There have been some major injuries to players over the years, and while compiling this list, I’ve found that most of the worst cases have been leg and knee injuries. It seems that tacklers going low can cause some serious damage, so there’s little more evidence needed when you ask yourself why the NFL has made knee braces mandatory. Apart from leg injuries there have been some other high profile injuries that’ll make you wince when you see them. I’m only including the injuries that I can link to video. There are some famous cases that I can’t find footage of, but if you’re only reading this so that you can see the horror, then you’re twisted; just like me.
When RGIII’s leg gave way during the playoffs, many fans directed abuse towards Mike Shanahan and the Redskins staff. RGIII had sprained his knee earlier in the season and was made to wear a knee brace. He still had it on when he stepped onto the field in the wildcard game against the Seahawks in January. He had told reporters that his knee felt better and even asked his training staff if they would release some of the tension so that he could have more movement. When it finally gave way during a routine drop-back, it was clear that his knee wasn’t nearly at full strength. RGIII’s knee injury wasn’t horrific, but his star profile and the fact that his injury directly contributed to the Redskin’s loss, means that he gets on the list.
This was another high profile injury. Tim Krumrie was a key player in the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense and when Roger Craig brought the ball out of the end zone, during Superbowl XXIII, Krumrie was there. He went in for the tackle but only succeeded in getting an arm across Craig as he ran by. Krumrie planted his foot and turned to follow Roger Craig, but the pressure on his tibia and fibula was too much and they both broke. Krumrie was taken to the locker room and he tried to watch the remainder of the game on TV. Medical staff finally convinced him to go to the hospital and he got some much needed treatment. He had metal rods inserted into his leg and played for another six seasons before retiring after the 1994 season. He returned to football as a coach with the Bengals and later the Buffalo Bills.
EJ Henderson had one of those leg breaks that makes your stomach turn. As he forward rolled, after missing his tackle on Arizona’s Tim Hightower, his leg clearly flopped around in the air. You could tell immediately that it was broken, and as he was carted away, you just knew that his season was over. He played again the year after his horrific injury and recorded over 100 tackles. In 2011 he was selected to the Pro-Bowl. He now runs classes for kids in order to teach them about healthy living.
This guy had another one of those floppy leg breaks. He was playing for the Atlanta Falcons vs. the Buffalo Bills when he was tackled low and from the side. What makes this a particularly stomach churning injury isn’t the regular tibia fibula break, but the fact that he continued to run after they both snapped. Every time I see this clip, I imagine the searing pain that he must have gone through when he planted his full weight on his broken leg in mid-sprint. What makes the injury even worse is that the guy that hit him was Hall of Fame Quarterback Jim Kelly. Phillips now works for Professional Alternatives of Kalamazoo. The company helps rehabilitate adults with various health issues.
Robert Edwards was the number one draft pick for the New England Patriots in 1998 and he looked to be a star for the future. He had a strong first season where he rushed for over 1000 yards but during a rookie flag football game on a beach in Hawaii, he got tangled up with another player when they collided. There isn’t much footage of the incident and in the clip included here you don’t get to see anything in detail. However, what you do see is a grotesquely mangled leg that sticks up in the air at a less than ideal angle. It truly is a terrible sight and Edwards would not play again for several years. He eventually avoided an amputation and played for the Miami Dolphins in 2002. After leaving the Dolphins, Edwards played in Canada for a few years until he was cut. He now coaches for the Greene County Tigers in Georgia.
This injury could be at the top of this list because of the utter devastation that it caused to Stingly. Jack Tatum hit him very hard on a passing play in 1978. In today’s game the hit would have been illegal due to Stingly being a defenseless receiver, but in those days it was perfectly legal. Tatum hit Stingly with his helmet and drove Stingly’s shoulder pad into his neck. The trauma broke his fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae and caused paralysis; Stingly remained a quadriplegic until his death in 2007. After football he started a charity that helped disadvantaged youth in Chicago and he once the Director for Player Personnel for the New England Patriots. His story is one of many reminders that the sport carries an inherent risk of catastrophic injury.
College Hall of Famer Napoleon McCallum played for the Raiders in the 1980s until he was called away on US Navy duty. On his return, he mainly backed up the legendary Marcus Allen. In 1994, while playing against the San Francisco 49ers, Ken Norton Jr. tackled him on a short yardage run and his career ended in a heartbeat. The injury was arguably the most horrific leg injury in NFL history and the list of trauma still shocks people. His left knee was hyper extended to a right angle; he tore three ligaments, ripped his calf and hamstring off the bone, suffered extensive nerve damage, and even ruptured an artery. Doctors considered amputating his leg but he eventually gained the ability to walk. He now runs a graphics business, but spends most of his time playing golf.
Quarterbacks get all of the attention, and it’s no different in this list. In this particular horrific injury, Hall of Famer Theismann is hit by another Hall of famer in Lawrence Taylor. The play is yet another case of a player rolling up on the standing leg of an unaware victim. It is the type of injury that is still seen around the league all too often. Usually, ankles end up taking the trauma, but in this hit, Theismann’s lower leg takes the impact. Both the tibia and fibula are snapped and Taylor’s full weight then crashes down on the break. Theismann remembers the sound that the leg made when it snapped, but claims that endorphins kicked in quickly enough so that he couldn’t feel the pain. AS the wound recovered, there was insufficient bone growth so Theismann was forced to retire. He went into the broadcast booth almost immediately after retiring and is still a popular voice on Sundays.