With Braves’ pitcher Charlie Morton suffering a broken fibula from taking a line drive off his leg in Game 1 of the World Series – and staying in to face a few more batters before he couldn’t continue, there was quite a bit of talk in the comment sections about sportsball figures playing while injured. Mention was made of when Bob Gibson suffered a similar injury during the regular season, and Curt Schilling’s “bloody sock”, among others.
My mind quickly recalled a draft post I’d been puttering about with for a while…
Overrated: Willis Reed, New York Knicks, Game 7, 1970 NBA Finals
During Game 5, Reed tore a muscle in his thigh and looked finished for the series. Without him on the court for Game 6, the Knicks got clobbered by the LA Lakers, 135-113. But at the end of warm-ups for Game 7, he came out onto the court to the wild cheers of the home crowd and started the game. “Inspired”, the Knicks won.
Reed wasn’t much on the court. They basically “allowed” him to score four points before shifting him over to pure defense. And it’s not like they just had him warm up and start the game, taking him out to save his leg from further damage after a few minutes. They left him in for nearly half the game! One could easily make the case that he actually hurt the Knicks by keeping a healthier player on the bench. Fortunately, the Knicks won relatively easily, 113-99.
And let’s be honest. A muscle tear can be really painful, but it’s not the worst injury to have.
Underrated: Bert Trautmann, Goalie, Manchester City, 1956 FA Cup Final
I could go on about how Jack Youngblood of the Los Angeles Rams played in the NFC Championship Game in 1979 and then the Super Bowl on a busted leg. Or how Shun Fujimoto helped Japan win the team gymnastics gold at the 1976 Summer Olympics on a broken knee. But I’d rather talk about Bert Trautmann, since he is not from the U.S., plays what Americans call “soccer”, and had one heck of an interesting life….
With sixteen minutes left to play and ahead 3-1 in the match against Birmingham City, Trautmann was clobbered in the head by the knee of Birmingham’s Peter Murphy while making a save. Knocked completely for a loop, the rules at the time prevented Manchester from replacing him. Fighting off the dizziness, he carried on through the pain and blocked every attempt by Birmingham to score.
When the officials were placing the award medals around the necks of the victorious Manchester team, one official commented to Trautmann that his head seemed crooked. A quick check by a doctor couldn’t find anything, so he was told to take some aspirin. Three days later, when the pain in his neck still hadn’t gone away, he finally got some X-rays.
He had broken his neck.
Specifically, five neck vertebrae were dislocated, and one of them was cracked. He was extremely lucky that one of the dislocated ones wedged against the cracked one, preventing further injury. Otherwise, he could have been paralyzed – if not killed.
Recovery naturally took several months, but Trautmann would keep tending goal for Manchester City until retiring in 1964.