Lots of us enjoy pro football. Tens of millions of us. We enjoy watching it. We enjoy talking about it. And, yes, we enjoy the ferocity of it. So we’ll get past what happened to Bears tight end Zach Miller on Sunday because, when it comes to NFL injuries, we always do. We’ll eventually get past the image of a knee going in a direction it was never intended to go.
And, yet, geez.
The carnage. The price demanded, and the price paid.
Chicago woke up Monday morning to the news that doctors were trying to save Miller’s left leg, but that amputation was a possibility. We think we know all the risks of the game, but that’s not one that comes immediately to mind.
We tried to absorb the facts: That vascular surgeons were brought in to repair an artery that Miller had torn during the Bears-Saints game. That emergency surgery was necessary because time was of the essence if the lower leg was to be saved. That there was a distinct possibility Miller’s career was over.
The Bears would later call the surgery “successful,’’ but only time gets to decide if that’s true.
“He’s got a good pulse in his lower leg, as well as good feeling,’’ coach John Fox said. “His foot is warm, which is a good sign. Not saying he’s out of the woods by any stretch, but it’s as good as can be expected at this point.’’
It’s not often that an injury makes us think about players’ families. Why would we? The players wear helmets and masks, and they have numbers on their backs. It’s as if the sport wants to take any hint of humanness out of the equation, to give us miles of emotional distance, to numb us to the possibility that the people behind those masks and underneath those numbers have been put on earth for reasons other than entertaining us.
But this one brought us to a family’s doorstep. How hard it must have been for Miller’s loved ones to watch his knee bend grotesquely backward. How crushing it must have been for his wife, Kristen, to take in the news that the injury was more than a garden-variety dislocated knee. How difficult it must have been to entertain the thought that he might have to go through an amputation.
An injury of this magnitude is not something players think about when they step onto the field. They have learned to block out danger and risk. Failing to do so affects tenaciousness and thus performance. When their families think about the peril, about the darkness, they shove it into a corner of their brains and try to shut the door. They try.
Miller’s left leg buckled as he was making what appeared to be a touchdown catch in New Orleans. Replay officials eventually ruled that it wasn’t a TD, offering some nonsense about Miller not retaining possession of the ball all the way through the process of the catch. But what the replay really showed was a leg that had bent backward at the knee as Miller landed after jumping for the ball.
He immediately reached for his leg, then sat with his head down and his knees bent, the picture of a man who knew he was seriously injured. He rolled over, and teammates consoled him before Bears’ medical personnel arrived and carted him off the field.
After a commercial break, Fox Sports broadcasters said they weren’t going to show the replay anymore. It was that ugly.
It would get much, much worse for Miller.
If for some reason you needed further evidence that football is a violent, vicious sport, his hideously twisted leg should end any doubts you might have. If it doesn’t, I don’t know what to tell you. You might want to quit football and switch to slasher movies.
Concussions are sometimes-silent, always-scary injuries, and the threat of health problems later in life due to the trauma they cause have cut deeply into the number of youths playing the sport. What happened to Miller was so visceral that I won’t be surprised if more parents say no to football for their kids.
But today isn’t about how a large group of people responds. It’s about what has happened to one person.
Miller has spent much of his career battling injuries. He’s a talented athlete who could have been a standout if only his body had cooperated. It’s a shame. He’s a very nice guy who has had very bad luck.
“He’s just a great dude,’’ Fox said.
If his career is over at 33, maybe it’s a good thing. I know: Easy for us to say. We haven’t devoted our lives to playing football and to being the best we can be at it. But giving your all shouldn’t mean the possibility of giving up a limb. It just shouldn’t.
We’ll keep watching, but, man, watching this was hard.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.