Gritty Schlereth knows no other way to operate; Broncos guard plays on despite his 22 surgeries; SUPER BOWL XXXIII


MIAMI -- You can second-guess his judgment and ponder his long-term health, but you can't question Mark Schlereth's heart.

After 22 surgeries on six different body parts, he will line up at left guard for the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII without regret.

"I don't spend a minute of wasted time worrying about what the future holds," Schlereth said. "I have no idea what's going to happen. The damage to my body has been done. I'll just press on and cross that bridge when I come to it."

Schlereth, 33, is a medical marvel. Operations are like dental appointments to the first native Alaskan to play in the NFL. He has had 17 knee surgeries since 1983 and needs a fourth elbow procedure after the season. When his football career finally ends, he'll require two replacement knees.

Why continue to play with a broken body?

"I love the game," he said. "I have a true love for it. I really enjoy going out and playing the game. I really feel like I've been blessed to do it."

His linemates are in awe. It is no coincidence that none of the five starters has missed a game this season, even though Schlereth has had two surgeries since August, including one for torn cartilage in his left knee in October.

"It's hard to miss any time when there's a guy like Mark Schlereth next to you and never comes off the field," said center Tom Nalen. "It's just incredible what he's put his body through and the fact that he's still playing."

Schlereth, who spent six seasons with the Washington Redskins, insists he is not injury-prone. The numbers back him up. He has missed only seven games to injury in the last five years, and was unavailable for only 18 games in a 10-year NFL career.

Schlereth's worst physical disability was not an injury at all, but a neurological condition that threatened his career in 1993. Suffering from Guillain-Barre syndrome, he lost feeling in his arms and legs for several months, but avoided permanent damage.

In 1995, after leaving the Redskins as a free agent, he visited three clubs and was told by one team doctor that his knees "were like a decrepit old man."

"Like I told them," he said, "you can worry about finding a young guy that can run and jump over boxes, and can't stay healthy enough to line up on Sunday, or you can sign me and get a decrepit old man that can line up every Sunday and try and block people. You make the choice."

Schlereth has, and the Broncos are grateful.

Body shop

Mark Schlereth's Surgical track record:

Body part operations

Left knee 12

Right knee 5

Left elbow 2

Right elbow 1

Herniated disk 1

Kidney stones 1

Pub Date: 1/29/99

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