Terrell Owens is hearing from folks around Philadelphia that he should play in the Super Bowl with his severely sprained right ankle and broken right leg. Fans, hometown media, bookies, the team trainer who thinks he knows more than Owens’ surgeon and countless others are putting pressure on Owens, pressure that’s currently outweighing the pain.
But T.O. should take a timeout and listen to the ones who really care about him.
Curt Marsh, a former lineman for the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders, has been where Owens is today. Marsh wound up having 12 post-career surgeries on his mangled right ankle, all ultimately unsuccessful. Marsh said Owens needs to seek counsel from someone without a stake in the game.
Because this is more than a game to Owens. This is about his limb, and his life.
“I just hope he has somebody close to him who cares about him,” Marsh said recently. “I understand that he wants to play. But I would advise him not to play. If he decides to play, you just cross your fingers.
“I’m not a fan of his antics. But he’s a human being. It’s just not worth it. I realize it’s a big deal. But Terrell, you have to realize you have your whole life in front of you.”
Marsh, 45, one of many exceptional Raider offensive linemen in the 1980s, played through indescribable pain. When he had to retire and go back home to Seattle, the pain was severe and constant, and he could barely walk.
Eventually, there was no choice but to amputate his right leg below the knee. That was operation No. 13. “They tried to fuse it three times,” Marsh said. “But the bones were so badly damaged there was nothing to fuse anymore. It was either amputation or sit in a wheelchair the rest of my life.”
Amputation was supposed to eliminate the constant discomfort. But in a 15-minute interview with Newsday, Marsh said, “I’ve got a lot of pain.”
He gets around all right, but not the way he did before. “I’m slow and steady. It’s more of a migration, not a sprint anymore,” he said. “I’ve got my handicapped sticker, which is my most treasured possession.”
He laughed. But there was truth to what he said. He called his Super Bowl ring “a nice bauble.” You don’t have to ask to know he’d trade that bauble for a pain-free life.
“A player has no choice but to say he wants to play or is going to try to play ... " former Raider doctor Robert Huizenga said. “There is huge pressure to play. But the people who are applying the pressure don’t feel it, they don’t understand it and they don’t see the player 20 years from now.”
Huizenga, a famed Beverly Hills internist and the junior Raiders’ doctor from 1983 to ’89, wrote “You’re Okay, It’s Just a Bruise,” the NFL expose that was turned into the movie “Any Given Sunday.” The book’s title was the overly optimistic phrase that Robert Rosenfeld, the team’s senior doctor, often used to ensure participation by Raiders in their glory days.
Marsh recalled that Rosenfeld’s pockets were stuffed with syringes on the sideline, ready to shoot up Novocain. Marsh received shot after shot.
“I played in the ‘80s, and our team doctor was in his 80s,” Marsh said. “It was an old guy from the old school.
“In the NFL, at least when I was playing, the doctor’s job was to only get you well enough to play. This is why Huizenga didn’t last long. We would go to Rob. He saved some careers, and he saved some lives, I swear.”
Marsh’s career took its turn for the worse in 1986, when he said Rosenfeld misdiagnosed his broken ankle. Marsh said the ankle swelled badly after games, and while Rosenfeld insisted his X-ray showed no break, the pain became so unbearable that Marsh eventually sought outside opinions.
“I kept telling him there was something wrong. But he didn’t want to look any further,” Marsh said. “It’s similar to how you treat your car in college. You don’t want to find something bad. So you don’t look.”
Perhaps NFL healthcare has improved since then. But some seem to be straining to find a reason for Owens to play.
Mark Myerson, who operated on Owens five weeks ago, said he wouldn’t clear him to play. Yet Eagle trainer Rick Burkholder suggested he knew better. Burkholder questioned Myerson’s motives, saying he wanted to avoid liability. But Burkholder sounds as if he’s someone who wants a ring.
“The sport needs a system whereby the doctor determines whether the player can play,” Huizenga said. “Of course the player’s going to want to play. But somebody should have the right to say no. Football doesn’t outweigh whether the player can walk 10 years from now. It works in boxing. But in football, they can’t figure it out. It’s a sad state of affairs.”
NFL players have no guaranteed contracts, so they can be spit out after they are chewed up. The union is led by Gene Upshaw, the man Marsh replaced on the Raider line, who should know to fight harder for guaranteed contracts.
The NFL doesn’t care. It wants Owens to play because he’s a star, and this is a star-driven affair. If Owens plays and hobbles into the end zone and does one of his fun celebrations, the NFL will fine him. They cash in on his antics and his pain. But they don’t care.
Owens is a star. But he’s more than a star. He’s a human being.
Marsh corrected the interviewer. “I’m a former football player,” he said.
He described himself as semi-retired and “relatively happy.” He’s married with three kids and does motivational speaking. Yet there are limitations.
Marsh went from playing in pain to living in pain.
“There’s a fine line between toughness and stupidity,” he said.
Terrell Owens should remember those words.