Monday, September 25, 2006

You Don't Need a Spleen to Play

But you do need a heart to live.. Wow after a weekend of watching sports this weekend and some great games, gutsy performances and bad injuries. Like any red-blooded American man, I went out on Sunday to watch some NFL football games. Only watched the end of 2nd half of the early games, but there were some great finishes. Watching the Bucs vs Panthers game, I saw Chris Simms run in a touchdown and take a massive hit, and said to myself wow that kid got some guts, he learned well from his dad. Then later in the 4th quarter he was being pounded like a rag doll. Later we would learn he played for some of the game with a ruptured spleen and after the game had emergency operation to take it out. He will most likely be gone from this whole season, and with the Bucs 0-3 no point in him rushing back. The kid has heart for playing the rest of the game in obvious pain, and I hope a full recovery for him, as he is playing on a 1yr 2.1 million dollar contract and was going to be an unrestricted free agent next year waiting for the big payday. Thankfully its not an arm injury so if Drew Brees could get a mega-contract coming off a shoulder injury, Chris Simms should be able to set himself financially for life this off-season. One of the possible side effects of not having a spleen I read was possible Erectile Dysfunction, so glad to read his wife gave birth to their daughter this past off season..

The other world class athlete I know to have his spleen removed was Peter Forsberg who in the 2001 playoffs had it taken out after Game 7 of a series. He missed the whole next regular season but returned for the 2002 playoffs and led all players in scoring, and the following full season had his 2nd best season in his career. So for world class athletes is seems losing a spleen does not end a career.

It reminded me of one of my favorite cartoon moments from a simpsons episode over 10 years ago, as I was in college when watching it. In fact now looking it up, its from Season 4 of the Simpsons, the Episode titled "I Love Lisa". Simpsons 4th Season DVDDuring the cartoon Itchy & Scratchy that is within the Simpsons, it was a valentines day episode where Itchy gives Scratchy his own heart as a valentine. Scratchy learns later he needs a heart to live, and dies before he can reach it. Well any athelete who plays a game or career after losing a major body organ deserves props. Check out the clip of Scratchy's ultimate demise. Warning might not be for kids, but then what the hell kids should be reading this blog anyway??

Also in baseball this weekend, Nick Johnson of the Washington Nationals had a horrible outfield collision with his teammate and broke his Femur in his leg, I hope Nick can come back from this injury, but in todays age of mega-contracts that 3yr, 16.5million dollar deal he signed in spring training is looking really good right now. I Hope the Nationals have not missed an insurance payment on that contract, or else OUCH.. These 2 injuries had me thinking what are the most memorable performances in sports for a player after sufferring a horrible injury, either playing in that game or later in their career. While I am not a list person, i'll leave that to buddies like PaulKatcher who writes some amazing lists for his blog, among my favs are What Your Yankees Jersey says about you I am here writing my first list, not even sure what to call it

Top 10 Gutsy Performances by Sports Athletes

10. Kirk Gibson. Game 1, 1988 World Series. Yes the home run was legendary and will be replayed forever. Yes it was off Dennis Eckersley.. Yes it was his only At-bat of the series.. But it was GAME 1 of the series and also I dont think it was ever revealed what his injury was. He has soem pain in his leg and a bum knee, he had been diving all around the field during the earlier series vs the Mets but what was the injury?? True he was gimpy around the bases, but in baseball you swing with the BAT, only players like Rickey Henderson use their legs to win games.

9. Willis Reed. Game 7, 1970 NBA Finals. Ok even in NY lore this moment of the captain coming out of the lockeroom all gimpy can bring tears to grown men's eyes. I wasnt alive in 1970, so I have no memory of it and my dad was probably playing a concert somewhere that day, and not watching the game so I have no reference point from him. True Reed won the MVP of the tournament, true the Knicks won the NBA championship that season(probably the only one they will win for a while, lets see how long before Isiah is fired), but lets remember folks Reed scored the first 4 points of the game and that is IT. Nothing else after those first 2 basekets. True it was a huge lift for his team, but it was Walt "Clyde" Frazier who led the team that game with 36 points and 19 assists.

8. Clint Malarchuk. March 22, 1989. Just a regular hockey game, but anyone who has seen the video clip(search on youtube i am not going to post here and be responsible for people losing their lunch) with a puddle of blood on the ice after a skate blade from a player accidently cut his Juglar Vein. He would return to play 3 more seasons and have a .500 record, which for a career .500 goalie beforehand meant he was always an average goalie his whole career.

7. Ronnie Lott. 1986 Off-season. One of the hardest hitting football players ever, had many injuries over his career. After multiple injuries to his left pinkie finger and the bone refusing to heal, he opted to have the tip of his pinkie cut off DURING THE OFF-SEASON to prevent any further injury. Now the legend of this story has grown to the point, where people think he came out of the game for a play, went over grabbed a chain saw, hacked the finger off, taped it up and went back out and tackled some players. Not the case at all. Still yet he would go on and play many more seasons, and today if you meet him and shake his hand, part of the man's pinkie is gone.. Still doesnt compare to that rock-climber who cut off his whole damn arm cause it was trapped under a rock, so he could free himself and get to safety..

6. Alex Zanardi. F1 Race Car Driver, Sept 2001. On the weekend after the 9/11 attack when almost all sports around the globe were canceled, there was a F1 race in Germany. During this race a horrific crash happened, where Zanardi was T-boned at 200 mph by another car. His car shattered in half, his body cut in half and he lost something crazy like 70% of his blood. He was given last rites on the track, and rushed by helicopter to a hospital. Somehow they managed to save his life, but not his lefs. Both legs were amputated above the knee, but yet this man continued to have a positive spirit. In one of the best interviews Bryant Gumble has ever done for Real Sports, he visits Zanardi as his zest for life is shown and is amazing. Zanardi drives his boat, swims, plays with his kid and yes even DRIVES. In would later have special legs fitted, special brake/gas controls on his race car and in 2005 he won a race in the European Tour Car Series, more than U or I would be able to do with both our legs. Yes he wrote a book and its pretty damn inspiring. Alex Zanardi

5. Shun Fujimoto. 1976 Summer Olympics. Who?? This male gymnist on the Japan olympic team at the '76 games in Montreal broke his kneecap during the floor excerise. With his team in a virtual tie with the Russians, he went on to compete in the Rings event and on a triple somersault dismount, maintaining perfect posture he earned a 9.7 and the Japan team went on to win gold. During that dismount, he further injured his leg, and years later asked by ESPN if he would do it again, his answer "No, I would not!"

4. Jack Youngblood. 1979 NFL Playoffs. Argubly one of the toughest SOBs to ever line up on defense, this NFL hall of Famer, played in 201 straight games, only missing 1 game in his 14 year career. So would a broken Fibula in his leg keep him out of the whole 1979-80 Playoffs, HELL NO. He played all the games, including the superbowl with a fractured left fibula. Sadly the Rams didnt win the game, he never won a superbowl. While I am not sure how well he is walking today after 14 years in the NFL, you would hope with that courage he would at least have a superbowl ring to attest for his gutsy performance during those playoffs

3. Donovan McNabb. 2002 NFL Week 11. The Eagles were as they always seem to be late in the season thinking SuperBowl before injury diaster sets in. On like the 3rd play of this game, McNabb goes down hard. Test show a sprained ankle and he comes back in the game with it taped up and goes on to throw for 4 TD passes, 250yards, and goes 20 for 25. After the game x-rays reveal a broken ankle that sidelines him for 6 weeks, he comes back for the playoffs but the Eagles cant get it done and lose before making the superbowl. Ahhh despite the pain I'm sure Donovan longs for these easy days, the days before a certain Rush "oxycoton" Limbaugh and T.O came into his life. As brave as his performance was, I am sure while on the table for his operation, he was thinking it was a good thing he signed that 12yr, 115million dollar contract before the 2002 season, and hoping his 13.5million signing bonus check had cleared. His career might have been in jeopardy, but financially he was set.. this makes the last 2 performances on this list even more amazing

2. Byron Leftwich, Marshall University 2002 MAC championship game. In his last game of his college career at Marshall University, Leftwich was trying to lead his team to the MAC championship. He helped his team win 49-45 with a last minute 40TD pass. Now what makes this performance so damn incredible was the fact he played with a broken leg for most of the 2nd half of this game. At some points, he had to have is offensive line carry him down the field. Leftwich would later say, "my leg was broke, my arm was fine.." As a college player making ZERO dollars(at least legally), the fact he would continue to play and possibly jeopardize a future NFL Career is pure guts, pure love of the game, love of his team and school colors. His guts paid off, making him the Number 7 pick in the NFL Draft the following year and signed a nice little 7yr, 30million(or so) contract.

1. Bob Baun. 1964 NHL Stanley Cup Finals. The most coveted trophy in sports, players say they will do anything to win it, play with any injury. Well Mr. Baun showed everyone just how tough hockey players are. After breaking his ankle in the 3rd period of Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals, he would i guess tape it up, shoot it up or whatever and come out and play in the overtime. He scored the game winning OT goal. While I have never seen video of this, so I dont know if it was a Jagresque end to end rush, or just an Esposito like tap in fron of the net. Still he won the game, kept Toronto alive in the series. He would go on to play in Game 7, and the Toronto Maple Leafs won the cup and his name will forever be inscribed on the best trophy in all of team sports. Why a guy would play with a broken ankle, well rememebr in 1964, before the age of guaranteed contracts, many players had off-season jobs to put food on the plate. These guys at these times were playing for their future a spot on the roster next year. Unlike in modern times, when Scottie Pippen can have a migrane and not want to play in a game, or Carl Pavano can in one year deal with injuries to his shoulder, back, buttocks, elbow and ribs.. oh and being a horrible driver. But then I guess Pavano wanted to be known for something other than giving up McGwire's 70th home run ball, stealing $10 million from George Stienbrenner this year and most importantly banging Alyssa Milano

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