Weak Need Not Apply

In the NFL, there's no such thing as pity.

Sympathy in this league comes only in times of tragedy. It doesn't come when you sit there and can't move your legs on the training-room table. The sympathy comes only in the worst situations. Other than that it's, hey, we've got to move forward.

You see a guy get hurt in practice, blow his knee out and he's gone for the year, they don't stop practice. They move practice 20 yards away so the dude won't get stepped on for the next play. Just keep moving, man. The first time I saw that I couldn't believe it. But then again, what do you expect to happen? You can't expect a whole practice to be shut down.

You have a teammate, you have a brother, you have a friend you're going to fight for -- just like in the Army, when one of the soldiers gets shot, they're not going to stop the war. They try to move it on.

That's pretty tough, even if it's you and you're lying on the ground. Watch during the game. If someone gets hurt, they have a TV timeout, they go to a couple of Budweiser commercials, they come back and the guy's swept up. Keep the game going.

Once, when I was a freshman at Columbia, I was selling programs in our stadium during a varsity game. Freshmen weren't allowed to play varsity. I remember being in the middle of the stadium and taking a look at the game for a minute. I saw this guy just get creamed on a kickoff. It was one of our players.

Both teams started to return to the sidelines, and this guy started to walk to the opponent's side. I'm thinking, 'Oh, man, he's done, something's wrong with him.' His teammates started to grab him and brought him back to the huddle. He was a defensive player, but he walked right over to the offensive side. So the referees started to escort him off the field. I had walked to the bottom of the stadium just so I could hear what he was talking about, what they were saying was wrong with him.

The dude kept looking around saying, "I want some chocolate cake." That's the only thing they could get out of him.

They'd ask him: "What's two plus two?"

"I want some chocolate cake."

"What's your mom's name?"

"I want some chocolate cake!"

It was kind of scary at first, but then you could tell by the reaction of the training staff that he had only a concussion, so it became pretty funny.

This is a violent game. I remember one time back East, someone got socked in the chest and the kid died. They were playing the chest game. They taught us in health class not to punch someone in the chest. Not because you will kill them, but because you'll rupture blood vessels and you really damage cells. Just from one hit of a fist to the chest. So just imagine when we hit somebody what's happening. Imagine what it looks like under a microscope. Just getting socked once in the chest is nothing compared to that.

At the beginning of the week, I told you I may die sooner than my peers. But there are lots of little discomforts in this game. For instance, I don't like my hands being squeezed. A lot of times when I go out I'll give you the fist. Someone will say, "Hey, how you doing?" I try to put my fist out there hoping you'll just want to touch fists. Cool. But sometimes you have to shake hands, and I really try to give a soft hand.

I think a lot of businessmen out there might think I'm a little weaker than I look. I'm not trying to shake your hand to show that I'm strong, or "How are you doing, sir?" None of that. Because my hands are on fire. I have two fingers that are dislocated and three bad ones. I have two good ones on my right hand and three on my left hand.

There's really no treatment for hand problems. The circulation in your hands is so poor that the blood isn't able to replenish and renew the area quickly. So when you have something wrong with your hands, it takes a lot longer to heal.

Sometimes, even people who know me forget about how sore my hands are. My 10-year-old niece, Charne, gets so excited to see me after a game. She just saw me about five hours earlier, but she still gets pumped up and wants a hug. After we beat New England, she shook my hand. She said, "Hey, uncle!" And I said, "Hey!" and had my hand down. She took my hand and she shook it. It brought me to my knees. "Oh, no! Don't do that!"

My response was a little more severe than I would have liked for my family to see. It was definitely pain.

So much of football is about pain tolerance. We're all out there to fight for our jobs. When we're playing a game, as much as you're a team player, you're also trying to keep your position and trying to do well at it. So there's no time to say, "Man, my arm hurts. I need a couple plays off. Put my backup in the game and I'll be right back." Sometimes you see that happen and the backup doesn't want to give it back. Whether it's a Marc Bulger or a Kurt Warner or a Trent Green. Or a Tommy Maddox.

You may say, "OK, I'm hurt for right now," whether you are or not, and the backup goes in and changes the game. When that occurs, you're in trouble. You're stuck in the psychology of, am I good enough to go? Is a 70% Marcellus Wiley good enough, or is 100% my backup better?

Sometimes you have to make a smart decision for your team. But sometimes, usually through your own ignorance, you try to be bigger than you are and stick it out.

There are so many eyes on you in football. Not only the opponent's eyes, but the other team's coaching staff. The coaches up in press boxes have a bird's-eye view of everything that's going on. You don't want to be the weak link because your team is as strong as you are. If you're the weak link, and the other team sees it or knows it, they exploit it.

So when my knee buckles on one play, the next play they're going to run at me because they want to see if that knee is strong enough for me to play effectively. They want to make sure that I'm not out there hobbling. Teams don't ask you, "Are you OK?" They make you prove you are OK.

This year? Me being hurt? And me having only six sacks? The only thing that could have been worse for me this year is if I wasn't hurt.

Thank God I was hurt.

Because if I wasn't, there would be no reason for anyone to have any respect. Then it would be, "Oh, you're just sorry." It wouldn't be, "Oh, you got hurt. You're sorry because you got hurt."

The guys are saying, "Man, could you get healthy so you can be yourself again?"

Football is one of those sports where you're going to face the hurdles in life. You're going to face them during the season. You're going to face them when you can't perform to your level. Are you still going to show up for work? Are you going to be a champion, a soldier? That takes character. That takes heart.

The thing about football players, they're fighters. They're warriors. They're going to go after a common goal, and they're going to sacrifice for it. Don't let the partying, the money, the attention we give these players cloud the truth, which is this: This guy more than likely was a little 7-year-old, snotty-nosed kid who had a talent. And despite all the things presented to him, all the things that made other people crumble, other people fall away, this guy at a professional level is still doing the same thing.

Not everyone can say they're living out their dreams. That's the thing that I really like about this. This is what I wanted to do when I was 7. I wanted to play football. Not professionally, I just wanted to play football next year. And I've been blessed because every year since 7 I've been able to say the same thing:

I just want to play football again next year.

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