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Fernandez has no regrets, plenty of pain
Manny Fernandez is awakened five or six times a night and told to change sleeping positions. First, it's his right shoulder, which has bone spurs and no rotator cuff, telling him to quit sleeping on that side. He'll change to sleeping on his stomach until his back, which underwent a six-hour surgery, says it's time to change positions.
So he'll shift to his left side, where that shoulder also has no rotator cuff and bone spurs, until it locks up and awakens him. Back to the right side he'll go.
"Same thing, every night," Fernandez, 54, says.
In the morning, he'll take Ibuprofen for the arthritis, Celebrex if the pain is bad and glucosamine to grease his elbow joints enough so they straighten out. For years, they wouldn't. Modern science is a blessing, he is finding, to help a body left in such bad shape by an eight-year NFL career that, when asked what hurts him today, he answers, "Where do you want to start?"
"Let's see," he says. "My right knee, which is my good knee, never has been operated on -- all the cartilage is calcified, I think from all the years on the Polyturf. It's been that way maybe 10 years. The joint's deteriorated. I can hardly walk on it some days.
"OK, that's my good knee."
His left knee, the bad one, has been operated on five times. It was reconstructed in college -- "Every tendon and ligament," he says -- and the wonder is he still played 11 years in college and the pros after that. That knee needs replacing. He also has aches in his ankle (torn ligament), fingers (various broken), hip (the right one "pops a little," he says) and shoulders (each operated on twice).
A mainstay of the No-Name Defense, Fernandez caused enough havoc from defensive tackle in the Perfect Season's Super Bowl that he recorded 17 tackles. He started all three Super Bowls for the Dolphins in the early 1970s, but injuries caused him to retire by 1975. He ruptured a disc in his back during the 1974 season, but he didn't know it at the time.
"It manifested itself severely in the early 1980s," he says.
A six-hour operation didn't solve the problem or the pain. His only option now would be to insert two metal rods and a long screw into the back, an operation he holds off for now with a nightly, 40-minute regimen to strengthen the back. It involves various stretches and 500 stomach crunches.
Golf? "I gave it up 12 years ago," he says.
Running? "No way. If I had to run from a bear, it'd get me," he says.
Walking? "I feel something every step," he says.
An account executive for First American Title Company of Fort Lauderdale, Fernandez will be a featured host in Outdoors with the Pros, a hunting and fishing television show that will be aired starting in July. He has fixed his shotguns so they have minimal recoil on his shoulder, though. He also prepares for the outdoor trips by downing Celebrex regularly days before leaving, "to get my body feeling well," he says.
Fernandez says he has no regrets playing football. It was his choice to play. It was a time of accomplishment he'll cherish forever -- and feel the effects of, too.
"There wasn't a concern of how I'd feel in my 50s when I was playing in my 20s," he says. "Never thought of it at all. I was bulletproof. I just figured if they could break it, I could fix it. And once they fixed it, I'd be fine.
"If I could play football on it or with it, why would I think it would bother me later?"