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Injury epidemic demands deeper look


You can't say the NFL has ignored the danger football poses to the human knee. The league has taken major steps toward reducing its number of knee injuries, with rules changes that prohibit chop-blocking and blocking below the waist. However, the beat goes on, and the drum continues to sound hardest for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Major knee injuries have claimed the careers of some of the greatest players in NFL history, and usually in the primes of their careers. They are players such as Gale Sayers and Curt Warner.

How much longer and more productive would Joe Namath's career have been had he been able to escape major knee injury? Did you watch Dan Marino in his final game last January, as he was barely able to limp off the Alltel Stadium turf?

For years, we blamed knee injuries, especially those of the dreaded ACL variety, on artificial turf. Maybe it made us feel good that we could blame something we really didn't want. Yeah, give us real grass and everything will be fine.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Consider these statistics:

Unofficial research reveals that in the Jaguars' five-and-a-half seasons of football, they've suffered a minimum of 18 ACL tears. Other types of knee injuries would drive the list beyond sensible reporting, so let's just stick to the ACLs, the most major of knee injuries.

Of the 18 ACL tears, all but three occurred on grass. Running back Tavian Banks blew out every ligament in his knee when he was scissored on the sideline in the Georgia Dome last season, linebacker Erik Storz tore his ACL in Cincinnati last season, and linebacker James Hamilton blew out his ACL in Pittsburgh in 1998.

This season, offensive tackle Zach Wiegert's and tight end Damon Jones' seasons have been claimed by ACL tears, and both occurred on grass. Wiegert tore his ACL without being touched, in this past Sunday's loss to the Redskins.

Last year, offensive tackle Tony Boselli blew out his ACL at Alltel Stadium without any contact, and defensive end Eric Curry's season was ended on the Giants Stadium grass field.

In '98, running back James Stewart, quarterback Jamie Martin and special-teamer Tawambi Settle were lost in games in Alltel Stadium, while tight end Rich Griffith was injured in Denver.

Three seasons ago, linebacker Tom McManus went down on Tampa's grass practice field during a training camp practice with the Bucs, running back Chris Parker tore his ACL in Baltimore, and defensive tackles Kelvin Pritchett and Don Davey went down in Jacksonville; Pritchett on the practice field and Davey in a game.

In '96, linebacker Bryan Schwartz tore his ACL on New England's rutty surface, and in the Jaguars' inaugural season, cornerback Al Jackson blew out his ACL in practice and Monty Grow tore his in a game at Alltel.

When this season is over, the Jaguars must get into some hard research on ACL injuries. Clearly, artificial turf is not the cause. It's time to look deeper, because injuries are killing this team, and major knee injuries are leading the way.

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