It happens almost every year. At some point an NFL star will suffer a major injury during a pre-season game or in training camp. The results are never good. The team usually suffers and rarely does the player return to his peak form.
The 2013 pre-season was no different. In fact, it was worse than usual. Eighteen players suffered season ending injuries before the first snap of the NFL season. The number would have been twenty had Percy Harvin and Michael Crabtree not been able to recover at an extraordinary rate.
This is why coaches and players hate the pre-season. It adds more wear and tear on their bodies and puts them at an unnecessary risk for injury. To these players, their health is their paycheck. If they are unable to play they are not making money. Coaches never want to see a leader of their team get hurt and that is even truer when the games do not even count.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the NFL extending the season from sixteen to eighteen games. If this is to happen, one thing that must be discussed is the length of the pre-season. Adding two more games to a season will undoubtedly shorten some players’ careers. One way to stop this from happening would be to decrease the number of games held during the pre-season.
10. Michael Crabtree — Torn Achilles (2013)
Following an appearance in Super Bowl XLII, 49ers’ wide receiver Michael Crabtree went down in training camp before the start of the 2013 season. Crabtree was one of the emerging star wide receivers in the NFL and definitely the focal point of the 49ers’ passing attack. His torn Achilles tendon caused him to miss most of the season. The team’s passing game suffered greatly without Crabtree. Once he returned, it improved slightly. Unfortunately, Crabtree was still recovering and could only be used in sporadic amounts. He will be back at full strength for the 2014 season.
9. Osi Umenyiora: Knee Injury (2008)
Osi Umenyiori suffered a major knee injury during a 2008 pre-season game against the New York Jets. The Giants’ two time Pro Bowl defensive end was a major contributor to the team’s 2007 Super Bowl season. While he was unable to play, Umenyiora took a job as analyst on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Despite losing the best pass rusher, the Giants started off the 2008 season very strong. Things collapsed later on when star wide receiver Plaxico Burress hurt himself in a self-inflicted shooting accident.
8. Jason Sehorn — Torn ACL And MCL (1998)
Jason Sehorn emerged as one of the best defensive backs in the NFL during the 1997 season. The Giants’ back was then forced to sit out for the majority of the next season after tearing his ACL and MCL in a 1998 pre-season game against the New York Jets. He did end up returning by the end of the season, but his speed was greatly diminished. After a couple more seasons with the team, the Giants released Sehorn and he was signed by the St. Louis Rams in 2003. He was only able to play one season with his new team. Prior to the 2004 season, Sehorn failed a physical and was forced to retire.
7. LeCharles Bentley — Knee Injury (2006)
LeCharles Bentley was one of the best centers in the NFL. He was a two-time Pro Bowler with the New Orleans Saints. Bentley left the Saints in 2005 and was signed by the Cleveland Browns. He was a huge Browns fan as a child and had always dreamed of playing for them. Unfortunately, he would never see the field as a Brown. During the first eleven on eleven team scrimmage in the 2006 training camp, Bentley suffered a season-ending knee injury. He was not cleared to practice until almost two year after the injury occurred. The Browns released him and he was not picked up by any other team. He officially announced his retirement in 2009.
6. Chris Spielman — Neck Injury (1999)
For those of you who do not know who Chris Spielman is you should think back to when the Detroit Lions were making the playoffs every year because of their great defense. Spielman was the leader of that defense that brought the team to the playoffs in four consecutive years. He went to four Pro Bowls in his eight years in Detroit and was the captain of the team’s defense. In 1999, he suffered a season-ending neck injury against the Cleveland Browns. He was never the same player after. The Lions were never the same team either.
5. Ki-Jana Carter — Torn Knee Ligament (1995)
Seeing a player suffer a major injury is never easy. It is even harder when it is a young player. In 1995, the Cincinnati Bengals selected running back Ki-Jana Carter with the first overall pick. On the third carry of his career, Carter tore a ligament in his knee. Carter was never able to recover and is considered one of the biggest busts in draft day history. He sat out the entire 1995 season. Then injury forced him to miss the 1997, 1998, and 1999 seasons. In 2001, he went to Washington and retired shortly after.
4. Bubba Smith — Head/Neck Injuries (1972)
Bubba Smith was the first overall selection in the 1967 draft. He was a key contributor to the Baltimore Colts defense and helped the team win Super Bowl V. At this time, the NFL used metal poles to mark the yards on the field. Smith ran into one of these poles in a 1972 pre-season game. He suffered a serious head and neck injury and was never able to return to the type of player he was. Smith finished his career with the Houston Oilers and then pursued an acting career.
3. Michael Vick — Broken Fibula (2003)
Following a Pro Bowl 2002 season which landed him on the cover of Madden NFL, Michael Vick broke his fibula in a 2003 pre-season matchup against the Baltimore Ravens. The Falcons quarterback missed eleven games that season. The team went from making the playoffs to a 5-11 record that season. Following an eleven game losing streak, the Falcons front office terminated head coach Dan Reeves. Reeves was replaced by interim head coach Wade Philips. In 2004, Vick was back and able to lead the team to the playoffs once again.
2. Darryl Stingley — Spinal Cord Injury (1977)
Darryl Stingley was one of the best young wide receiver in the NFL in the late 1970s. Prior to a pre-season matchup against the Oakland Raiders, the Patriots and Stingley came to an agreement on a contract extension that would make him one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the league. The contract was to be drawn up while the team was in Oakland and signed the following Monday. During that pre-season game, Stingley was crushed by Raiders’ defensive back Jack Tatum. Stingley’s spinal cord compressed and he was sent to the hospital. None of his teammates came to visit. His sole visitor was Raiders’ head coach John Madden. Madden went to extend his sympathies and when he noticed none of the Patriots were showing up he called the team’s coach to scold him. The team had left. Madden was so torn by this he ended up staying the entire night by Stingley’s bedside. The Raiders’ coach and the paralyzed wide receiver started a life-long friendship that evening. The contract extension was never signed. Stingley passed away on April 5th, 2007.
1. Stone Johnson — Fractured Vertebrae (1963)
Stone Johnson was an Olympic sprinter who was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1963 to be a kick return specialist. He fractured his neck during a pre-season game against the Houston Oilers. Johnson was unresponsive and sent to the hospital. He was paralyzed from the neck down. Eight days later he died in that hospital room. He was 23 at the time. The Chiefs retired his number 33 jersey.