Better him than me.
That's the first thing that goes through your head when you see a really nasty sport injury, isn't it Meat?: better that poor bastard than yours truly. Sure, there's some genuine sympathy mixed in there, and a healthy measure of the general psychic dis-ease that goes along with seeing a human body get crooked in straight places and straight in crooked ones...but mostly there's just that sense of relief, that tingly-fine feeling of suddenly knowing what it means—what it's worth—to have all your parts in working order. There but for the grace of God, as the old saying has it, and so long as it's someone else—anyone else—who's doing the going, well—
It almost feels kinda halfway good to watch it.
Not good in a sadistic sense, of course, but good nonetheless—good in a way that makes you giddy and ashamed at the same time. Because it shouldn't—but it does—and you wish it wouldn't—but it does—and maybe if you just try to fake like it's not—but it does, Meat: it does and does and does, and there's not a damned thing you can do about it. Such are the ways of relativistic cognitive processing, after all...and so it's with an air of sheepishly inevitable glee that we run down this list of the most godawful sports traumas of all time, a collection of injuries so ghastly, so grotesque, that we couldn't even bring ourselves to watch—
At least not after we'd seen the replay six times, anyway.
(And for the record, Meat: Barbaro's breakdown at the Preakness didn't make the cut. Relativistic cognitive processing or no, some events are just too heavy to be trifled with...
What—the window's closed, you say? Too late in the year for Barbaro jokes? You wouldn't actually accuse of beating a dead—
Number Five: Tim Krumrie
Krumrie, in case you're not up on your Cincinnati sports history, was the defensive anchor for the Boomer-era Bengals, a sprightly 260-pound nose tackle who made two Pro Bowls and racked up 34 sacks over the course of a twelve-year career. He's also, in a much more prominent sense, that guy: the unfortunate soul who had his left leg snapped in half during the first quarter of Super Bowl XXIII against the 49ers in Miami. It was the early days of slo-mo replay, and the boys in the booth managed to pinpoint the exact moment at which Krumrie's hind limb exploded...thereby setting a superlative standard for future generations of morbid playback technicians. Alas, the technological breakthrough proved to have a limited crossover appeal: Krumrie's subsequent "I'm going to Mount Sinai Medical Center!" commercial was nowhere near as successful as Joe Montana's more traditional "I'm going to Disneyland!" spot.
Number Four: Moises Alou
September 16, 1993, a game between the Cardinals and Alou's Expos at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Legging out what looks like an extra-base hit, Mo rounds first and heads for second...but his left fibula doesn't get the memo, and the result is a that's-not-supposed-to-be-like-that moment, complete with the sort of calf wobble that just screams 60-day DL. Remarkably, the young outfielder recovered in time to post MVP-caliber numbers in 1994, thanks in part to two metal screws implanted by a team of crack surgeons. Reports that Alou further speeded the rehabilitation process by urinating on his mangled leg were unconfirmed at press time.
Number Three: Willis McGahee
Be honest now: of all the highlights from Ohio State's 2003 Fiesta Bowl victory over Miami, which do you remember most clearly? The controversial pass interference call that kept the Buckeyes alive in the first overtime? Maurice Clarett's five-yard touchdown burst to seal the win? Or, maybe, is it that freeze-frame image of McGahee, with his left knee bent at an angle that Frank Jobe Himself couldn't have ever envisioned. It was, to say the least, an ugly moment, and most observers were left to sadly conclude that only one of the two young running back prospects in the game would go on to make a name for himself in the NFL. Hindsight, of course, has shown that those observers severely underestimated the capabilities of modern medicine...and the siren song of Grey Goose and submachine guns, apparently.
Number Two: Alex Zanardi
Simple rule of thumb: the human body doesn't hold up well against two hundred miles-an-hour of runaway steel. The former CART series champ learned as much at Germany's EuroSpeedway Lausitz in September 2001, when his disabled car—Zanardi had spun out while exiting the pits—was broadsided by an onrushing competitor. Coming as it did in the first international sporting event after 9/11, the appalling crash mostly escaped the notice of the American sports media...but that didn't keep Sports Illustrated from running a picture that more than captured the extent of the carnage. (Think pools of blood and chunks of flesh, Meat, and then just stop thinking.) Talk about ballsy, though: after losing both legs in the accident, Zanardi has since returned to the track on the World Touring Car Championship circuit. No word on whether he's adopted the Black Knight—"It's just a flesh wound!"—as his official mascot.
Number One: Joe Theismann
It's a shame when bad things happen to good people. It's a shame when a widely-revered quarterback—a Super Bowl champion, an NFL MVP—has his career ended by a grisly injury. It's a shame when a quality human being—a humble guy, an endearing figure—gets physically brutalized on national television. It's a shame Meat: it's a shame when that quality human being—endearingly, humbly—is made to writhe about on the turf at RFK Stadium, leaving sports fans all over the country to look on in stunned silence, at once horrified and hypnotized by the picture on their television screens—
And it's a shame, of course, when those horrified, hypnotized sports fans find themselves pumping a surreptitious fist in celebration of Lawrence Taylor—
Because my God, it'd been a long time coming...