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Herniated Disk Sidelines Newsome for the Season

Times Staff Writer

Ram safety Vince Newsome’s season ended abruptly Wednesday when more sophisticated tests conducted for a pinched nerve in his neck revealed a herniated disk between his fifth and sixth vertebrae.

Newsome, 27, will be out for the season, but has been assured by the team’s medical staff that he will be able to return at full strength next year.

“This is not a damaged disk,” trainer Jim Anderson said. “It’s a swelling of the disk, which is putting pressure on the nerve. If he continued to play with this, it could potentially become dangerous.”

Newsome, one of the team’s hardest hitters, suffered the injury Oct. 2 against the Phoenix Cardinals, when he collided violently with tight end Jay Novacek. Novacek is 6 feet 4 inches and 235 pounds. Newsome is 6-1, 183.

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Newsome sat out the next game against the Atlanta Falcons, but returned last Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. Newsome, in fact, played until the final minutes of the 49er game, though he said he aggravated the injury on the game’s first series when his shoulder hit the ground after making a tackle.

Newsome wouldn’t take himself out.

“You don’t understand,” he said. “I just naturally think pain comes in this game.”

Anderson said tests conducted on Newsome after the initial injury indicated only a pinched nerve.

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“We get pinched nerves all the time,” Anderson said. “We did normal tests. Once Vince said the neck felt good and he felt like playing, we allowed him to return.”

The Rams said the disk injury was discovered after a test called a myelogram was administered Tuesday by Dr. Robert Watkins of Centinela Hospital Medical Center.

Anderson said that had Newsome continued playing in his condition, he would be risking serious damage, possibly paralysis.

Newsome was shocked by the news.

“When I look back on it now, I ask the question: ‘Why, after the initial injury against Phoenix, didn’t they find that out then?” Newsome said. “And maybe had they found out then . . . maybe it got worse against San Francisco or maybe it didn’t. They’re saying it probably didn’t get any worse or any better. I just kind of think we should have went through the whole thing and found out in the first place.”

Newsome said he feels fortunate further damage was not caused by his playing.

“Based on the things that could have happened, with the way I hit, yeah, I am fortunate it’s not worse, that I’m not paralyzed or something like that,” he said. Newsome did not hear of the test results until Wednesday morning, though some of his teammates found out earlier.

“No one told me,” he said. “The first person who called me was LeRoy (Irvin) last night (Tuesday). He told me he heard that I was out for the season. I said LeRoy, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Then Jerry (Gray) clicked over on my two-way and he said ‘What’s going on?’ I said LeRoy’s talking crazy. I said someone probably heard I was up at the hospital getting checked out again and you know, a wild rumor just went by. I kind of dismissed the whole thing.”

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Newsome found out Wednesday it wasn’t a rumor.

He was told by doctors that rehabilitation for the injury usually lasts 3 months.

Newsome asked if there was any way he could return sooner. He was told he couldn’t.

“They said it just takes time,” he said.

The news came as quite a blow to the Rams, who now scramble to recover. Second-year man Michael Stewart takes Newsome’s spot at strong safety. As a precautionary measure, Coach John Robinson said the Rams might re-sign safety Frank Wattelet, who was released in training camp.

The injury also forces Robinson to move rookie Anthony Newman to Newsome’s strong safety position. Robinson had considered using Newman at cornerback.

“We will overcome that,” Robinson said of Newsome’s injury. “We’ll find a way to get someone else. Michael Stewart will fill in. We will heal that wound. I don’t want to minimize how important it is, but I don’t like talking about it.”

Who’s the Boz? We know all about Brian Bosworth’s hair, his earrings and his passions. We know he sells looks and books. But, after just 19 games in the National Football League, can he play football?

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His coach says yes.

“He’s a good football player,” said Seattle Coach Chuck Knox, whose team plays the Rams Sunday in Anaheim Stadium. “And he’s getting better. He has excellent speed, great lateral pursuit, is tough and will tackle. But he’s playing hurt right now.”

Bosworth, who leads the Seahawks with 58 tackles, is listed as probable for Sunday’s game with an injured shoulder.

Dueling Publishers: Both Knox and Bosworth currently have autobiographies in the bookstores. Knox said Wednesday he didn’t know how well his book, “Hard Knox,” was selling.

“I haven’t had time to check on the book,” he said. “I’ve been too busy trying to regroup our football team and get ready for the Rams.”

More Knox: Though he coached the Rams for only 5 years, 1973-77, Knox remains the franchise’s winningest coach with a 54-15-1 regular-season record. He has 3 more Ram career victories than Robinson. Robinson has more losses than any coach in Ram history with 35.

Knox, who was fired after the 1977 season, said he is particularly proud of his Ram record.

“That record in 5 years was a pretty good record,” he said. “It was done in a 5-year period playing 14 games a year. It’s a tribute to the good coaches I had and the fine players I had.”

Ram Notes

Update on ailing linebackers: Mark Jerue missed Wednesday’s practice because of the flu. Mel Owens practiced gingerly on the injured ankle that kept him out of last Sunday’s game against San Francisco. He and Larry Kelm (back) are questionable for the Seattle game. . . . The Seahawks have never defeated the Rams. They’re 0-5 in exhibition contests and 0-3 during the regular season. . . . The Rams released tackle Jeff Walker, who had been on injured reserve with a leg injury.


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