The Most Devastating Injury in Each NFL Team's History
Injuries are a part of football, but there are some that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy—just your rival team.
Seriously, though, the history of the NFL is littered with season-ending injuries. There are even those that have derailed teams for years.
Some have just led to poor decisions by franchises. Others have cost players their careers, either through the actual ailment or the subsequent decisions by the individual.
Regardless, they're all here for your cringe-inducing entertainment.
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What does it say about a franchise when an aging quarterback pushed into retirement only a year early can be considered devastating?
Unfortunately, a lot.
The Arizona Cardinals have historically been a team that believed Jim Mora's famous rant was a profound statement rather than a comical outburst. However, the Cards enjoyed the prime of their existence with Kurt Warner and haven't been able to find a competent replacement since he got smoked during a playoff game against the New Orleans Saints.
A close second was Anquan Boldin's face imploding, but the fact that Warner's career ended and the Cardinals retreated to irrelevancy puts the quarterback’s injury over the top.
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The Atlanta Falcons of the 1990s were similarly situated to the just-highlighted Arizona Cardinals. Neither team had enjoyed much success before an injury appeared to take everything away.
Jamal Anderson was a beast in the late '90s. He rushed for 1,846 yards in 1998 while leading the Falcons to the Super Bowl.
But everything unraveled as his ACL gave out. Anderson was never the same again, and the Falcons would slip back to the pack along with him.
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The Baltimore Ravens haven't been in existence for a long time, but they've won two championships. Basically, pain hasn't been a part of the game for them.
But nitpicking shows that Jamal Lewis' 2001 knee injury did rob them of any hope for a back-to-back Super Bowl run. The Ravens still made the playoffs that season, but that particular winning roster didn't get a chance to compete together in 2002 due to salary-cap restraints.
Basically, Lewis’ knee effectively closed the Ravens’ then-championship window. Although, they’d prop open another one pretty quickly.
I just realized that I hate the Ravens and their fans. And my apathy toward them certainly has nothing to do with jealousy.
Anytime a player leaves the field in an ambulance and has to relearn how to walk, it's difficult to find an injury that is more gruesome.
Special teamer Kevin Everett plunged into return man Dominik Hixon early in the second half of a 2007 contest. That hit forever changed his life.
Everett was forced to endure months of grueling rehab, never playing again.
But he seems to be a happy man now. That injury became the basis for one of the most inspirational moments ever viewed on an NFL field when he walked at Ralph Wilson Stadium just 15 weeks later.
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The Carolina Panther enjoyed a solid run in the mid-2000s. There was a runner-up finish to the New England Patriots in 2003 and an NFC Championship Game appearance in 2005.
Again, that's a solid run—just not great.
But it could have been. The loss to the Pats was a heartbreaking three-point game that had more to do with Tom Brady than any deficiency on the Panthers' end.
The same can't be said for 2005.
The Panthers rolled through the New York Giants and then took out the Chicago Bears on the road, but lost two studs in defensive end Julius Peppers and running back DeShaun Foster. The result was a crushing 20-point loss to the beatable Seattle Seahawks and the end of that "nice" run.
It's easy to see the accompanying trailer as an overly cheesy video, but the issues that Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers had to deal with were extremely difficult to convey.
Brian's Song does it well.
The injury connection comes in because Piccolo helped Sayers, one of the greatest running backs of all time, overcome a terrible knee injury to regain his status as a top-dog back. Unfortunately, the injuries would keep mounting until Sayers was forced out of the game prematurely.
In return, Sayers helped Piccolo deal with cancer, which would ultimately claim his life.
That sounds devastating enough to warrant mention here.
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The Cincinnati Bengals of the '80s were good—like made-it-to-the-Super-Bowl good.
Every Bengals team from then until the mid-2000s? Not so much.
But quarterback Carson Palmer was leading a renaissance when everything came screeching to a halt, as Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Kimo von Oelhoffen crashed into his knee.
Palmer rebounded very well the next year, but that short playoff appearance wasn't replicated for another four years. Alas, Bengals fans were left to wonder what could have been in 2005 had it not been for that low-charging Steeler.
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The history of the Cleveland Browns is littered with disappointments. It's depressing.
So you can really take your pick when it comes to the Browns.
For this list, we'll go with quarterback Brian Sipe. He led the Browns to a near-playoff performance in 1976 and got the team off to a 5-3 start the next year before falling victim to legendary linebacker Jack Lambert.
The Browns struggled their way to one more win the rest of the way, resulting in the dismissal of head coach Forrest Gregg.
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Maybe the career-ending injury to Michael Irvin wasn't devastating in the respect that the team couldn't recover. Even though he had put up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, he was 33 years old.
But no legend should end his career on a stretcher, and that's exactly what happened to Irvin.
In a game against the hated Philadelphia Eagles, Irvin hit the turf in a head-first manner, injuring his spinal cord. He would ultimately be fine, but he wisely retired to avoid any future problems.
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Terrell Davis might not have been the Hall of Famer whom Michael Irvin was, but Davis wasn't afforded the opportunity as his career was cut short by injuries.
Had Davis not endured the numerous ailments that dogged him throughout his later years, he might have joined Irvin in the Hall.
But it wasn't meant to be.
There was no singular devastating injury for the man who played through a debilitating migraine in the Super Bowl. The steady barrage of knee and leg injuries kept him from finishing a promising career.
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The Detroit Lions’ losses on the field pale in comparison to the injuries their players have endured.
There's Reggie Brown. He laid motionless on the ground for 17 minutes before being rushed to the hospital and undergoing emergency surgery that luckily restored his feeling.
Then there's Mike Utley, (see picture) who wasn't as lucky. He'll be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
But even Utley received a more favorable outcome than Chuck Hughes. The wide receiver died on the field after suffering a heart attack.
Green Bay Packers
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As a Detroit Lions fan, I distinctly remember Sterling Sharpe ripping out my heart with his last-minute game-winning touchdown in the playoffs.
Unfortunately, fate would pay Sharpe a much worse hand, ripping away a potentially historic career with a neck injury.
Sharpe had over 8,000 yards and hauled in 65 touchdowns in just seven seasons. Had he not been forced to retire at the age of 29, his brother, Shannon, would still be looking up at his older sibling.
The Houston Texans have only been around for slightly over a decade. There's not a lot to work with here.
However, there was an injury of note.
In 2011, the Texans were rolling behind a solid defense, a punishing running attack and competent quarterback play. Well, until Matt Schaub went down.
Houston was able to smack around the Cincinnati Bengals in the playoffs without their signal-caller, but rookie T.J. Yates eventually cost them their title shot with three interceptions in a seven-point loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
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If you don't remember watching Bob Sanders play football, I feel bad for you. He was a beast who flew around the field punishing opposing players with reckless abandon.
That style of play, while entertaining, was also his undoing.
Sanders set the tone for the Indianapolis Colts defense. When he was on the field, the Colts were much more effective, especially against the run.
After winning the 2007 Defensive Player of the Year, he inked a large, new contract. The exuberance didn't last since he would start only nine more games over the next three years.
If Sanders had been able to suit up more often, it's possible that Peyton Manning would have as many rings as his brother, Eli.
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Despite the Jacksonville Jaguars' recent putrid run, things haven't always been so bad. Really, it wasn't. There was a time when saying that the Jaguars would move to London or Los Angeles was silly.
One of those stretches included the 2004 season, when the Jags were pushing for a playoff spot until Fred Taylor went down with another injury (it was a frequent occurrence).
The Jaguars would ultimately lose to the three-year-old Houston Texans in the season finale and miss the playoffs completely. For a team that would go 12-4 next year, fans were left wondering what could have been.
Kansas City Chiefs
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Don't believe that Jamaal Charles' injury in 2011 was devastating? Ask Todd Haley.
It cost him his job.
The Kansas City Chiefs were looking to build on their division-title-winning season from 2010, but once Charles and Eric Berry went down in the first game, everything fell apart.
Remember, this was a talented team that knew how to win. But these injuries caused the whole kingdom to crumble.
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Not many teams can pull off such dramatic feats as starting 9-2 and missing the playoffs.
The 1993 Miami Dolphins were special like that.
Dan Marino went down in Week 6 and watched the team continue its hot start. But Scott Mitchell wasn't Marino, and the Dolphins weren't able to finish the season without their Hall of Fame quarterback.
Apparently, Marino was somewhat valuable. Who knew?
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E.J. Henderson suffered a nasty fracture that bent his leg in a manner that would force plenty of people to give up on their meal.
But Daunte Culpepper almost matched him in cringe-worthiness (his knee bent in abhorrent fashion), while adding the dimension of derailing a skyrocketing career. The year prior to Culpepper's injury, he'd thrown for 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns.
Throw in that the Vikings are possibly still looking for someone to competently replace Culpepper and his injury is easily the most devastating.
New England Patriots
Despite the picture, the worst injury in New England Patriots history wasn't Tom Brady's season-ender. The Pats still won 11 games behind Matt Cassel.
No. The unfortunate victim was Darryl Stingley.
Linebacker Jack Tatum (the same one who injured Brian Sipe) laid out Stingley, breaking two vertebrae and compressing his spine. Stingley would never have use of his legs or arms again and passed at the age of 55.
New Orleans Saints
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In this instance, the worst injury suffered by the New Orleans Saints was the one they inflicted on themselves.
Prior to last season, Roger Goodell found that the Saints ran a pay-for-pain program, giving out cash bonuses for devastating hits. Although, the legitimacy of Goodell's findings have been under heavy scrutiny since that finding, there was something afoot that wasn’t kosher.
Regardless, the scandal known as "Bountygate" cost defensive coordinator Gregg Williams his job and forced head coach Sean Payton to sit out the 2012 season. The Saints were lost without their leader, falling to 7-9 and missing the playoffs.
New York Giants
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Cornerback Jason Sehorn was once considered to be one of the best defensive backs in the league.
Then, the very first play of the 1998 preseason game happened. As the whistle blew, his elite status and promising career went up in smoke.
Sehorn tore two ligaments on the kickoff-return team. He wouldn't play again that season and would never again be nearly as effective.
New York Jets
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I don't expect people to agree with this one.
However, the season-ending injury to Darrelle Revis last year hastened his exit from the franchise. He's arguably the best player to ever suit up for the New York Jets, so anything that aided his exodus should be considered devastating.
Oh, and his absence was certainly felt in 2012. With all the pressure falling squarely on the offense since the defense was missing its chief playmaker, the season fell apart.
That seems relevant to this conversation.
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The Oakland Raiders have a long and storied history. Out of all the players to line up for the silver and black, Bo Jackson was the most exciting and possibly the most dominant.
Therefore, losing him to a hip injury in a divisional playoff game was devastating.
The Raiders would go on to be annihilated in the next round, and the franchise would struggle to right the ship without their standout running back who would never play football again.
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Everything changed for Randall Cunningham and the Philadelphia Eagles when he tore his ACL in the first game of the 1991 season.
Before the injury, Cunningham was a run-and-gun machine. His athleticism was before its time for NFL quarterbacks.
Although he came back to play well the next season, he was never the same player whom Eagles fans had adored as injuries plagued him for the next few years.
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Yup. And it will be tough to argue against selecting Maurkice Pouncey's pre-Super Bowl, high-ankle sprain in 2011 as the most devastating injury.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have had trouble protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the past few years. However, Pouncey was never a part of the problem.
Had Pouncey been able to play against the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV, Aaron Rodgers might still be chasing his first belt.
Saint Louis Rams
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Only Kurt Warner could find a way onto this list twice.
Kudos, I guess.
Anyway, the St. Louis Rams were known as "the Greatest Show on Turf" at the beginning of the century for good cause: They were extremely efficient at scoring points in bunches.
At the center of it all was Warner, the stock-boy-turned-MVP who seemed to do whatever he wanted with the ball.
But that all changed once he endured a couple broken fingers in 2002 and a broken hand sometime shortly thereafter. He was no longer able to hold onto the ball and was demoted in favor of Marc Bulger.
While Bulger worked out for a while, he didn't have the leadership qualities of Warner and soon faltered. The Rams have been looking for a stalwart signal-caller ever since.
San Diego Chargers
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Let's be clear, Philip Rivers did have a nice run, but he has clearly fallen off.
You know who hasn't? Drew Brees.
Brees injured his shoulder in the season finale of the 2005 season, leading to the San Diego Chargers offering him an incentive-laden contract. Brees found the offer insulting and went on to break numerous records and win a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints.
Obviously, hindsight is 20/20. It's easy to say that Brees was the right call over Rivers now. But that's the whole point of this article.
San Francisco 49ers
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Yes, Steve Young wasn't all that young when he hung it up, but his "devastating" injuries occurred prior to his retirement.
In the final five years of his astounding career, Young missed 23 games altogether. What's unknown is how those injuries affected him while he was still on the field.
Could the San Francisco 49ers have added another Super Bowl or two if Young hadn't constantly been battling an assortment of injuries? We'll never know.
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No, not that Kurt Warner again; this is Curt Warner.
The Seattle Seahawks' Warner was a dynamic running back who led the AFC in rushing his rookie year. Unfortunately, he went down in the first game of the following season, missing the entire 1984 campaign.
The Seahawks still put together a good season behind quarterback Dave Krieg, but could have used Warner when they faced off against the Miami Dolphins.
He might not have made up for the three scores that proved to be the difference, but a more balanced attack would have certainly given Seattle a better chance.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Believe me, the thought of Brian Griese suffering the most devastating injury in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history sounded odd to me, too.
But it's true.
The Bucs started 2005 with a 5-1 record until Griese went down. Chris Simms helmed the offense the rest of the way, leading Tampa Bay to a 6-5 record, including a loss in the Wild Card Round. Griese was the superior signal-caller and was sorely missed in that seven-point playoff loss.
For whatever reason, the Bucs brass felt that was enough to trust Simms as their starting quarterback, thereby doubling the damage.
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Vince Young lacked maturity to handle the adversity provided by the injuries that besieged him early in his career.
He might not have ever grown up enough to lead a professional football team, but the major meltdown that led to his dismissal happened after he injured his thumb.
It could just be a coincidence, but let's not forget that Young did win a decent number of games. Maybe if he had gotten a few more breaks instead of breaking his digit, he would have matured into the player the Tennessee Titans envisioned when they drafted him so highly.
Don't laugh. It's possible.
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There isn't much explanation needed here.
The Washington Redskins lost their franchise quarterback for good when Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson conducted a meeting at Joe Theismann's leg. As a quick Google search will show you, it was just as gruesome as you've heard.
It's amazing that any team has ever run a flea-flicker again after this one went so horribly wrong. In terms of injuries, this one is certainly a mic drop.