Injuries That Almost Changed Sports History

Giancarlo Ferrari-King@@GiancarloKingFeatured ColumnistOctober 20, 2016

Injuries That Almost Changed Sports History

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    What if? It's a question you can tie to almost anything in life and come up with about 10,000 answers. In sports, we ask it all the time.

    Looking back at sports injuries, asking "what if" became obsessive. How different would history look if athletes either didn't suffer an injury, or, what if they weren't able to fully recover? Would the entire franchise be altered?

    The following 10 injuries represent ones which almost changed sports history. As you pass by each slide, try to really think about what would have happened in each particular case. Then ask yourself, what would the sports landscape look like had they never occurred?

Tom Brady

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    A year after they went 18-1, the New England Patriots lost their starting quarterback, Tom Brady, in Week 1 of the 2008 NFL season.

    The hit, delivered by former Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard, was devastating. "You hate to see anyone go down. No one has worked harder or done more for this team than Tom has," head coach Bill Belichick mentioned at the time, per NFL.com.

    Without Brady, the Patriots turned to Matt Cassel and proceeded to miss the postseason, despite an 11-5 record. Cassel looked sharp in Belichick's system, but he wasn't Brady.

    Luckily, No. 12 was able to return the following year, throwing for 4,398 yards and 28 touchdowns. He hasn't missed a beat since.

    Imagine if this catastrophic knee injury had been worse or if Brady's rehab wavered? The entire complexion of the Patriots over the last eight seasons would look entirely different.

Tony Parker

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    Chris Schwegler/Getty Images

    Tony Parker's career almost was brought to an abrupt halt in the summer of 2012. The injury didn't happen on the court. It took place in a New York City nightclub, with Parker playing the role of an innocent bystander.

    A fight between music stars Drake and Chris Brown went down. The brawl resulted in glass bottles heaved across the club, causing shattered glass and multiple injuries.

    Parker was hit in the eye by a fractured piece of the bottle; He suffered damage to his cornea. A few weeks later, it was revealed he almost lost his eye and that his NBA employer, the San Antonio Spurs, were extremely concerned.

    Fate turned for the better and Parker was able to come back to full strength. After a brush with a career-ending injury, he returned to the Spurs and played 66 games out of a possible 82 the following season.

Adrian Peterson

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Running backs suffering knee injuries are never a good thing. In many cases they've been career-altering—look at Gale Sayers, or in more recent time, Cadillac Williams.

    Adrian Peterson's NFL career was relatively injury-free before suffering an ACL tear 12 games into the 2011 season. The most action he missed prior to that was two games during his rookie year.

    A full ACL tear sidelined Peterson and put his career in jeopardy. Remarkably, AP came back the following season and set a career-best in terms of rushing yards, with 2,097 in 16 starts.

    Peterson has since suffered other injuries—he's currently on the shelf this year. But in 2011, had he not returned to form, the offense and team would have been flailing without a direction.

    There's no telling what this franchise would have done if Peterson wasn't able to get back to his dominant self. Would Teddy Bridgewater be on the roster? Would general manager Rick Spielman have spent early draft choices on the defensive side of the ball?

    We will never know those answers, mainly because Peterson's knee took on a supernatural recovery.

Neymar

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    Andre Penner/Associated Press

    The 2014 FIFA World Cup was almost the last time Neymar took his talents onto the pitch.

    A devastating spinal injury, suffered in the quarterfinals game against Colombia, sent Neymar to the ground, grasping for answers. After being ruled out of the World Cup, few knew what the future would hold, or how devastating this injury could be long-term.

    "I thank God for helping me, because if that blow had been a few inches lower I would have risked being paralyzed," Neymar told Italian newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Jamie Gordon of the Sun).

    Neymar recovered and has since continued to rage on with Brazil and his club team, Barcelona, leaving no stones unturned. He's been so good that former Barcelona star Rivaldo believes he is close to becoming the best player in the world, per Tom Farmery of the Daily Mail.

    Had that spinal injury been any worse, Neymar's career could come to an abrupt end in 2014.

Peyton Manning

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Peyton Manning made a living, a career, built a Hall of Fame resume with the Indianapolis Colts. Picturing him in another team's uniform was an act of futility for a decade.

    Injuries changed that narrative. Manning went from being a lifetime member of the Colts to a part of the Denver Broncos after suffering a major neck injury prior to the 2011 season. 

    The neck problems were ongoing and when Manning was forced to get surgery, the Colts decided it was best to move on from their longtime leader.

    John Elway and the Denver Broncos courted Manning and eventually attained his services. Even with a lack of pure arm strength—a topic Manning himself brought up in February 2016—he still set the NFL record for all-time passing touchdowns and won a Super Bowl with the Broncos.

    Without all of those neck issues, there's little reason to believe the Colts would have let No. 18 walk. He remains the franchise leader in passing yards, touchdowns thrown and wins.

Triple H

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    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    Push your "WWE isn't a sport" comments to the side for a second and hear us out. The world of sports entertainment was rattled to the core when Triple H went down with a barbaric quad injury in 2001.

    The injury came at a transitional time in WWE. Triple H was partnered with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin at the time, before going down. During his eight-month absence, The Game also missed the entire WWE vs. WCW "invasion" angle—a storyline that pitted both companies against one another.

    Had he been around for all of that, perhaps the company would have shifted gears and put Triple H with team WCW. Or, maybe the angle wouldn't have happened at all.

    We'll never know what could have been, and when Triple H did return, WWE was in an entirely different place.

Drew Brees

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Three franchises were directly affected by Drew Brees' shoulder injury in 2005. But what if that injury never took place?

    First up was the San Diego Chargers. They watched Brees go down in the final game of the 2005 regular season, effectively opening the door for third-year signal-caller Philip Rivers to step into the starting role in '06. The injury rendered Brees disposable and sent him off to free-agent market.

    Next on the list is the Miami Dolphins. This team, led by Nick Saban at the time, was hunting for a starting quarterback. After engaging in a bidding war with the New Orleans Saints, the Dolphins pulled back and opted to deal a second-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for Daunte Culpepper. The trade turned out to be a disaster.

    Finally, we have the Saints. They pursued Brees from the start and threw big money at him to bring the veteran QB down to New Orleans—a six-year deal totaling $60 million to be exact.

    Brees has since carved out a Hall of Fame career and captured a Super Bowl title in in 2010. But imagine if he didn't get hurt. Would Brees have remained in San Diego, despite Rivers' presence? Would Rivers have been dealt away for picks?

    What if Brees signed with the Dolphins? Would they have a Super Bowl ring? Could Saban have stuck around longer? 

    All we do know for certain is Brees' torn labrum shifted the landscape for three NFL teams in 2005.

Sidney Crosby

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    It's difficult to imagine the Pittsburgh Penguins without Sidney Crosby. The long-time leader of the club has helped usher in two Stanley Cups and countless seasons with an All-Star game appearance.

    However, Crosby's career nearly came to an abrupt end during the 2011-12 season, after battling with concussion issues.

    ESPN.com provided an in-depth timeline of Crosby's battle, which was filled with turmoil. Rumors of retirement talk were refuted, Crosby getting back onto the ice kept getting delayed and all of this was clouding the Penguins.

    Finally, his condition improved and Crosby returned in 2013 to net a league-leading 68 assists and 104 total points. He got back to being Sid the Kid, and the Penguins have continued to surge ever since.

Ben Roethlisberger

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Ben Roethlisberger's NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers has been memorable. He's become the team's all-time leader in yards thrown and touchdowns, thanks to a sturdy frame and a powerful arm.

    In 2006, Big Ben almost saw his career dissipate two years in, after getting into a motorcycle crash. The news at the time was bleak.

    ESPN.com reported Roethlisberger had suffered a nine-inch laceration on the back of his head, facial damage and a broken jaw—among many other injuries. The crash was serious enough that former Steelers head coach, Bill Cowher, rushed back from vacation to see how his quarterback was doing.

    Thankfully, Roethlisberger made a full recovery and continued to lead the Steelers. Had he not been able to play quarterback ever again, who knows where this team would rank today.

Stephen Curry

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    Stephen Curry's heroic NBA career with the Golden State Warriors can be summed up with two words: Scoring and ankles.

    The first word we all know. Curry has become an elite NBA scorer, unleashing a tirade of three-pointers over the last seven seasons. He's as good as it gets in that department.

    Ankles is one you might question. But remember, Curry's career was almost derailed because of persistent ankle issues. "He was turning his ankle in completely nontraditional, crazy ways," Warriors general manager Bob Myers told ESPN senior writer Pablo S. Torre.

    Torre's article explained how Curry was able to overcome those ailments with the help of doctors and trainers. Had it not been for advancements in the medical field and the guidance of Warriors performance director Keke Lyles, Curry might never have realized his potential.

    Today, he stands alone as the NBA's top shooting entity and a two-time MVP.

    All stats, box scores and information via Sports-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise.