It’s not a stretch to compare the NFL to a roller coaster ride–full of adventure, wild drama, jarring twists and turns. The unpredictable and erratic nature of the game keeps us hooked. It’s the ultimate adrenaline rush for sports fans. Every weekend, we witness history, like a record 13 touchdown passes between Drew Brees and Eli Manning in a Pac 12-style shootout or rookie Todd Gurley’s fourth straight 100-yard rushing effort. No doubt, it’s the best reality show on TV. But our football addiction comes with a hefty price tag.
At least seven players suffered season-ending injuries between Thursday and Sunday. Dozens of others got hurt and couldn’t return. Even as we watched a track meet between the Giants and Saints, a pair of unbeatens clash in Denver, and Ben Roethlisberger return to action, the excitement was mixed with dismay over the high body count.
The Steelers barely welcomed back their offensive leader when Le’Veon Bell got tackled on the sidelines and felt his knee bend the wrong way underneath a defender. One of the top running backs in the league landed on injured reserve with a badly torn MCL. New Orleans running back Khiry Robinson broke his leg in a scrum near the goal line trying to punch the ball in for a score. In St. Louis, Reggie Bush was pushed out of bounds returning a punt for the Niners. He slipped on some uncovered concrete, crashed into a wall, and tore up his knee.
Speedy wide receiver Keenan Allen was on a torrid pace for the Chargers. He already had 67 catches, the second-most in NFL history through eight games. While grabbing a touchdown pass from Philip Rivers on Sunday, he landed awkwardly on his back and lacerated a kidney. San Diego put him on IR so he can make a full recovery, but he won’t get to finish the season.
In New England, Dolphins star pass-rusher Cameron Wake ruptured his Achilles tendon just when he was hitting his stride. He recorded his NFL-best seventh sack when he dumped Tom Brady in the second quarter, but he pulled up lame not long after. Under interim coach Dan Campbell, the Miami defense was finally flexing its muscles. Wake was making up for lost time after logging zero sacks in the first three games of the season.
Sunday’s scariest moment took our breath away. At Dallas, Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette was knocked unconscious by a vicious block from Jeff Heath in punt coverage. He lay motionless on the field for several minutes, while players and coaches from both teams huddled to pray. Several tense minutes passed before Lockette began to talk and move his hands. Relief flooded the stadium when he pumped both fists as he was loaded onto a cart to go to the hospital. He was originally diagnosed with a concussion; but on Monday, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll announced Lockette won’t play again this year. He had surgery to repair ligament damage in his neck. Thankfully, there were no signs of paralysis.
The most gut-wrenching injury could mark the end of a career. Ravens wide-out Steve Smith had already announced this season would be his last, but it ended prematurely when he tore his Achilles hauling in his 961st NFL catch. As Joe Flacco’s top target, he was closing in on 700 yards receiving this fall. What he lacked in size, Smith made up for in tenacity and toughness. He was always ready for a fight and often got into one. His teammates fed off his strength and intensity. I sincerely hope this is not the last we see of Agent 89. He deserves a better exit.
Injuries come with the territory in the NFL. The players stare down the risks and perils on a daily basis. The phrase “Next Man Up” is part of the culture because every team navigates its share of lost manpower. But this weekend was a sober reminder of how quickly lives and careers can change. When Lions star Calvin Johnson hurts his ankle and Bears leading rusher Matt Forte limps off with knee pain, it’s not just fantasy football rosters that feel the impact. When Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick damages ligaments in his thumb or Browns cornerback Joe Haden suffers a concussion, starting spots and playing time and future contracts hang in the balance. In extreme cases, some athletes never fully recover from injuries, no matter how hard they try.
Just like a roller coaster, the NFL can be exhilarating one second and make you want to throw up the next–extreme, polarizing emotions captured in one wild ride. Our screams of excitement stand in stark contrast to the anguish over season-ending injuries. We consume football with a voracious appetite in this country. And the violent nature of the sport is definitely part of its appeal. In fact, fans complain loudly about how rule changes designed to make it safer are “wussifying” the NFL or watering it down. Tell that to the dozens of players who didn’t make it through the weekend.
There’s no giving up our football addiction. We crave the adrenaline, but it comes with a price. And the cost was never more evident than Week 8.
A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @.