Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Dreams of Yesteryear

One of the poignant parts of this time of the sporting year is the inevitable separation that occurs in pre-season football training camps. Coaches pick starters. Long suffering back-ups have their hopes dashed again. GMs decide which of their draft picks to release. Freshman face "the talk," where they're told they should redshirt. And, saddest of all, promising players are cut down by injury.

Thankfully, there haven't been many devastating injuries so far this August (knock on wood), but some old ones have come back to haunt some Packers and Badgers. Freshman cornerback Otis Merill and freshman offensive tackle Josh Ogelsby are both redshirting due to lingering injuries. Otis hurt his shoulder in a high school all-star game and just opted for surgery. Josh tore his ACL last fall and is still shaking the rust off. Freshmen Quincy Landingham, and promising wideout Daven Jones both got hurt in training camp and are redshirting. Quincy was a highly rated recruit, and seems like a very bright guy. Daven has worked like hell to get to UW, going to prep school last fall and taking the ACT and SAT three times each. All four players might have redshirted anyway, and none of their injuries sound terribly devastating, so they should all be able to make full recoveries. Best wishes to all of them during their careers at UW.

The Packers have also made a few injury related cuts. Robert Ferguson, the man Mike Sherman forced Ron Wolf to draft over Chris Chambers and the Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith, was finally released. Fergie had some nice moments, but underperformed at times, and couldn't stay healthy. His latest injury was to the dreaded Lisfranc ligament, which apparently connects all of your foot bones to each other. That ended his season last fall, and he didn't show enough in camp this year to justify a roster spot, particularly at his generous salary. (Uh oh. I've just received word that Fergie signed with the Viqueens.)

Marviel Underwood's Packers career is another sad story. After looking confused as a rookie (Thompson picked him in the fourth round in 2005), he came on strong in training camp last year. But then just as he was making a push to claim a starting safety spot, he seriously damaged his knee in a preseason game. Underwood tore both his MCL and ACL; that is, 50% of the ligaments that keep a person's upper leg attached to his lower leg. Not a good injury, particularly for someone who has to change direction at high speeds. From reports I read, Underwood busted his ass in rehab trying to get all the way back in time for this season. Unfortunately, he came up short, as the Packers indicated yesterday they're going to release him. I wish he had never been hurt-- he'd have been happier, I'm sure, and he could have spared us some of the Marquand Manuel moments of last season. Marviel, I hope you heal up fully, and make it back into the league. Good luck to you.

All these injuries remind me of a friend's recent comments about professional athletes. He said something like "I don't think that the guys who make it are necessarily the best athletes or the most talented-- they're the guys who are freakishly resistant to injuries." I thought about it, and I tend to agree, especially for football. Players take a beating every practice, and games are even worse, with the opposing team actually trying to injure you. Hell, the last time I seriously played tackle football (several years back on a snowy field in Madison over the holidays), I couldn't move properly for a week. And no one really got tackled hard, and we had five inches of snow as padding. In short, there's a reason my mother forbid us from playing football. The guys you see on the field every week, especially guys with long careers, must be genetic freaks. They have some Wolverine-like ability to heal quickly, and some freakish toughness that enables them to not be hurt by blows that would cripple a normal person.
I think my friend might have oversimplified things though. As I heard a politician say once, "it's not always an 'either or' situation. Sometimes it's 'both and.'" The guys in the NFL aren't just injury resistant. They're freakishly athletic and insanely durable. And lucky.

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