Great NFL quarterbacks, great NFL players, play when they're hurt. They play when they probably shouldn't. They play when they are only kinda-sorta cleared by doctors.
Tom Brady has done it his entire career.
Will Jimmy Garoppolo?
As much as Bill Belichick tried to make the injury question seem like a black-and-white issue on Tuesday, the fact is the grey area involved in these things is pretty big. And almost without exception, teams exploit that grey area. If doctors say you can play, teams expect you to play.
It's particularly true at the quarterback position, the most indispensable spot on the field. It's the position where the right players can still help you win even if they can't throw or run as they normally would. It's also the place where the expectations are probably the highest in terms of getting out there. The great quarterbacks are also great iron men.
Look no further than Brady, who has played through many injuries we know about and certainly many more we don't. Sports hernias. High ankle sprains. Legs, knees, shoulders. You name it. He usually shows up somewhere in the spring wearing a medical boot or with his arm in a sling, and then we get some idea. But it's probably been worse than we know. There have certainly been times he probably should have sat and never did -- only succumbing to the ACL injury in 2008. And even on that one he believes he could have come back and played late in the season if the NFL had the current IR-return designation it has now.
Someone told me on Tuesday that Brady has played through the same injury that Garoppolo is reportedly suffering from, a sprain to the AC joint in his throwing shoulder, four times in his career. The first time was 2002, when Brady played through it late in the year. His performances suffered as a result, but he did what he had to do to get on the field -- and he showed a lot to Belichick and the organization in the process. It set a tone for his entire career.
Now Garoppolo could be facing a similar situation. Perhaps he's being challenged this week. Maybe Belichick wants to know what he has in the kid. It's hard to know.
The only thing I do know is that if Garoppolo truly is the next guy, then he'll go a long way to showing it by doing what the current guy would do.
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