NFL football players are not like the rest of us.
Of course, we already knew this, but now Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson is going to attempt to play this Sunday, just two weeks after suffering a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his left knee. This comes on top of already having a high ankle sprain.
And he’s obviously not the only player who has ever played through significant injury. Jason Peters has been playing through a biceps tear and a quad strain this season. Jay Ajayi finished a game with a torn ACL. Carson Wentz threw a touchdown with a torn ACL last December. Alshon Jeffery played the entire 2017 season with a torn rotator cuff. Jalen Mills and Brandon Graham played through ailments that needed surgery too. Then there are all the injuries we never hear about.
Sure, there was the time in my beer league softball game where I blew out my hamstring, kept playing and got the game-winning hit. (Really, it was a pathetic sight.) But that’s child’s play.
This is just what NFL players do. It’s not always the best decision to play through injury either. Sometimes it can lead to further injury and can ultimately hurt the team. But that doesn’t make what these guys do any less amazing or commendable. They put their bodies on the line and play through things that would leave the rest of us bedridden.
So, armed with the knowledge that Johnson is going to try to play Sunday, I asked several Eagles one simple question Wednesday:
What’s the toughest injury you’ve played through and how did you do it?
Some of the answers were fascinating:
“When I separated … when my rib a couple years ago against the Browns got pushed in and my shoulder was separated and my pec was strained on that same play. Finishing that game was tough. Adrenaline oftentimes (helps). After the game, couldn’t really move, couldn’t move my arm. The groin, coming back from the groin surgery in 3 1/2 weeks, where you just don’t feel like yourself, obviously tough.
“But I think the thing that you find out, at the end of the day, we’re trying to play football. I think we sacrifice so much as people that you always want to be out there playing football. Football is unique, in the sense that you only get 16 games a year. So if you have an injury and you miss one and you only have 15, you’re going to do everything you can to get 16. I think that’s what makes this game very special in the sense that there’s only a limited amount of games every year. And that way, the game’s never diluted.
“Injuries are a part of the game. Injury rate in the NFL, we say, is 100 percent. You’re never feeling your best every week. But also sacrifice and making sure your brothers know they can count on you each and every week. You never want to leave them out, you never want them to think that you’re not giving your all to them. I think there’s a multitude of reason to play through injury.”
“Last year I played like the whole season with the Bills with a small fracture in my right ankle and a slightly torn patellar tendon in my left (knee). And then in the third game of the season vs. the Falcons, I fractured my thumb. So then I played two games later. I played with a fractured thumb, a small fracture in my ankle and a small tear in my patella. But I’m 100 percent now.
“How do you do it? Put your mind into recovery. And then, honestly, man, I just love playing the game. I think really that’s probably the biggest thing. Our bodies, after a while, when you play football for so long, you can get hurt in a certain way, but your body is so used to doing football-like movements, that you can still somewhat do that at a high level. Now, if you asked that person, ‘now go play basketball,’ you would be terrible. You probably can’t even do manual labor around the house. But you can still do football. It’s a testament to how God created us. You get used to doing a certain thing for so long, even with injuries and ailments, you can still function at a high level if you just put your mind to it.”
“Probably either a bad high ankle sprain or coming off surgery too early, I should have been on IR and I came back too early — 2015. With the high ankle, I just didn’t practice all week and I just played on Sunday, shoot it up. It’s tough but it was a contract year (2011), so…”
“The Chargers game last year, I sprained my PCL in the first play of the game and I was like, ‘I’m not coming out.’ I ended up finishing the game. After that is when I missed a couple weeks. I just had to fight through it. I put a sleeve on it and I kind of just fought through it. And I didn’t show the trainers the whole thing until after the game. They was like, ‘What the heck, man?’ That was the hardest thing I had to play through.”
“I’ve been fortunate enough in the NFL that I … I better knock on wood before I say this (knocks on wooden locker stall) … that I haven’t had anything crazy. I just tore both of my big toes. In Houston, 2013 and '14. To this day, I still get my toes taped. Metal plate in the shoe, try to tape it as straight as you can (back then). I still tape my big toes and they will get sore, but that’s just part of the game.”
“I played through a few, obviously. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the league. Torn labrum in the shoulder. Missing a lot of strength, having a lot of pain. It was tough. Every injury is different, obviously. What Lane’s doing … shoulder, knee, ankle, all that stuff is different.
“You’ve got to learn to compensate. Sometimes, if you’re physically limited with one limb, you’ve got to maybe change your technique a little bit or you just kind of … you gotta know what your weaknesses are. So when you’ve got an injury, that’s now your weakness. You’ve got to try to maybe play in such a way that it’s not going to hurt you as much. But obviously, taking a lot of care of it and taking some medicine on game days is a big part of it.”
“I’ve truly been blessed in that department. I haven’t had to play through tough injuries. I’ve been blessed enough to be healthy when I’m out there.”
“Toughest one I’ve ever played through? Most of mine have been season-ending. I played through, my rookie year here, I played through a double quad strain. So I strained both quads. And I was a young rookie and it wasn’t during a game, but it was during camp. I didn’t know what was going on and I just felt like I had to prove myself constantly. Just be out there, no matter the circumstances.
“You just go. You just go. I think last year, really both times I’ve torn my Achilles, it’s been ankle problems that I’ve played through. The downside of playing through injury is compensation. Because when one thing’s weak, your body tells you to support it in another area and take the brunt of that force. That’s the tough part. But football is a sport of injury. The injury rate is 100 percent. There’s things you gotta go through in your own head and figure out if you can play or not. Obviously, we don’t question Lane’s heart, we don’t question Lane’s character. Lane’s a guy for this team and big heart, wants to be out there every chance he gets. A lot of respect for him.”
“Definitely tearing my labrum. I tore my labrum Week 3 in college in my sophomore year (at Toledo). Basically, I just popped that thing back in and just finished the rest of the season with it.
“I had to rehab throughout the week before every game and get it warmed up and throw a strap or something on it. But that was definitely one of the toughest injuries. Then I had to come back my senior year and tore the other one. That was at the end of the season. Coming into the draft process and everything. But I was more prepared for it that time.”
“I don’t even remember. I don’t remember what the toughest one was, but prepare. Understand that there will be pain. That’s all I know. Understand that there will be pain.”
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