When I first heard that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had signed DT Eric LeGrand to the 90 man roster my first thought was that it was in bad taste to appeal to the world and sell tickets to my favorite team for the upcoming season by exploiting a young man’s depilating injury. LeGrand was severely injured during a special teams tackle while playing at Rutgers and broke his neck paralyzing him at age 20 from the neck down. Doctors gave LeGrand a 0 to 5% chance to ever regain any feeling in the neurological systems of his body.
But Eric is a tough kid and shortly after his injury, he insisted to be taken off his breathing machine. Then he gained feeling in his hands. LeGrand worked every day to move a part of his body and now he can actually stand for periods of time, which is an absolutely tremendous achievement. Coach Schiano who was his coach at Rutgers when LeGrand went down with the injury has been helping the young man stay focused, along with the fantastic support of a mother who refuses to quit, and it is becoming clear what forces have helped give Eric LeGrand the inner strength to beat these impossible odds to recovery.
Coach Schiano is now the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that is loaded with talent, but lost their way last season with a lack of focus and leadership. My love of the Buccaneers stems from the ownership of the Glazer family, and how innovative they have been in their approach to the game of football, and the NFL in general. When they hired Schiano after many interviews with many coaches, some who had taken their teams to last year’s playoff games, it was evident they saw something special in Schiano that would resurrect a level of greatness that the fans of Tampa Bay had come to expect.
Schiano has not disappointed so far, he has made some fantastic acquisitions in the free agency market, and this year’s draft is considered to be one of the best in Buccaneer history. The team has managed to create some cap room to work with, and they have used it to get some really good players to fill the voids exposed during the last season. That is why it seemed like a publicity stunt to see that Schiano had put LeGrand on the Buccaneer 90 man roster. After all, there is no way that LeGrand will play DT for Tampa Bay in 2012 if ever. Even if he could gain the ability to walk again, there is simply no way that he could outperform the hoards of other athletes all competing for the same job who have not suffered a debilitating injury. That is the conventional wisdom of the stats and science in placing an NFL player on the field to win football games. But conventional wisdom does not produce exceptions, and in any competitive endeavor, it is the exceptional that tip the balance of power in favor of a victor.
Great players are a dime a dozen, and coaches, teams and fans are always on the look-out for those special individuals who display leadership in the face of adversity and overcome odds that are insurmountable, and LeGrand certainly exhibits these traits without even stepping onto a football field.
My personal feelings about injuries and the kind of things doctors tell us are well noted here. I believe cancer could be cured tomorrow but the pharmaceutical companies and FDA are more concerned about preserving the status quo for their retirement accounts than actually solving a problem that will change medicine. When it comes to spinal cord injuries and nerve damage, doctors often project doomsday scenarios tapping their patients into the local pharmacy promoting bags of drugs to return the sick to some semblance of a normal life.
I don’t trust much of what doctors tell me, because I find the limits of their medical understanding confining and their belief in the potential of the human body to be deficient. My own doctors and rehab specialists tried to guide me in returning my knee to full function after extensive ACL surgery. I had torn my ACL in a basketball game, and then further damaged my knee by tearing the MCL while jumping through a wall of fire performing a whip stunt. The grass was wet to protect it from being burnt, so when I landed my foot slipped out from under me because there was no ACL to support my leg, and my femur actually drove into the ground leaving a small crater. My knee-joint slipped so far out of socket the bone had no knee in the way to protect it.
Doctors gave me weeks of rehab as the prognosis once they repaired my ACL, but I worked hard to recover as quickly as possible. I had my surgery done on a Thursday; I was walking and back to work on the following Monday. I could have milked time off work for weeks if I wanted to, but that is not how I think. I wanted to recover, and get back on my feet quickly—and I did. I went to rehab every couple of days, and I felt they were wasting my time, like my appointments were simply to provide work for the rehab employees and had very little to do with my actual recovery. I stunned the staff recovering 6X’s faster than the average, according to them. When my insurance company saw my progress with the rehab clinic, they cut the payments to my rehab. And on that day, it was my last session. I wasn’t about to pay for something out of my own pocket that I could do better on my own.
As I was leaving my therapists warned me that I might lose my advanced progress if I did not come to them anymore, in fact, my leg might not be as strong. They were aghast that I refused to take any medication during this time and made it sound as though my leg would fall off if I quit therapy. Within weeks of walking out on my therapists because my insurance company would no longer cover the costs, I was running on my leg again, and jumping through walls of fire—doing what I love doing.
My wife had ruptured a disk in her lower back carrying my youngest daughter the rest of the way up a mountain hike and didn’t realize it until we got home because she had difficulty walking. We went to see a back surgeon and discovered that she was about to become paralyzed from the waist down due to the disk slippage, so she went through emergency surgery.
After the surgery she had lost a lot of feeling in her toes and parts of her leg and was told that those nerves in her leg had been severally damaged, and she may never be able to walk correctly. Well, to my wife, this simply wasn’t an option. She had kids to raise and things to do. We rubbed her legs and feet for hours stimulating the damaged nerves and gradually she regained most of her feeling, and within a month, was able to walk normally. Again, if we had listened to the doctors, she would probably still have problems walking and her body would most likely be addicted to some pharmaceutical product to this very day even though that was well over decade ago.
The injury to LeGrand is much more severe than either one of the injuries described above, but what he has that is in common is a will to recover, to conquer his debilitation and take charge of his own body and its functions, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. For that, Coach Schiano is wise to understand that by placing LeGrand on the very young Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team that the presence of LeGrand will inspire the other players to greatness, to be at the top of their physical prowess, because compared to LeGrand, what does anyone have to complain about. If LeGrand can work out with the Buccaneers players and they see what it looks like to recover from paralysis what does a healthy player have as an excuse to not strengthen a ham string injury, or a sprained ankle?
For the inspiration of having such a positive presence on the practice field, LeGrand is worth the roster spot, and will certainly earn the privilege of playing in the NFL, even if it’s just on the sidelines. Because like most games, the battles are not won just on the field of play, they are won in the mind of the participants before the contest even begins.
I believe that with the positive attitude that Eric LeGrand has, with the support of his very positive mother and mentoring of Coach Schiano, that Eric may very well take his first steps on the practice field at One Buc Place sometime during the upcoming football season. Once Eric is on the field around other athletes, that desire to compete will drive the cells of his body to his cause, and he will walk while in a Buccaneer uniform, and the world will shudder at the miracle. LeGrand will become a shock to the medical industry of the world as new hope will be given to all victims of paralysis. The medicine of positive thinking will begin to get serious reappraisal.
Further, I believe that by the 2013 season, Eric will be running again and will be able to practice on the field simulating plays with the practice squad. And because he will have recovered and worked so hard to come back to that point, he will be a superior athlete, far surpassing what most in his position have otherwise achieved, because he has had to learn to overachieve just to recover.
By the 2014 season Eric will be in the rotation of DT’s in Tampa and he will find that he has surpassed his previous playing ability with a ferocity that defies fear, because he will have a new lease on life and will know that he has survived the worse that can be thrown at him, and he beat it back and the world will gasp at his stunning performance on third downs.
By 2015, just 5 short years from his terrible injury at Rutgers, at the tender age of 27, Eric LeGrand will be the dominate DT in the league and will be the starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Many all over the NFL will be comparing him to Warren Sapp and Lee Roy Selmon but Eric will have done something nobody in the history of the world has done, he will have returned from an injury that doctors had doomed him to a life of paralysis to not only recover, but be bigger, stronger, and faster than ever before because he had knocked on death’s door and faced that ultimate fear at the brink, and that will make him unstoppable. And his never-say-quit attitude will carry the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a string of Superbowl wins that will dominate the NFL for a 6 year period up to the 2022 season. And Eric LeGrand will be known as one of the greatest players to ever play the game and he’ll not only change the game of football for the better, but will alter the course of medical science.
It will all come back to the odd decision of Coach Schiano and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to sign a paralyzed, but optimistic kid to their 90 man roster in 2012, a decision that will reenergize Buccaneer football in Tampa to a new decade of dominance and inspire the world to the unlimited possibilities of positive thinking. Once again it will be proven that the prizes of life do not go to the quicker, the stronger, or the largest man, but to the one who simply refuses to quit and believes that they can do anything once they set their mind to it and force their bodies to equal the quality of their thoughts. The strength of heart simply has more value than the bulk of muscle, and is so rare that even if a person is in a wheel chair they can have more value than a whole busload of healthy players that are the best physical athletes of their age, yet lack the inner drive to achieve beyond expectation. That is why Eric LeGrand will change the world, starting with the fate of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers!
Fire the CANNONS!!!!!!
This is what people are saying about my new book–Tail of the Dragon