I was fortunate to get the opportunity to play in the NFL, but like most players it ended due to injuries I sustained during my playing days.
I can't help but wonder how many players that were injured in Pop Warner, High School and College - and never got the chance to play in the NFL - could have been the next Andre Reed, Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith or Thurman Thomas.
I wanted to be the next Paul Krauss.........the next Dick "Night Train" Lane. Intercepting passes was my forte. I had 23 career interceptions in college and I wanted to be right up there with the all-time great defensive backs in the NFL.
I had some early success in the NFL, but I never had a chance to show what I could have done if I had played for a long time. In my very first game as a starter we played the Minnesota Vikings. In the game, Tommy Kramer tried a deep pass to Ahmad Rashad but I made the interception as if I were the intended receiver.
The interception was my 5th of the year. I had one more against Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers to end the season with 6. At that time, I had tied the Buffalo Bills record (with Butch Byrd) for the most interceptions by a rookie. A few years ago that record was broken by another guy named Byrd..........Jarius Byrd.
The announcers for this 1979 game said I had a great future in the NFL. They said the same in 1980 thing when I was leading the National Football League in interceptions with 5 in the first 4 games, but as I soon found out, the NFL also stands for "Not For Long" and in the 5th game of that season I injured my knee in a game against the San Diego Chargers - an injury that would haunt me for the next 4 years and eventually end my playing days in the NFL.
Unfortunately, injuries take most players away from the game they love to play. It's impossible to know what would have happened if I had remained injury free. I often wonder how some players can play 8 or more years in the NFL without getting a "career" ending injury. Is it fate....luck.....skill?
The answer is none of the above.
The truth is, the NFL is a violent game and players are going to get injured. Some players beat the odds, but like most gamblers - and we are gambling that we won't get hurt - the house (the NFL) always comes out ahead. The NFL has an ample supply of bodies waiting in the ranks to take the place of a gladiator that has gone down.
It bothers me when fans, announcers and writers say a player just can seem to stay "healthy" - as if we they were always coming down with the flu or some other virus or disease that was keeping them out of the game. Most players are much healthier than the general public - it was our job to be in top physical condition. I also scoff at the suggestion that certain players are injury prone. To a certain degree, that might be true if a player is getting leg cramps or pulled muscles because they aren't stretching properly, or their conditioning is not up to par, but don't confuse that type of injury with a broken bone, a ligament stretch or tear, hip pointers, turf toes, neck, back, knee, arm, wrist, ankle, shoulder and thigh injuries - and lets not forget the most devastating injury..... concussions.
As of this week, almost 300 players are listed on the NFL's injury report as being Out, Doubtful, Questionable or Probable. You can see the list at this link: NFL Injury Report
Every season, hundreds of players sustain injuries that eventually become what are commonly referred to as career ending injuries. No one likes to think about that - especially the players. I'm not even sure if it should be called a "career" ending injury because no one really has a career in the NFL. The average player last about 3 to 5 years in the NFL - not much of a career by any stretch of the imagination.
Surgical techniques have come a long way since I played the game. My first injury - a medial collateral ligament stretch - could have been easily repaired in today's NFL via an arthroscopic surgery. It could have lengthened my career, but that procedure was not available when I played. Instead, I have two 12 inch "zippers" on my left knee from a surgery that ended my career in the NFL.
For those that make it to the professional football level, I have this one small piece of advice. Start preparing today for your "real career" after football because the NFL is Not For Long.
"Fame is a Vapor, Riches Take Wings.........the only thing that endures is Character." - Saying from a poster that my Buffalo Bills Trainer, Eddie (Abe) Abramowski had next to his taping station.