It has become the theme of Week One: “I’m playing.”
You’ve heard it from around the NFL from injured players who are in some doubt for their teams’ openers, starting with Jason Witten and Hakeem Nicks in Wednesday’s Cowboys-Giants tilt.
The list has become long and distinguished in a short period of time.
Brian Urlacher. Trent Richardson. Adrian Peterson. Michael Vick said it a few weeks ago. Ryan Mathews continues to insist he’ll play Monday when few others believe he will.
So much for questioning this generation of players’ toughness.
But what about their intelligence? What about the regard for their long-term health?
Is playing today worth it if it means missing two or three or more tomorrows?
Let’s start with Urlacher. He’s as tough and game as they come. He’ll strap ‘em on any time and hit someone, just for fun. So, when he missed time with an injured left knee in training camp, you knew it was serious. Some questioned the timing of his surgery, and when news that he traveled to Europe for an experimental, non-surgical treatment of the knee surfaced, you knew this was not Urlacher messing around.
His knee, as he said in a recent interview is not the same. It will never be the same. Those are his words, so you take them at face value. Not much misdirection in his game. Just as you believe he’ll be out there Sunday. But the Packers are on the slate four days later. More important game perhaps? What will such a turnaround mean for his health this season? You’d have to think he’s going to be dealing with it every day this season, tacked with the questions from the media to follow.
Richardson and Peterson are going to be shackled by their coaches, which is a good thing. They might not be happy about it now, but it’s too bad for them. Pat Shurmur and Leslie Frazier are young coaches with rebuilding teams who know that winning one game is not the goal here. They need their horses for the long run. Not that the Bears do not with Urlacher; they just have a better infrastructure and can sustain such a loss a little more easily.
Sometimes players need to be saved from themselves. The Eagles have tried their best to tell Vick to tone it down in the preseason and make the smart play (throw it away!) instead of opening himself up to big hits. When the regular-season lights hit, fine. But you have to be smart, too.
And for NFL players trying to prove their toughness or manliness by defying doctors’ or trainers’ or coaches’ orders, well, it’s just bad business. Do those folks sometimes play conservatively? Sure. But rarely do we look back and say “what if?” with a team holding an injured player back.
Coaches live by a well-worn saying, which is “next man up.” Backups love it because it gives them a chance to prove themselves. Starters, and namely stars, should sometimes heed those words, too.