Gladiators Do What It Takes

Times Staff Writer

If you've been reading the Marcellus Wiley series this week in The Times and you are having a hard time believing the brutality of pro football, take a close look Sunday at the two Oakland Raider cornerbacks. Matter of fact, guide your eyes to the right lower legs of Charles Woodson and Tory James.

The right fibula in each is broken. Each is playing with considerable pain, although neither will, or can, articulate how much. And each is playing because medical science has found a way to allow them to.

Both have had plates put in their legs. The fractures are held in place by the metal and some screws that serve as is protection for hits on those areas. That means James and Woodson may operate in their chosen life almost normally, just as long as they don't go through a lot of metal detectors.

And no, these are not old injuries just being held in place by metal for the final healing stages. James went down against San Diego on Dec. 8. He was injured, finished the game and then had surgery immediately to insert the plate.

He was back on the field for the Raiders' playoff game against the New York Jets on Jan. 12. That's a recovery of 34 days, fine if you are a CPA but astounding if you are competing in an elite sport.

Woodson, the Michigan star who became the first defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy after he made the lead of "SportsCenter" with his unforgettable, leaping one-handed interception against Michigan State in 1997, took things a little easier than James. He was injured Dec. 2 against the Jets and took four games off -- one more than James -- before returning with James for the playoff game Jan. 12.

"Once I saw how well Tory was doing after his surgery," Woodson said, "I decided to have the same thing done."

Talk about peer pressure.

Woodson didn't practice here until Thursday. Wednesday, he just iced it down. Nor is he particularly evasive about how effective he will be against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the likes of ace receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

"I'm frustrated, no question," he said, while refusing to speculate on what percentage of effectiveness he might have Sunday and also deflecting questions about what kind or how many pain-killing shots he might need.

"All I know is this is the Super Bowl, and whatever I've got, I'll leave right out there on the field."


John Parrella has become one of the great off-season acquisitions of Raider General Manager Bruce Allen, and one of the attractions is Parrella's durability. The 300-pound defensive tackle from Nebraska started all 80 games with the Chargers from 1997-2001, the only San Diego player to do so in that time span, and had nine starts entering the '97 season. And, for all intents and purposes, that 89-game streak of starts has carried over to the Raiders and now stands at 107.

Actually, there is an asterisk. He wasn't on the field for the first defensive play against the Buffalo Bills Oct. 6, but that was merely a coaching decision to open with an extra linebacker. Parrella was in quickly and keeps right on streaking as a defensive starter and star for the Raiders.

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