NFL: A Real Pain for Players
Mondays were never fun in the NFL at any point, but it’s probably never been this bad. When Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik played both center and linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles in their 1960 championship season, Monday was manageable. “I didn’t have a problem at all, really,” Bednarik said. “I ached a little. These guys today, I call them pussycats. I don’t see how they complain about being sore or stiff. Take Deion Sanders. He considers himself a two-way player, and he couldn’t tackle my wife.”
But when Bednarik played, he weighed 220 pounds. Today, Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 264. Ravens running back Jamal Lewis is 5-foot-11 and weighs 245 pounds. When Jack Hamm played linebacker for the Steelers in 1979, he weighed 225 pounds.
Medicine is modern, weight training and dieting more scientific, but a football player’s body is not necessarily conditioned to recover from Sunday’s violent NFL game. Toward the end of a season players are “deconditioned,” says Dr. Rob Huizenga He was the Raiders’ team internist from 1983-90 and authored the controversial book “You’re OK, it’s Just a Bruise”, which was the basis for the film “Any Given Sunday.” “On Monday, players come in for a light workout, Tuesday is an off day. Wednesday and Thursday you do some practicing, Friday and Saturday are off days,” he said. “The game is the fitness trials, and the body isn’t accustomed to it. No football player is fit to run a mile. They are good at interval training. If you haven’t trained like that, though, and then go crazy on Sunday, it’s a very difficult thing for the body.”
When Monday comes, there is only so much a player can do. Maybe it’s a 30-minute jog, a light workout, stretching, a rubdown, some time in the Jacuzzi to force lactic acid out of the muscles. Although it’s uncommon, some players use acupuncture. Then, of course, there are the other forms of help. “Narcotics are abused in the NFL, but no one knows the extent,” Huizenga said. “In the general public, if you came to me as a patient and had the level of pain these guys have, we would be happy to give you Vicodin or some other pain medicine. It’s a vocational thing, and they need it to get through work. Players don’t take it to get high, they take it to work.”
The sheer brutality of big-time football is amazing. Players are now much stronger, heavier, and faster than they were when I began watching the NFL in the mid-1970s. Even though sports medicine has also improved tremendously, we haven’t done much to improve ligaments, tendons, and bones.
Update (1711): In light of this post, Green Bay Packers QB Brett Favre, who last night started his 200th consecutive game, is even more remarkable. See Sean Hackbarth for more.