Unfortunately, I bore witness to far too many injuries that still make my stomach churn. In fact, football is the only profession with a hundred percent injury rate, and I witnessed my fair share. The Cowboys' defensive tackle, John Dutton, was a warrior I passed coming off the field during one of my first games in the league when I froze in my tracks, noticing something askew. His eye was literally hanging out of the socket.
It was horrifying to watch as he lost his equilibrium and staggered toward the sideline. He screamed for help and grabbed for his eye. He knew, based on our reaction, that his injury was truly horrifying. John did not lose his sight that day, which was nothing short of a miracle. I, on the other hand, nearly lost my lunch.
And then there was Steve “Smitty” Smith, the Raiders beloved fullback from Penn State, who trotted off the field holding his hand like a newborn. When he opened his cradled paw, I almost threw up. He was out catching balls, and between the tight spiral and the velocity at which it was thrown, the ball split the middle and ring fingers apart. It exposed over an inch of bone and raw meat. He covered it back up and reappeared from the training room about fifteen minutes later for practice with a club hand. That man was tough.
This was soon followed by a game in New Orleans when we all heard a loud snap within the interior line. Charlie Hannah, one of our Raiders guards, screamed and attempted to get up when a couple of teammates, as well as our opponents, held him down, given the severity of his injury. His shin literally snapped. His foot was now positioned next to his knee, pointing outward like a discarded toy. It was more akin to a war injury than something you should see in a football game. Not surprisingly, it was a career-ending injury. It was tough to see guys in their prime taken out at the knees and never to return. It may sound insane, but many would do it all over again to play in the NFL as long as they did.