Professional football players are hailed as the heroes of the gridiron as leagues of fans across the country watch their every move with adoration. However, these heroes are indeed mere mortals when they suffer from injuries that bring their seasons to an abrupt halt or end their professional athletic aspirations altogether.
Just as players’ dazzling plays and feats of football strength go down in the annals of athletic history, so do the moments that witness these gridiron masters submit to their physical weaknesses. As fans gear up for another season of football frenzy, they may also recall these NFL professionals whose careers were marred by intense injuries and famous career-ending moments.
Players with Leg, Ankle, or Feet Injuries
Given the intensity of the kicking and running required by this sport, it is little wonder that football players often suffer from injuries to their legs, ankles, and feet. Some of the more notable players who either had to take a break from playing or were forced to end their careers entirely because of damage to this part of their bodies include:
- Charles Gordon – A punter for the Minnesota Vikings, Gordon suffered a grotesque ankle break after turning his ankle at a 90-degree turn during a game. He had to be carted off the field because he was unable to walk on his own accord.
- Joe Theismann – This Washington Redskins veteran player broke his leg so severely in 1985 after being stopped by two linebackers on the opposing team that he never regained his career. He played 11 years in the NFL before suffering this career-ending fracture.
- Daunte Culpepper – Miami Dolphins rookie was much celebrated in 2004 during his breakout year in the NFL. By 2005, however, he had blown out his knee and soon ended his career entirely, with only 24 more games to his credit after suffering that injury.
Players with Hand and Arm Injuries
Despite wearing protective gloves and padding, football players still deal with injuries to their arms and hands. These players were forced to halt their seasons when they suffered damage to this part of their bodies:
- Danny Amendola – In 2011, Amendola was in the middle of a play when he fell and bent his arm in an unnatural and horrific direction. His arm injury cost him 15 games that season.
- Junior Seau – Seau was a household name in 2006 when he broke his arm during a game. He had to miss the rest of the season to recover and regain strength in his arm.
- Ronnie Lott – This 49ers safety is a bit of an urban legend when it comes to NFL injuries. He broke his finger so badly in a 1985 game that he reportedly opted to have it amputated than deal with the damage. The story of Lott’s finger break and amputation has gained a life of its own since that day.
Players with Head, Neck and Spinal Column Injuries
The seriousness of NFL injuries takes on a whole new level when players suffer damage to their heads, necks and spinal columns. Athletes have lost not only their careers, but also their ability to move and in some cases, their lives from these injuries. Some of the athletes who were afflicted by head, neck and spinal column injuries include:
- Sterling Sharpe – In 1994, Green Bay Packers team member Sharpe took a hit during a game and suffered a career-ending neck injury. Before his injury, he was an NFL Hall of Famer who was deemed virtually unstoppable.
- Darryl Stingley – The Patriots’ Stingley collided with Jack Tatum of the Raiders in 1978. He was left with two broken vertebrae and a compressed spinal cord. Doctors diagnosed him as being paralyzed from the chest down. He died in 2007 from complications from his injuries.
- Mike Utley – Like Stingley, Utley also broke two vertebrae, his sixth and seventh in his spinal column, and was left paralyzed from the chest down. He famously gave his fans a thumbs-up as he was taken off the field after being injured.
- Kevin Everett – Buffalo Bills’ rookie Everett was injured in a game less than one season into the first year of play. His neck injury caused him to go through extensive rehabilitation to learn how to walk again. Nonetheless, his NFL career was ended with less than one game to his credit. He was never able to return to competitively play again for the NFL after being injured.
NFL players often look and play like superhuman action heroes. Their feats of strength and speed on the gridiron garner them the adoration of countless fans across the country. However, their superhuman likenesses are sometimes brought to an end when they suffer devastating injuries on the field. These athletes in particular stand out for their season and career-ending football injuries.
*Image courtesy of John Martinez Pavliga