Toe Jam Football
By Geoff Schwartz
1) I think injuries are a player’s biggest fear. It’s the quickest way to the bench, and they often happen at the least convenient time. Injuries often create careers, giving young players a shot at playing time, but too often they end them. There are two types of football injuries. There’s being “hurt,” meaning you can still play despite being injured. If you play a full season, you’re going to be “hurt” at some point. Then there’s being truly injured, meaning you’re out for a long period of time. You don’t ever want to be truly injured.
2) I think injuries might be worse for the family than the player, at least initially. Consider what happened to me on Friday, Aug. 22. It’s the middle of the second quarter of a preseason game against the Jets, and I’m lying on the turf at MetLife Stadium. The training staff and team doctors are huddling around me, trying to push my right big toe back into its socket. All I’m thinking is, I need to let my family know I’m OK. I can’t imagine the anxiety my wife and my mom, both watching at home, are experiencing. Luckily, my dad is at the game, somewhere in the stands. So I secretly flash him a thumbs up. (He later told me that it gave him no relief). The doctors put me on a cart and escort me to get an X-Ray, and still all I can think about is how my family is reacting. I tell the trainer to text my wife to assure her I’m OK. Somehow my dad finds his way into the locker room, and that gives me relief. At least he knows it’s only a toe injury. I feel awful, though. He stands there as doctors jolt it back into place. It’s pretty gruesome; I couldn’t even watch.
3) I think I don’t remember the pain. That’s the question I’ve been asked the most. I’m sure it hurt. It had to. I remember feeling immense pressure in my toe, but that’s about it. I’ve seen video and photos of me lying on the ground, but all I was truly thinking about was my family. Maybe that helped me block out the pain—or maybe it was the fact that everything happened so fast. Between the injury, trainers rushing onto the field, getting on the cart, getting X-Rays, having trainers jam the toe back in, getting another X-Ray, going to the locker room, showering, taping the toe, getting into the boot, I was out of there by the fourth quarter.
4) I think I always told myself I would never get carted off the field, because I’m too tough for it. I’m a 6-foot-6, 340-pound offensive lineman, and offensive linemen don’t need carts. I’d be able to walk off the field unless something is broken. Well, I’m glad we had a cart, because I needed it. Walking or even hobbling was not a possibility. But I didn’t yell or scream, because I knew my teammates would get on me. Offensive linemen are always a unique group of guys. We are weird, and I love it. We have a great group of guys who work hard and enjoy being together in our meeting room. Ribbing each other about injuries is part of the gig. It’s never mean-spirited, but we take pride in playing through pain and practicing every day. This was in the back of my mind while I was down on the turf. If I screamed, I definitely would have heard about it the next day.
5) I think the realization about what actually happened took a few hours to sink in. As players, we assume we aren’t going to get hurt. And if we do, it’ll be minor. When I got injured, I was running on pure adrenaline. I was also consumed with having to answer worried texts and calls. By the time I got home, that’s when everything finally set in. The pain became real and I started thinking about what it means. I Googled the injury. Why not? I’m impatient and wanted to get a timetable on recovery. Plus, I’d never heard of a dislocated big toe. I didn’t like what I read, so I closed the computer. I figured I would just wait until the MRI the next day.
6) I think I got lucky only having the damage that I did. It should have been worse. After the initial MRI, I went to Charlotte to see Dr. Robert Anderson for a second opinion. There was a 50/50 chance I needed season-ending surgery. Before leaving for Charlotte, our training staff and doctors told me they believed I wouldn’t need it. That helped me remain optimistic, but sitting in the waiting room at OrthoCarolina was still nerve-wracking. What if I don’t get to play at all this season? What am I going to do? After being examined, the doctors confirmed what I wanted to hear. No surgery. I literally could feel the weight being lifted off my shoulders. They gave me a tentative timetable for rehab and before I knew it, I was heading back to New York to begin the process.
We have our first newborn at home, but my wife is basically taking care of two babies. She has to drive me around everywhere and help me do even the simplest activities.
7) I think using crutches is utterly frustrating and a tad embarrassing. Hobbling through the Charlotte airport with a backpack thrown over my shoulder brought me to a full sweat. I can’t do anything for myself because I need both hands to crutch. I’m a 28-year-old NFL athlete, and I’m reduced to this? We have our first newborn at home, but my wife is basically taking care of two babies. She has to drive me around everywhere and help me do even the simplest activities. I can’t get food without help, can’t take a shower, can’t do anything. It seriously bothered me for a while. I don’t know what I’d do without my wife, Meridith. She’s so wonderful, and always as a calming presence when I get upset. She’s the best.
8) I think I’m thankful for the short-term IR, which is relatively new in the NFL. It’s our equivalent of the DL in baseball. Six weeks on IR, then two weeks of practice, then active. If this weren’t an option, I’d most likely be out for the season. The timetable for my rehab is so fluid. Big men and big toes are sometimes tough to heal quickly, so this gives me plenty of time to get fully healthy before I get back on the field. I’m grateful for having such an excellent athletic training staff. They have been pushing me and keeping me positive. Rehab sometimes moves slower than I would hope, but they see lots of progress when I don’t. I appreciate their honesty. I know I will be ready to roll by Week 9. I will work my butt off to get back and exceed expectations. I fully trust the rehab process. I have extra time to lift and condition. I’ll come back stronger. No doubt.
9) I think being out feels isolating. I go to meetings, I learn, I study the opponent. But in the end, I’m not part of the game plan. I don’t feel part of the team. While my O-line buddies are working out at practice, I’m just lying in the training room. It’s rough, but it fuels me to get back out there. Soon enough. It was hard to watch Week 1 from my couch. When the schedule came out, I was pumped for opening weekend. I had never played in a Monday Night Football game. And playing on national TV in Giants’ blue? It doesn’t get much better. I didn’t know how I would feel before the game. I was pretty anxious, to be honest. I was excited for my teammates, but disappointed to not be out there.
10) I think writing was good therapy for me.