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Sports Then and Now

NFL Knee Fractures Now And Then

Posted on February 11, 2018 by Joe Fleming
One of the most famous leg injuries of all-time occurred on a Monday Night Football game in 1985.

One of the most famous leg injuries of all-time occurred on a Monday Night Football game in 1985.

Starting in Pop Warner league, most coaches teach players to tackle low and block low. So, it is not very surprising that there are so many knee injuries in tackle football.

Most players can come back after even rather serious ligament or tendon injuries. The knee has a rather large network of these muscles, so if one doesn’t entirely heal, the others often take up the slack. But there’s only one bone, and if it is at all compromised, there is nothing else to bear weight and provide mobility. As a result, a serious knee fracture often means the end of the line, or at least the end of the salad days.

Zach Miller, 2017 Chicago Bears

In an October contest against the New Orleans Saints, Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky found his tight end near the right sideline of the end zone for an apparent touchdown. Officials overruled the call because Miller did not sufficiently possess the ball long enough “to clearly become a runner,” as the rule requires. So, the Bears had to settle for a field goal in a game they eventually lost 20-12.

But the real story is the injury that Miller sustained. At first, trainers said his knee was only dislocated. But the more trainers and doctors looked, the worse it got. The dislocated bone partially severed an artery, and Miller’s leg filled with fluid. He later said that amputation was only a “couple wrong turns away from actually happening.”

J.J. Watt, 2017 Houston Texans

The three-time Defensive Player of the Year is one of the most effective, and one of the most popular, players of his or any generation to line up in a three-point stance. But in an October game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Watts’ left foot struck his right ankle as he pressured the quarterback, resulting in a tibial plateau fracture to the bone directly below his knee.

Even though Watt is only 28, he already has a history of injury and, immediately prior to the knee fracture, was in the midst of the longest sack-less streak of his professional career. So, this latest setback is probably either career-threatening or the start of a very compelling comeback story.

Tim Krumrie, 1988 Cincinnati Bengals

In Super Bowl XXIII against the San Francisco 49ers, the All-Pro nose tackle shed off a double team and attempted to nail running back Roger Craig, who was notoriously big and elusive. Krumrie planted his foot to get a better angle, and his weight snapped the bone. Trainers used an inflatable cast to immobilize the leg before they transported Krumrie to the locker room. Krumrie refused to go to the hospital or even to take painkillers so he could watch the rest of the game from the Joe Robbie Stadium locker room. Later, doctors implanted a fifteen-inch steel rod into his leg.

The notorious tough guy came back the next Opening Day and played six more seasons, recording a team-leading ninety-seven tackles during the 1992 campaign.

Joe Theismann, 1985 Washington Redskins

No self-respecting list is complete without this knee injury. The video clip is sort of like a fatal or firey NASCAR collision: You know you shouldn’t watch, but you just can’t turn your eyes away.

Whereas the other three knee injuries above were mostly non-contact wounds, this one was completely different. Theismann, the Redskins quarterback, stepped up to avoid an onrushing Carl Banks and right into the arms of Lawrence Taylor. As he fell to the turf, Theismann’s leg almost literally splintered.

Theismann had plans to come back for the 1986 season, but fifteen minutes into a planned one-hour preseason workout, it became apparent that would not happen. Corrective surgery made his right leg shorter than his left one, effectively robbing him of any mobility.

This story has an interesting footnote. Redskins teammate Dexter Manley, who was functionally illiterate and addicted to cocaine, said Theismann’s injury prompted him to get the help he needed to overcome his issues.

Honorable mention (or perhaps dishonorable mention) goes to Bears wideout Cameron Meredith (2017), Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (2017), and Los Angeles Raiders running back Napoleon McCallum (1994).

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