The Chiefs star’s season ended in Week 5 when he tore the ACL in his right knee. Charles on his rehab, his status for 2016, what it’s been like to watch his team’s hot streak, and passing the time with video games
The Kansas City Chiefs are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now, rattling off six straight wins to vault into great position for an AFC wild-card spot. Perhaps most surprising about their resurgence after a 1-5 start is that they’ve done it without Jamaal Charles, the centerpiece of their offense. Charles tore the ACL in his right knee during a Week 5 loss to Chicago, the second season-ending knee injury of his eight-year NFL career. James Andrews performed Charles’ surgery in Pensacola, Fla., and the running back, who will be 29 at the end of the month, has begun the months-long rehab process to return to the field. That’s left him a little extra time to play video games—last weekend, he was at the PlayStation Experience Show in San Francisco, trying out the new Sparrow Racing League feature of the popular game Destiny—and a lot of time to reflect. Charles talked to The MMQB about how he plans to make up for lost time when he gets back on the football field.
VRENTAS: Since your injury, have you spent most of your time in Kansas City?
CHARLES: I’ve been in Kansas City and in Florida. I just had a small procedure done on the knee a few days ago, but I have been back at the facility rehabbing with the trainers and some of my teammates who are also on injured reserve.
VRENTAS: What was the recent procedure you had done?
CHARLES: Stem cells. I had it the first time when I had my surgery, and I had to go back after six weeks for another treatment. It went well.
VRENTAS: Stem-cell treatment has become increasingly popular for NFL players trying to enhance healing from injuries and speed up recovery times. Why did you decide to try it?
CHARLES: It’s something different. Every year, somebody comes out with something different. When I tore my left ACL 4 years ago, I didn’t do it. This is a new thing that came out to get you back faster, so I just tried it.
VRENTAS: What do you remember about the play when the injury happened?
CHARLES: I really don’t remember too much. It just happened. I tore my ACL one time, and I tore it again. I can’t do Inspector Gadget on what happened. You don’t have any clue. The only person who knows is the man above me. I can’t go back and see why, it’s something that is just part of sports.
VRENTAS: How has your rehab been going?
CHARLES: It’s going pretty good. I’m going on seven weeks, and I’m walking around pretty good with no crutches and everything. I’ve taken that step, and so the next step is trying to jog.
VRENTAS: Has the first experience of tearing your ACL in 2011 helped you the second time around?
CHARLES: The first rehab, I didn’t know what to expect, and I went through a lot of pain. The second time, I knew what to expect. I was in good spirits. And I was excited about just being alive and getting an opportunity to still have a chance to play football. The first time I did it, I just hated everybody. I didn’t know why; I was asking God, why this, why that? He’s going to tell me why he did it later on, but right now, I’m still breathing. It’s not over; I still can come back next year. Don't give up.
VRENTAS: Do you think you will be ready for the start of the 2016 season?
CHARLES: I’ll be ready.
VRENTAS: Your first ACL injury didn’t impact how you play. You returned the next season and rushed for 1,509 yards. Are you confident you’ll come back the same player after your second knee surgery?
CHARLES: That’s what my goal is, to come back harder. I’ve got time off on my body now, and I get to build both of my legs to be stronger and get my upper body stronger. I want to come back and be one of the top running backs in the NFL, the leader in rushing and help my team win a Super Bowl. That’s my goal for next year, I’m just waiting my time, I just want one more shot, and I can show everybody what I can do.
VRENTAS: What do you mean by one more shot?
CHARLES: I’ve got all this time on my hands, and I was just thinking about, I’ll do anything just to get one more shot. That’s my motivation. I just want one more shot to show everybody what I can do to. To step on the field, to go to practice and give my hardest. Everybody always gets one more shot. It doesn’t matter if you’re going through hard times, good times or bad times, or if you’ve been to jail. Most people get out, and you get that one more shot. I’m injured, and I’m down right now, so I can come back and get that one more shot.
VRENTAS: You’re turning 29 later this month. What do you have left to accomplish in your career?
CHARLES: Win a Super Bowl, and be in the Hall of Fame.
VRENTAS: Since you’ve been out, running backs Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware have performed well. What do you think of the way they’ve played?
CHARLES: They are doing an amazing job. They are making it look so easy. I wish I was out there playing with them. But I’m just happy for those guys. Their opportunity has come, and you have to take advantage of the opportunity when it comes.
VRENTAS: West, in particular, said you’ve been a mentor to him. What advice have you given him?
CHARLES: I tried to help Charcandrick out to be special. He’s a young guy, and I want him to be successful. I’m not a hateful person, I’m a loving person, so why not help this man out to help my team win? I’ll try to do everything I can. If it wasn’t Charcandrick, it would be someone else. I’d do the same thing. I try to help most people. I just want everybody to be successful.
VRENTAS: What do you think of the Chiefs’ hot streak?
CHARLES: I’m happy for them. I’m happy for what they are accomplishing right now. I hope they continue to build their winning streak. They’ve got all the keys to get to the playoffs: A good coach, a good defense, a good team. I like their chances.
VRENTAS: By the same token, though, how hard is it to watch your team play and not be able to be out there with them?
CHARLES: It’s tough to watch anybody when you are not playing, but I’m just wishing them the best. I’m supporting them. I’m on their side. I’m not worried about what I’m missing. I’m going to get right, that’s the motivation to me.
VRENTAS: Are you a big video gamer?
CHARLES: Right now, with my rehab going, I have nothing but time on my hands. I’m spending time with my family, and I have a lot of time to play Destiny. It’s also a way I can connect with my teammates, some of the other guys who are hurt with me. Sometimes we play against each other online.
VRENTAS: Video games have a little bit of a bad rap in the NFL right now, after Cris Collinsworth said on Sunday Night Football that Aaron Rodgers held a players-only meeting to get some of the young guys to play less video games and study the playbook more.
CHARLES: You don’t play games when you are at the facility, but when we go home, that’s when we can play games. When you install the plays (in the gameplan), you’ve been doing those plays for probably 10 weeks, so the only thing you can do basically is go on the field and practice that play. You already installed it the first time, so it’s in your head a million times. You should already know what to do when you are going over the same old plays.
VRENTAS: This offseason, you gave a touching speech at the opening ceremony for the Special Olympics, about how competing in the program after you were diagnosed with a learning disability gave you the confidence to discover talents you didn’t know you had. How much do you still hear from people about that speech?
CHARLES: I got a lot of feedback from that. I want to win the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award one year for the Special Olympics, to be able to shine a light on them. They deserve that. I want to give back to the Special Olympics as much as they gave me a chance to share my story with the world. That was exciting for me.