What do Joe Theisman, Clint Malarchuk, Geoff Jenkins and Jason Pierre-Paul have in common? I’ll give you a hint; they were all injured… but in very different ways. Three of them took hits on the field, but one was injured at home.
‘Twas the Fourth of July weekend, when Pierre-Paul blew off his thumb in a firework accident. C’mon, son!
While we didn’t get to see this freak accident, TV cameras at games for the past century have given us access to horrific injuries across all sports. Remember the bull horn going through Juan José Padilla’s face? Or Richard Zednik taking a skate blade to the neck in 2008?
Watching our fave athletes get injured is never fun, because some of those injuries are so severe, that they are sidelined for an entire season. Some of them never make it back to the game; others still don’t even leave the field alive.
So when an athlete rebounds from injury, fans cheer; we applaud their grit and determination. But these 15 went beyond simply bouncing back from injury; upon returning, they reached amazing achievements despite the ghastly accidents.
We salute the determination and drive that propels these 15 athletes.
15. Bobby Baun
Considered one of the hardest and cleanest hitters of his time, Baun helped the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup four times. But it was his performance in game six of the 1963–64 Stanley Cup finals that many remember. Just before overtime, Baun’s ankle was broken when a shot struck him. The hardy defenceman returned in overtime and scored the game-winning goal. The Maple Leafs went on to win the Stanley Cup that year.
14. Jessica Dubé
A champion figure skater, Dubé excelled in both the singles and in pairs skating. But her career almost came to an end when she was struck in the face by a skate blade in 2007. During a spinning routine, her partner, Bryce Davison, drifted into her path and his skate blade cut her left cheek and nose. Dubé needed 83 stitches to fix the damage.
Two years later, during another routine, Davison dropped her during a tripe twist lift. Dubé hit her head as she crashed to the ice. Unfazed by the accidents, Dubé won the gold and silver at the Canadian nationals in 2010 and 2012. She also represented Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics with Davison.
13. Matthew Stafford
Stafford is no stranger to the injuries that come with being a QB. He’s suffered from a knee injury (rookie season), shoulder dislocation (twice), quad injury and many more, but Stafford always gets back in the game.
He showed what he was made of during one of the final games of his rookie season in the NFL. Following a tackle by Cleveland Browns defensive end C.J Mosley, Stafford landed on his shoulder. This resulted in a shoulder separation and he was taken off the field.
At the beginning of the next play, he got right back in the game and threw the game-winning touchdown! The record for completions through 50 games? The most passing yards through 50 games? These and more are some of the records Stafford has set since returning from injury.
12. Marc Staal
In a March 2013 game, New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal took a slap shot straight in the right eye. Staal wasn’t wearing a visor and the projectile caused a retinal tear and an orbital fracture. Staal was ruled out for the rest of the 2012-13 season.
He attempted to return to the game for playoffs, but he couldn’t play with the restricted vision that the injury had caused. By the time he returned for the 2013-2014 season, the NHL had made visors mandatory for players entering the league. With Staal back on the team, the Rangers reached their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years.
11. Buster Posey
By the time he was named National League Rookie of the Year, Posey had a .305 batting average, 18 home runs and 67 runs batted in. Catching every inning of the 2010 World Series, it seemed like 2011 was going to be even better for the rookie.
But in a May 2011 game, Posey and Florida’s Scott Cousins collided on the home plate. Posey ended up with three torn ligaments in his ankle and a broken fibula. With two screws inserted in his leg, he missed the rest of the season.
On his return in 2012, Posey posted a .336 batting average to win the 2012 NL batting title. He also won the 2012 NL MVP Award and World Series title that year. In 2013, he signed an 8-year contract extension. With Posey, the Giants won the World Series in 2013 and 2014.
10. Nicklas Lidstrom
In Game Three of the 2009 Western Conference Finals, the Red Wings captain experienced a serious wince-inducing injury. Lidstrom’s testicle was ‘speared’ by the sharp edge of Blackhawk Patrick Sharp’s stick.
The Swede shrugged it off and continued playing! He even turned up for practice the next day. But three days in, the pain was so much that he had to have surgery. Doctors were initially unsure if they could save the testicle, but they did and he was back on the ice within a week.
In 2010, at 40 years and 210 days, Lidstrom became the oldest player ever to score a hat-trick – a nice little achievement for the 4-time Stanley Cup champion.
9. Allan Ray
Torn ACLs, ankle sprains, even broken bones are a few of the common basketball injuries. But Villanova’s Allan Ray upped the freaky injury ante. In a 2006 Big East tournament game, Ray was poked in the eye by Carl Krauser. The ‘poke’ caused his eye to come loose in its socket and leave it ‘dangling’ on his face.
Ray was temporarily blinded, but after receiving treatment, he was back on the court within a week. Upon his return, he led his team in scoring in their first NCAA tournament game.
8. Tommy John
The constant winding up and release of a baseball puts many pitchers at risk of rupturing their ulnar collateral ligament. Found in the elbow, this ligament gets snapped A LOT by throwing athletes.
In the middle of an excellent season in 1974, former MLB pitcher Tommy John damaged the UCL in his pitching arm. Facing the prospect of never playing again, he underwent a revolutionary surgical procedure. In what is now known as the Tommy John surgery, surgeons replace a damaged UCL with a tendon from another part of the body.
John went on to have over 120+ career victories after the surgery, including being named as one of the top 10 left-handed pitchers of all time.
7. Börje Salming
In some circles, Salming is referred to as ‘the high priest of the facial cut.’ Others simply call him ‘The King,’ but earning these titles didn’t come cheap. Salming picked up some truly ghastly injuries during his career.
One particularly gruesome one was when he was knocked over during a game against the Detroit Red Wings in 1986. Right behind him was Red Wings left winger Gerard Gallant, who skated right across Salming’s face, slicing it with his skate blade. It cut up his face in what many consider a career-ending, even life-altering injury. Salming required 200 stitches to reconstruct his face.
His scars didn’t stop him as he went on to have a long, award-filled career, and was named the first Swedish Hall of Famer ever.
6. Drew Brees
An injury to a QB’s throwing arm usually spells disaster for their career. In 2005, San Diego Charger Brees was trying to recover a fumble in a 2005 game, when he was body-checked by Broncos safety John Lynch. While on the ground, Brees was hit again by Broncos tackle Gerard Warren.
Brees suffered a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder and was out of the game for the rest of the season. After undergoing arthroscopic surgery, Brees was released by the Chargers in 2006. Since joining the New Orleans Saints in 2006, he has tied a team record with 28 touchdowns, become a chart-topper in touchdowns and even won the Super Bowl with the Saints in 2010.
5. Terry Sawchuk
From childhood where a rugby injury led to his right arm developing to be half a foot shorter than his left, Sawchuk always rolled with the punches. He carried this attitude into his job as a goaltender for 21 seasons.
Sawchuk played most games racked in pain, everything from elbow problems, appendicitis, a collapsed lung to a permanent ache in the back. This constant world of hurt didn’t stop Sawchuk from playing so well that he was named the World’s Greatest Goalie, recording shutouts in around a third of the 501 games he won. #legend
4. Kurt Angle
During the 1996 Olympic Trials, Kurt Angle suffered suffered a severe neck injury. He had managed to fracture two vertebrae, herniated two discs and pulled four muscles. Nonetheless, Angle stuck with the trials and won, thanks to several pain-reducing injections in his neck.
With trials over, Angle spent the next five months in rehab. At the 1996 Olympics, Angle competed in the heavyweight class, where he won gold, despite his injury. As if that wasn’t enough, he went on to become of one the greatest WWE superstars of his generation, winning multiple world titles along the way.
3. Shun Fujimoto
With the Japanese men’s gymnastics team winning gold at every Olympics from 1960 to 1972, the 1976 contingent knew they just had to get a fifth gold. But it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. During the opening floor exercises, gymnast Fujimoto fell and broke his kneecap. He knew if he complained to the coaches, he’d be withdrawn from competition. Knowing this would affect team morale, he kept mum about it.
Moving on to the next event, the pommel horse, he scored 9.5 out of 10. The rings were next and the prospect of dismounting from eight feet in the air, to land on a broken knee worried him. But only briefly; Fujimoto put up a brilliant performance on the rings, scoring 9.7 out of 10.
With the routine over, he collapsed as the broken kneecap had now also been dislocated. Inspired by his sacrifice, the team went on to win gold that year.
2. Niki Lauda
When Niki Lauda’s Ferrari lost grip and crashed at the 1976 German Grand Prix, nobody thought he would make it out alive. The face-melting flames, Lauda’s inhalation of toxic fumes and the amount of time it took for help to arrive, all seemed to spell doom for the driver.
By the time he was airlifted to the hospital, he had suffered severe burns and scarring. The accident cost him most of the hair on the right side of his head, his eyebrows, eyelids and part of his ear. Despite all this, Lauda chose not to have any reconstructive surgery done.
That wasn’t the only shocker as 39 days after the accident, Lauda was back behind the wheel. Still bandaged, he took part in and came fourth at the 1976 Italian Grand Prix.
1. Ronnie Lott
The All-American defensive back played 10 seasons with the 49ers before moving another 14 years within the NFL. That’s a lot of blocks, tackles and broke bones, but Lott was passionate about the game.
So passionate that in 1985, after breaking his left pinkie, again, he opted to have it amputated. There was the option of having a bone graft but it wouldn’t heal in time for the 1986 season. So Lott did the “next best thing”: the man willingly had a body part chopped off so he could play the game.
If that’s not dedication, we don’t know what is.
Among other awards, Lott was part of the 49ers team that won Super Bowl XXIV. So maybe it did work.