Le’Veon Bell’s injury shows risks, resiliency of legs in football

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Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell lies on the field after his right knee took a gruesome hit last Sunday against the Bengals. | Don Wright/AP

Every now and then you see the forces at work in football, and you are reminded how sudden — and guaranteed — injuries are.

Forget for the moment ‘‘upper-body’’ damage (if that phrase would go away, I’d be happy). Think about legs.

Think about Pittsburgh Steelers star running back Le’Veon Bell’s knee. Against the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday, Bell was tackled as he planted his right foot, and the force of the tackle bent his right knee backward the way knees aren’t supposed to go.

Look at the video if you want. I don’t recommend it — unless you liked looking at Joe Theismann’s broken leg or Tim Krumrie’s broken leg or Willis McGahee’s left knee explosion in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl national title game.

Here’s the amazing thing: Bell, just named All-Pro and voted by teammates as the Steelers’ MVP, doesn’t appear to have a serious injury. That is, he didn’t tear his MCL, ACL or PCL when the Bengals defender’s helmet hit his knee, a la McGahee when hit by Ohio State safety Will Allen back in the day.

Bell is out for the Steelers’ wild-card game Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens, and that really hurts the Steelers’ chances of advancing. But if they do, it’s possible Bell might return before the Super Bowl.

I guess that’s what’s as stunning as the injuries themselves — the way football players come back from them, again and again.

I PREDICT THAT someday the college football national championship tournament will include eight or even 16 teams instead of the current four, and that interest in it will rival or even surpass that of the Super Bowl tourney.

Tell me this: Are there any of you who won’t be tuning in Jan. 12, when Ohio State and Oregon meet for the D-I Football Bowl Subdivision championship? There’s no NFL game Monday night anymore, remember. And what else does anybody have to do on a Monday night in mid-winter?

If Baylor and TCU and Wisconsin and Michigan State and Mississippi State had been part of the playoff in this first year — heck, let’s throw in Ole Miss and a few others — it would have seemed a lot like the NFL’s playoff leading up to Super Bowl XLIX.

You think there’s a huge difference between the NFL and the NCAA? Ha. What is it?

That’s right — mostly pay.

NFL players are older and better, but NBA players are older and better than college basketball players. But which draws more interest — the March Madness tourney or the NBA Finals?

What I’m saying is, just give this thing time.  Fifty or 60 of the best D-I college teams will go really big-time and compete for the national crown in the tournament, and the other 50 or so weaker football schools will drop down to a less competitive level or drop football entirely, as Alabama-Birmingham did because the arms race was killing it.

And the big schools will slop around in gravy because our thirst for sports entertainment is insatiable.

WHICH BRINGS ME to Oregon and Ohio State. If there is any surprise that these schools are duking it out for the title, there shouldn’t be.

Phil Knight, the founder and CEO of Nike, has given — according to a recent USA Today report — more than $300 million to the Oregon athletic department. When a previous head coach said he needed an indoor practice facility, Knight wrote a check for almost $10 million to build it. Not long ago, he gave $70  illion to build a state-of-the-art football performance center.

He helps plan Oregon sports facilities, and he routinely meets with Ducks coaches to talk about game strategy.

Knight is an Oregon alum, and he has said he wants a national championship football team before he dies.  He’s 76, worth $20 billion, and he’s one game from his dream.

Ohio State, on the other hand, is a massive land-grant school with a rich football tradition and a program that simply reloads, even when it’s already loaded. The Buckeyes have won or been co-winners of the Big Ten 23 times in the last half-century.

That’s not counting 2010, when Ohio State vacated all its wins. Or 2012, when it might have been the best team in the country, undefeated at 12-0, but didn’t even go to a bowl game. Oopsie! Cheating occurred, followed by probation.

But now Ohio State has big-name Urban Meyer at coach ($5 million a year) and such a load of quarterbacks that after losing two Heisman Trophy candidates to injury, its third-string QB, Cardale Jones, is now the star.

Jones, you’ll recall, famously tweeted, ‘‘Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL.’’

Student-athletes rule!

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