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Mathew Stafford and The Top 15 China Dolls in Sports History

Joseph ChasanCorrespondent IJanuary 26, 2011

Mathew Stafford and The Top 15 China Dolls in Sports History

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford gets hurt even when it is the offseason.

    Recently, Stafford went to what was supposed to be a routine check-up to examine the right shoulder he injured back in November. It was revealed that things were not healing as well as they could be, and Stafford was put under the knife.

    Wait, have you heard this one before?  No, this isn't a joke, or a re-post of an old story.  This is new.  For reals.  Stafford, the number one overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, has already dealt with a career's worth of injury problems.  He missed six games during his rookie season with various shoulder and knee issues, and sat out all but three games this season because of that troublesome right shoulder.

    Now he's supposed to be out another three to four months.  Really, he's the perfect poster boy for the Lions' futility.

    In honor of Stafford's career arc so far, here are 15 other players who made getting injured an art form.

15) WR David Boston

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    David Boston was a victim of his own success.  He was also a fanatical workout fiend, and worked his body to beyond its own limits.

    He became a breakout star as a wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals in 2001, when he caught 98 passes for a league leading 1,598 yards and eight touchdowns.  But the next year is when the injury problems began, and he missed half the season.

    He was still able to parlay his success on the field into a seven year, $100 million free agent contract with the San Diego Chargers, and enjoyed a relatively healthy season in 2003. That year, Boston clashed with his teammates and coaches, and was suspended by the team for a game for disciplinary reasons.

    San Diego traded him to the Miami Dolphins after the season, and it was all downhill from there.  He tore ligaments in his knee and missed the entire 2004 season, came back for five games in 2005, then went down with more ligament damage.  His injuries were generally the strains, pops, and tears, that came not from contact, but from overworking his body.

    Despite still being just 32 years old, he hasn't played in the NFL since 2005, and off-the-field issues have combined with the injuries to derail his career.

14) SS Bob Sanders

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Bob Sanders is one of the best safeties in the NFL when he's not limping off the field, or rehabbing in the training room.

    His injury problems began right from his rookie season with the Indianapolis Colts in 2004 when he missed 10 games with various foot and knee ailments.  He's only played two relatively full, healthy seasons since, and was named a Pro Bowler and first team All-Pro both times.

    But his legacy has become much more about his health problems than about his ball hawking skills and punishing hits.  His 2006 season was limited to four games because of a knee injury.  In 2008, he only played in six games because of a high ankle sprain and more knee trouble.  In 2009, it was his arm betraying him, and he sat out all but the first two games of the year.  Then in 2010, he tore his biceps tendon in the season opener, and sat out the rest of the year.

    His career may never be the same, as his knee issues have become a chronic problem that will only get worse with age.  Unfortunately, we've never been able to see his true potential.

13) G/F Tracy McGrady

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Detroit Pistons G/F Tracy McGrady was one of the most electrifying talents in the NBA a few years ago, but the second half of his career has been plagued by one malady after another.

    He led the league in scoring in 2002-03 and 2003-04, but the June 29th, 2004 trade that sent him from Orlando to Houston for G Steve Francis was the beginning of the end.  He enjoyed just one healthy season in Texas before he began succumbing to chronic back spasms that have haunted him on and off for much of the last six years.

    Starting in 2006-07, his games played decreased each season, from 71 that year, to 66 the next, then to 35, and finally to just 30 last year, when the Rockets cut their losses and shipped him out of town.

    While he's been relatively healthy so far this season in his first year with Detroit, he's no longer even close to the player he once was. McGrady is averaging just 7.0 points per game in 2010-11.

12) C Eric Lindros

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    Few players have entered professional sports with more fanfare or controversy than Eric Lindros.  And few players have exited their league of choice with more injuries under their belt.

    Lindros was drafted first overall in 1991 by the Quebec Nordiques, but he didn't want to play for them, and eventually forced them into a trade.  The Nordiques then finalized trades with two teams for Lindros, and the case had to go to an arbitrator, who ruled in favor of the Philadelphia Flyers (instead of the New York Rangers).

    He was certainly a star, a big, physical, but also talented center who could impose his will on a game, but like a number of hockey players, his career trajectory was irrevocably affected by various injuries, most notably concussions.

    He ended up playing in more than 73 games just once in his 13 year career.  After leading the league in scoring in the lockout shortened 1995 season, then scoring a career high 115 points in 1995-96, he was rarely the same player in the ensuing years, and his career was essentially over by the time he turned 30.

    His does have another lasting legacy, however: the players the Nordiques obtained in their original trade eventually helped the franchise. After relocating to Colorado and becoming the Avalanche,  they become one of the premier teams in the league winning two Stanley Cups in the next decade.

11) C Mario Lemieux

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    I'll be the first one to admit that having Lemieux on this list is a bit harsh, but it is also a fact that as great as his career was, it should have been so much greater.

    Lemieux was Lindros before Lindros was Lindros, but he was so much more.  A big, playmaking center who matched that size with immense skill, Lemieux went so far as to challenge the great Wayne Gretzky for superiority.

    But after being mostly healthy in four of his first five seasons, capped with a remarkable 199 point season in 1988-89, he was never really consistently healthy again.  He developed a back injury that eventually was diagnosed as a herniated disc, and his back problems plagued him the rest of his career.  In his later seasons, he was so wracked with back pain that he could not bend over to lace up his skates.

    As if that wasn't enough, he was diagnosed with a form of cancer called Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 1993, which forced him to take numerous extended leaves of absence from the sport for treatment and recovery.  And oh yeah, he also developed chronic tendinitis, as well.

    Despite all of these ailments, he still produced one of the most remarkable bodies of work in hockey history.  But we are forced to only imagine of what could have been had he played in a different body.

10) DH/3B Eric Chavez

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    The Oakland Athletic's DH Eric Chavez is another player who has been betrayed by a bad back.

    He was the A's first round draft pick in 1996, and from 2000 to 2006 he was one of the best third basemen in baseball, winning five Gold Glove awards, and driving in 100 runs four times.  He was one of the cornerstones of the franchise.

    His back began to flare up at that point though, and since 2007, he's been limited to 90, 23, 8, and 33 games each season.  He's had a herniated disk, multiple surgeries, and was told before the 2010 season that another back injury could force doctors to fuse his back, surely ending his career.

    He ended up being felled by a neck injury, and also battled arm injuries earlier in his career.  The A's wanted to build around him for the future, going so far as to put his picture on new stadium mock-ups just a few years ago, but they let him go this past offseason, and the jury is still out if he has any more of a Major League career left in him.

9) F Larry Bird

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    Indisputably one of the greatest players and fiercest competitors in NBA history, Bird joins the cavalcade of stars felled by bad backs.

    Bird led the Boston Celtics to a 1980's renaissance: five trips to the NBA Finals, three titles.  But in 1988, they failed to reach the Finals for the first time in five years, getting bounced in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Detroit Pistons, with Bird having an uncharacteristically poor series.

    People didn't know it at the time, but this was the beginning of the end.  Bird had painful bone spurs in both feet that would eventually force him to have surgery, and miss all but six games the following season.

    He would return in 1989-90 with his last great season, playing through foot and back pain, but it was only a matter of time before his body would give out on him.  It was found that he had a compressed nerve in his lower back, and one of the most popular spots for him during the last few years of his career was of him splayed out on his stomach in front of the bench, trying to relieve the pain.

    He even went so far as to have surgery to remove a disc in an attempt to alleviate some of the pressure, but nothing worked.  He missed 22 games in 1990-91, and half the season in 1991-92, his final year.

    It took the Celtics 16 years to recover.

8) C Pat LaFontaine

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Pat LaFontaine was one of the greatest American born hockey players in NHL history, but his downfall was concussions.

    Hailing from St. Louis, Missouri, LaFontaine was the third overall pick in 1983, and at the age of 18, joined a dynastic New York Islanders team that already boasted such stars as Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier.  When he was finally able to carve out his own space, he flourished, and really blossomed once he moved on to play for the Buffalo Sabres.

    In 1992-93, LaFontaine exploded to score 53 goals to go along with 95 assists, for an American record 148 points.  But this would be his last hurrah.  A series of concussions began forcing him to miss more and more playing time.

    He only appeared in 16 games in 1993-94, and in 1996, a vicious hit by Francois Leroux saddled LaFontaine with serious post-concussion syndrome.  He attempted to return, but was only able to play half a season with the New York Rangers before being forced to retire after an accidental collision with a teammate gave him the eighth documented concussion of his career.

    Realistically, he probably had far more than that, as even just 15 years ago, concussions were not taken as seriously as they are today.  In the end, he had a very good career that could have been great.

7) RHP Kerry Wood

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    Chicago Cubs' RP Kerry Wood burst onto the MLB scene like few players before or since.  He was Stephen Strasburg when Strasburg was in elementary school.

    Wood pitched one of the most dominating games ever in his fifth Major League start in 1998, striking out 20 Houston Astros, and allowing just a lone infield single mar his stat line.  With high 90's heat and a knee buckling curve, most hitters were at his mercy.

    Unfortunately for him, arm troubles began early on, and he missed the last month of his rookie season with elbow soreness.  Then going into his second season in 1999, he had to have Tommy John surgery and he missed the entire season.

    Over the next four years, he enjoyed a good deal of success, and was considered one of the best starters in baseball as of 2003, when he led the Cubs to the NLCS.  But things fell apart after that.  In the ensuing years, he strained his triceps, had to have surgery on his knee, tore his rotator cuff, and even hurt himself in a hot tob.

    By 2007, the Cubs gave up on him being a starter ever again, and converted him into a closer. In 2011, Wood will once again be pitching on the North Side of Chicago.

6) RHP Mark Prior

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    You didn't think we could talk about Kerry Wood without bringing up his old Cubbie teammate, Mark Prior, did you?

    Prior's career has made Wood appear like the paragon of health and fitness.  Prior made every bit as exciting a splash as Wood had made, going 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in his first full season in 2003.  But he was the starting pitcher in the Steve Bartman game, where the Cubs blew their chance at ending their World Series drought, and he seems to have been cursed ever since.

    He missed a few months in 2004 with an injured Achilles, and started 2005 on the DL.  Upon returning, he was hit on the elbow by a line drive, fracturing it and sending him back to the bench.  In 2006, shoulder problems and tendinitis limited him to just 9 appearances, and a 7.21 ERA.

    He hasn't played in the Majors since.  The official diagnosis?  A "loose shoulder".  Yep.  Whatever that is, it's prevented any and all comeback attempts Prior has made in the last few years.  He's signed contracts with the Padres and Rangers in recent years, and in 2011 the Yankees will be the suckers ... I mean team ... that gives him a chance.

5) OF/DH Ken Griffey, Jr.

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Ken Griffey, Jr. really had two careers.

    In his first career, he was an All-Star centerfielder for the Seattle Mariners for a decade.  One of the best and most charismatic players in all of sports, he defined cool and led the franchise into respectability with his diving catches and moonshot home runs.

    In his second career, he was a perennially disabled benchwarmer for the Cincinnati Reds who spent more time rehabbing than he did playing.  OK, that's not entirely true.  He did miss significant time in 1995, as well, with an injured wrist while still on Seattle.

    His last fully healthy season was his first in Cincinnati, 2000.  After that, everything fell apart.  Between 2002 and 2004, he missed a cumulative total of 260 games with various ailments, and had to have season ending surgery every year.

    Griffey went from being a young superstar to being an aging cripple faster than you can say 600 home runs.  Although he still reached that milestone, and will still go down in history as one of the great players of the modern era, he's another player who could have been so much more.

4) G/F Grant Hill

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    Give Phoenix Suns G/F Grant Hill credit for at least being a bit different.  Instead of having his career ruined by back injuries or concussions, his career was ruined by bad ankles.

    One of the best all-around players in basketball for six seasons with the Detroit Pistons, Hill signed with the Orlando Magic in 2000 and was expected to team up with Tracy McGrady to form a potent scoring combo.  But the combination never materialized.

    He actually originally hurt himself at the end of the 1999-2000 season while still with Detroit, bruising a bone in his left foot.  While trying to protect himself during the playoffs, he broke his ankle.  It wasn't expected to cause lasting problems at the time, but it never healed properly, and he was eventually forced to have three separate surgeries to try to correct the problem.

    He only played 4 games his first year in Orlando, 14 the next, and 29 the next.  In 2003-04, he missed the entire season.  In 2005, it was nagging groin injuries that were the culprit, and he missed 61 games.

    While he's been relatively healthy since then, he's was no longer the same player by the time he was finally able to put the injury bug behind him.  Just like Tracy McGrady.  I guess there was something in the water that year in Orlando, or something.

3) C Yao Ming

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    Yao Ming was a revolution when he arrived in the NBA as the first overall pick in 2002.  A 7'6" center from China, he played with a grace and a skill that nobody even close to his size had ever displayed.  And in his first three seasons, he was the picture of health, missing just two total games over that time.

    But we had to know this was going to come sooner or later, right?  People that big just are more susceptible to things.  His kryptonite has been his feet.

    It started in 2005, when he developed a foot infection that forced him to miss 21 games.  That was followed by a broken bone suffered at the end of the season which ruined his offseason.  In 2006, he broke his knee, and missed another 34 games that season.  In 2008, it was a stress fracture in his right foot that ended his season.

    In 2008-09, he enjoyed a mostly healthy season, but was felled in the playoffs by a sprained ankle, which was later revealed to be another broken foot that had the potential of ending his career.  He missed the entire 2009-10 season in order to recover.

    This year, the Houston Rockets instituted strict restrictions on Yao's minutes in an attempt to keep him healthy, but of course it didn't work.  He suffered a stress fracture in his left ankle, and he's out indefinitely again.

    Yao Ming is a cross cultural icon who has done great charity work, and seems like a nice guy.  But the injury gods are cruel, and he may soon have to face the reality that he'll never play again.

2) OF Mickey Mantle

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    Mantle never really missed all that much time due to injury throughout his 18 year New York Yankees career, but he was almost always playing in pain.

    It started back in his rookie season of 1951, when he tripped over a drain pipe in the outfield at Yankee Stadium during Game 2 of the World Series.  He had stopped short to defer to Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee legend of the day, and caught his spikes.

    Onlookers reported Mantle going down as if he had been shot.  He was carried off the field, and taken to a hospital, where it was revealed that he had torn up the cartilage and ligaments in his right knee.

    Throughout the rest of his career, the injury haunted him, and hardly a day went by when Mantle wasn't in some kind of pain.  He compounded problems by drowning his pain in bottles of booze, which would eventually lead to the liver disease that would claim his life in 1995.

    He suffered further knee injuries in 1953 and 1962, and battled other ailments such as cysts, abscesses, and hamstring problems.

    Mantle was the most popular sportsman in the country throughout his career, and he amassed numbers that made him a Hall of Fame lock, but he was perhaps the best example of someone who could have been even more.

1) C Greg Oden

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    Portland Trail Blazers C Greg Oden is still young enough where he might be able to move past his struggles and change his destiny.  But probably not.

    Oden was a force of nature in his lone season at Ohio State, a shot blocking seven-foot center who appeared to be a man playing amongst boys.  His skills made him the first overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, but the Trail Blazers would grow to regret that pick almost as soon as they made it.

    Never mind that the second pick was Oklahoma City Thunder F Kevin Durant.  If Oden had been able to actually be healthy, he might have carved out his own niche as one of the great young players in the league.  But he's been injured from day one.

    The Blazers should have taken the hint from the thumb injury that forced him to miss the beginning of his freshman campaign in college.  The summer after he was drafted, he hurt his knee, and was forced to have microfracture surgery that caused him to miss his entire rookie season.

    Once he finally was able to take the court to start the next season, he couldn't get through one game before being felled again by a foot injury.  Two weeks later, he returned, but later that year, he chipped his kneecap and eventually missed 20 games that season.

    Onto last year.  What, 21 games played isn't enough?  Yep, a fractured kneecap cost him the other 61 games.  And don't even ask about this year.  Microfracture surgery.  Again.  And another lost season.

    Really, at this point, he should just keep getting hurt.  He can have a more memorable career that way.

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