I believe Packers cornerback Al Harris when he says he’s going to be back in six months after suffering a torn ACL Sunday.
And I have to believe the same attitude will follow Green Bay OLB Aaron Kampman when it comes to getting back on the field. Kampman also suffered a major knee injury in the Packers’ 30-24 win over the 49ers to move them to 6-4 — and keeping them right in the middle of the NFC wild-card race.
Both players — former Pro Bowlers — are gone for the season, and this Packers team will have to adjust and find replacements not only for their skills but for their leadership. But that will happen, just as the Packers will play on Thanksgiving Day as we begin to prepare our turkey dinners.
Al and Kamp won’t be there, however, and this is the first step to recovery when you blow out a knee. I’ve been there, having blown out my right knee during my career — and although my game was nothing compared to these two guys, I know the routine.
Accepting the reality of the injury is the first step. It took me a coupe of weeks to actually go back and watch the tape, to see myself go down, clutch my knee and walk off the field knowing my season was over. I didn’t want to see it because, like other players, I didn’t think it would ever happen.
That’s usually the toughest part for pro football players because they all have a sense of immortality that they bring onto the field every Sunday, and they know their own bodies inside and out. They play banged up, they play sick, they play through major pain that would sideline the masses. In reality, they believe nothing can stop them.
Until you hear a “pop” in your knee.
It’s awkward, to say the least, because you know when it happens that something is dreadfully wrong. I blew mine out on a Sunday night game against the Ravens in 2004 when I was with the Redskins. It’s an awful feeling. Your knee instantly begins to swell, the pain vibrates through your leg, and you know that you’ve just played the last down you’ll see that season.
Scared. Worried. Sick to your stomach. A blown knee is the ultimate nightmare for any player in this league, not just because of the severity of the injury, but knowing what lies ahead in terms of recovering — and coming back to play the level it takes to compete in the NFL.
But the moment you get up, head to the locker room and strip off your pads is when the recovery process actually begins. Months of rehab lay ahead, and the guys who do come back, well, this is when they change their focus from game plans and Sundays to training room and goal-setting. Set a date and lay out a plan about when you want to return — and then go to work.
Although even with a set goal and a work ethic that are needed to come back, you still have to sit — and watch.
I’m not going to lie — it’s tough watching your team play football when you’re not out there. To be removed from the action and removed from the weekly script when it comes to game planning for opponents — that was one of my own biggest struggles. You can’t produce, you can’t walk onto the field with your teammates, you can’t play football at the NFL level — because that knee needs time.
I couldn’t stand watching that first game — on the couch in my family room. And Al and Kamp won’t like it either on Thursday. But although it’s not part of the physical rehab, it is part of the process — the mental process — that gets you through these days with the goal of being on the field the following season.
There will be very trying days because no matter how goal-oriented you are, your body will determine what success you will have on any given day, and some of those days the knee just doesn’t respond. It’s a process, a grueling process, but from what I know of Al and Kamp, this won’t be an issue.
Kampman is one of the toughest players I know, and Al is a true pro. And even then, some days will be longer than others and some days they will feel like they can’t make it through, but they’ll find a way, just as they’ve found ways to make plays on Sundays.
They will work, they will train and they will return to the football field next season — hopefully as Green Bay Packers. Most likely, they’ll be stronger and faster than before their injuries.
Make no mistake about it, losing two players of their caliber during a playoff race is big, but it’s another example of adversity at the NFL level. Harris and Kampman will have to deal with it personally, and now, their teammates will have to deal with it on the field.
Because when you lose Pro Bowl players, the team becomes part of the process as well.
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