The gruesome injury suffered over the weekend by Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik, whose carotid artery was severed by a teammate's skate in a freak accident during a game in Buffalo, was one more in a long list of reminders of the peril to which athletes are exposed. Zednik's life was saved by surgery at Buffalo General Hospital. In the fall, at another Buffalo hospital, Bills tight end Kevin Everett was the beneficiary of surgery that not only saved his life but also was part of several remarkable medical treatments that helped him recover from a paralyzing injury he suffered while making a tackle against the Denver Broncos on a kickoff.
The image of Zednik, trying to hold in the blood escaping his neck, was horribly reminiscent of a similar injury suffered by Sabres goalie Clint Malarchuk (again the game was in Buffalo) against St. Louis nearly 19 years ago. The skate of a Blues player, Steve Tuttle, raked across Malarchuk's neck, severing his carotid artery. To the horror of everyone who saw it, the goalie was on his knees for what seemed like an eternity as a pool of blood spread wider and wider beneath him.
Malarchuk received 300 stitches, and his life was saved. Incredibly, he was practicing in four days.
As a child, I recall hearing about the line drive off the bat of New York Yankees infielder Gil McDougald that smashed into the eye of brilliant young Cleveland Indians pitcher Herb Score. Score recovered but was never the same pitcher. In 1957, it was left to the imagination of fans who didn't see what happened to Score. But today, in the era of televised sports - and now the archiving of video on Web sites such as YouTube - many of us have seen for ourselves the danger that's inherent in sports.
With millions of others, I saw live on television the hideous injuries to Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann and Ravens running back Willis McGahee. On the Theismann injury, I couldn't tell you which was more frightening: Theismann writhing on the ground or New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor's immediate panic and holding his helmet in sympathetic anguish. And after seeing McGahee's knee bend backward in the Fiesta Bowl five years ago, it is simply a miracle that he can run at all, let alone that he has averaged more than 1,100 yards in four NFL seasons.
Los Angeles Raiders running back Napoleon McCallum wasn't nearly as lucky when he was tackled by the San Francisco 49ers' Ken Norton Jr. in the opening game of 1994. By then, McCallum was a Navy veteran and an NFL veteran. (A Naval Academy graduate, he had fulfilled his military obligation.) Like McGahee, McCallum's leg was bent back the wrong way. He never played again but was fortunate that doctors did not have to amputate his leg.
There were others just as gruesome: Alabama receiver Tyrone Prothro (breaking a leg), San Francisco Giants pitcher and cancer survivor Dave Dravecky (shattering his arm while throwing a pitch), and Los Angeles Clippers guard Shaun Livingston (tearing apart his left knee). The list goes on and on.
I covered the Super Bowl when Joe Montana cemented his legacy as perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time, leading the 49ers on a 92-yard drive against the Bengals to win the NFL championship in January 1989. But earlier in that same game, Cincinnati nose tackle Tim Krumrie shattered his leg in a collision with San Francisco running back Roger Craig. It was a horrible injury that Krumrie somehow recovered from to play in future seasons. And while that game is consistently identified as Montana's crowning moment, I always think of Krumrie.