While I was recovering from my ACL surgery, I took solace in knowing that literally thousands of other people besides me had suffered through the same ordeal and come out the other end largely unaffected. Guys like NFL running backs Gale Sayers and Willis McGahee became my new role models due to their successful battles with ACL rehabilitation. Sayers especially, since he played in the NFL during the 1960s: a time when knee surgeries were about as advanced as the Ethiopian space program. Dr. James Andrews, a world-renowned surgeon, described knee surgery during Sayers’ time as a “mistake” that “didn’t work.” Think he’s kidding? One of the techniques surgeons used in those days was to “fold up” torn ligaments. And if the folding technique didn’t work, they would actually try to staple the two ends of a torn ligament together. Both of those ideas sound exactly like mistakes that won’t work.
Despite these unreliable surgical techniques, Sayers somehow returned to the NFL the next season after his injury and led the league in rushing yards. Sayers recently had a total knee replacement, and when the doctors opened him up they discovered that not only was his ACL gone, his PCL was “stretched and frayed”, his MCL was in a similar state of disrepair, and the joint itself was filled with dust and bone fragments due to his utter lack of menisci to prevent his bones from rubbing against one another. How this man was able to play football, I have no idea. My theory is that his surgeon in 1968 took one look at his destroyed knee, said “fuck it”, and just removed the part of his brain that feels pain instead.
In addition to reading about athletes who had successfully returned to their sports after knee surgery, I went on Youtube and watched videos of their injuries just to get some perspective on how severe their injuries actually were. The injuries I saw ranged from “gruesome” to “dainty”, which is pretty much what I expected. However, these 5 videos stood out as being the most noteworthy.
Note: As I’m sure you know, critics of various things typically use a “star” system to rate whatever it is they’re criticizing (1 star = bad, 5 stars = bonerific, whatever.) Well, I find that boring and pedestrian, so I’m going to rate these videos not in stars but in Shaun Livingstons. This is because Shaun Livingston’s knee injury is easily the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen, and should forever be the golden standard against which knee injuries are measured. Needless to say, it’s #1 on this list, and that should surprise nobody since the video of Livingston’s injury is like The Passion of the Christ for knees.
The Shaun Livingston rating system will operate thusly:
1 Shaun – Weak. My grandmother tears her ACLs harder than you.
2 Shauns- Looks painful, but still watchable.
3 Shauns- “Whoa, that’s definitely gonna require surgery.”
4 Shauns – Fairly gruesome, bordering on full Sean Livingston status
5 Shauns – “JESUS CHRIST DID THAT GUY’S LEG GET CAUGHT UNDERNEATH A TILT-A-WHIRL!!?”
#5: Willis McGahee
Before being drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2003, Willis McGahee was a star running back for the University of Miami. He broke several school records during his time at Miami, and was considered a top-5 talent in the draft. His draft stock fell, however, following his injury against Ohio State in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. In the 4th quarter, McGahee caught a screen pass from Ken Dorsey and looked to turn upfield with the ball. Unfortunately for him, Buckeyes safety Will Allen decided right then and there that Willis McGahee’s left knee was an enemy that absolutely had to be dealt with immediately. Allen’s hit on McGahee could be described as a “tackle” in the same way a punch in the face from Mike Tyson could be described as a “poke.” Will Allen hit McGahee’s knee like an out of control train hitting a popsicle stick. McGahee’s ACL, PCL, and MCL all immediately became things of the past. The highlight of this video is the announcer’s completely unfazed, matter-of-fact “yep” when his clearly-shaken partner points out that McGahee has just suffered a serious injury.
Rating: 4 Sean Livingstons
#4: Mary Pierce
Mary Pierce is a French-American tennis player who has won 18 World Tennis Association singles titles, and most recently reached the singles finals in the US Open and French Open in 2005. The reason why she last reached the finals in 2005 is that in October of 2006 she tore her ACL in a match against Vera Zvonareva and has never fully recovered. This video is not notable for its knee-related carnage, but more for Mary Pierce’s seemingly disproportionately over-the-top reaction to what looks like little more than a slight stumble. At first glance, you can’t even tell that she’s hurt. That is, until she flops to the ground and unleashes a bloodcurdling shriek that scientists didn’t know human vocal cords could produce until that day. The sound that came out of Mary Pierce after she tore her ACL caused every dog within a 50 mile radius to frantically run into a wall at full speed in an attempt to knock itself unconscious. If you’ve seen Lord of the Rings, you already know what Mary Pierce sounded like because they used a recording of her scream as the sound the Nazgul make.
Rating: 3 Shaun Livingstons (2 Bonus Shauns awarded for spot-on Nazgul impression)
#3: Bill Gramatica
NFL kickers aren’t known for being particularly tough. Unless you’re talking about Sebastian Janikowski, who looks like the only kicker in NFL history who could (or would) choke a man to death while converting a 50-yard field goal. But we’re not talking about him, we’re talking about Bill Gramatica, who is best known for tearing his own ACL while performing a celebratory leap in the 1st quarter of a game against the New York Giants. With the score knotted at 0-0 with a little less than 8 minutes to play in the first quarter, Gramatica kicked a fairly unimpressive 43 yard field goal to give the Cardinals an early lead. Gramatica, however, thought that he’d somehow won the Super Bowl in overtime and launched into a celebration that could conservatively be described as “excessive.” Having completely lost his grip on reality, Gramatica launched himself into the air and and threw a hefty uppercut at one of the imaginary fans rushing the field in his Super Bowl fantasy. After following through on his air punch and executing a graceful 90 degree turn in midair, Bill came down awkwardly on his right leg and ruptured his ACL, which shattered his fantastical daydream and quickly brought him back to reality. Bill Gramatica brings new meaning to the term “non-contact injury.”
Rating: 1 Shaun Livingston
#2: Tony Allen
This entry falls under the category of “Foolish Decisions That Are Immediately Regretted.” On January 10th, 2007, the Boston Celtics were playing the Indiana Pacers in a tight game. With about 3 minutes to play in the third quarter, the Pacers led by a score of 68-63. This was roughly the time that Celtics swingman Tony Allen decided to take matters into his own hands and inject some life into the game. With the ball at the top of the key, Allen drove strong to the paint and was fouled by a Pacer in the process. Despite the whistle having been blown while he was still in 3-point range, Allen decided that he would finish off the sick-nasty dunk he had planned anyway. Everybody else on the floor had stopped playing long ago, but Allen was determined to finish strong. Unfortunately for Allen, he graduated with a double doctorate from the Bill Gramatica School for Future ACL Patients. Not only did he perform an unnecessary jump that ultimately resulted in his own injury, he smashed the ball off the rim and missed a completely uncontested dunk, literally adding insult to injury. Here’s my best guess as to what was going through his mind during this series of events.
“Ok Number 1, let’s see… how you like… THIS MOVE! STUTTER STEP BIOTCH! Oh shit, here I go to the rack. Tony Allen is gonna dunk this ball so hard. What’s that? A whistle? Shit. Well, this ball is definitely getting dunked anyway. That is god damn happening. Here I go… TOMAHAWK JAM MOTHERFU- oh damn it! Well, it didn’t go in, but at least I looked gooOOOOOWWWWW!!”
Rating: 4 Shaun Livingstons
#1: Shaun Livingston
Well here it is, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. This is without a doubt the single most horrific injury I have ever seen. I’m sure worse things have happened in the world, but Shaun Livingston’s knee injury is what my nightmares are made of. Shaun Livingston was a highly-touted high school basketball player who opted to skip college and declare himself eligible for the NBA draft following his senior year of high school. The Los Angeles Clippers drafted him with the 4th overall pick in the draft, unknowingly setting in motion a series of events that would eventually lead to Shaun’s knee being completely obliterated. While playing against the Charlotte Bobcats on February 26, 2007, Livingston took off on a fast break, juked a Bobcats defender and missed a layup. Unfortunately for Shaun, that missed layup was to be the least of his worries on that day. I would say that Livingston landed awkwardly, but that would be demeaning to both Shaun Livingston and the word “awkwardly.” Saying that Shaun Livingston landed awkwardly is like referring to the Battle of Antietam as a “dust-up”. Livingston landed horrendously on his left leg, causing the following injuries to his knee:
-Torn lateral meniscus
-Badly sprained MCL
-Dislocated tibia-femoral joint
That’s the kind of injury list that most groups of people don’t accumulate in a lifetime. Shaun Livingston had the bad fortune to suffer each of those injuries simultaneously. I can’t really think of anything funny to say about this one, but I can honestly say that I am beyond amazed that he was able to return to the NBA in 2008. He is currently playing for the Charlotte Bobcats which, in case you weren’t paying attention, is the team he was playing against when the laws of physics got together and took a dump on his knee. Maybe they felt sorry for playing a part in his injury and felt they owed it to him to give him a shot. Either way, here it is:
Warning: This video is pretty graphic, so if you have a weak stomach, maybe it’s just better to imagine what happened to Shaun Livingston. Because frankly, this is awful. This video makes the writers of the Saw movies cringe. If a group of anti-basketball lobbyists wanted to scare an auditorium full of schoolchildren out of playing basketball forever, this is the video they would show. You’ve been warned.
Rating: 1 million Shaun Livingstons