising the expectations of the San Diego fans and teammates.

One thing's for sure - it appears that it would have taken being in a wheelchair or on crutches to keep his injured teammates off the field. And, hell, Rivers had [arthroscopic] knee surgery surgery six days before the game.

Tomlinson best get used to being criticized for this one, because it's not going to stop.


Suldog said...

I remember one of my favorite players (and not too many other folk's favorite, but...) Steve DeBerg playing about half a season with a pin extending out from his index finger. QB, of course, so every time he handed off, it got jarred and hurt like a mother. Tackled, same thing. I'm amazed at stuff like that. I've toughed out some injuries myself, but on baseball and softball fields, not a vicious game like football where any hit could cripple you.

Kevin Smith said...

My recreational pastime of choice is Australian football. I've been playing since 1999. In the Spring of 2001 I dislocated my left foot and separated tendons in my ankle in a preseason game against a team in the Lehigh Valley. A month later I was playing with an air-cast on my left ankle against the Baltimore squad (I played at the time for Philadelphia). Yeah, I know, not too bright. But part of my point here is that LT, by his actions leading up to the game, dug his own hole. Now he has to live in it.

I had forgotten about the DeBerg injury. It amazes me what some of these guys play through.

Teresa said...

And, didn't Ronnie Lott cut off his damn finger??

The real LT would have lined up...that is why Tomlinson will always be a punk.

I have to go to San Diego tomorrow for work. If I had a Patriots sweatshirt--and I don't--I would wear it tomorrow just to make people mad.

Kevin Smith said...


Colts Fan


Chris Stone said...

I'm glad LT is getting flack... HE needs some humble pie. But. A hyperextended knee is tough... it tears the gastrocs and that's whats needed for running. Rivers with a MCL problem might have been better off. It was a poorly managed situation and him sitting on the bench during game time probably helped no one.

Kevin Smith said...

In all honesty, I believe that he probably couldn't go - but I also think that he doesn't deserve a pass on this either. He was partially responsible for creating the situation by setting the expectation that he was close to 100 percent.

There's a lot more I could go on about with him as far as complaints go - but this one shouldn't sit well with his teammates, or with Chargers fans.