Minnesota’s head football coach Jerry Kill suffered a seizure at the end of New Mexico State’s 28-21 victory over the Gophers last month. It was the first of at least three seizures that month. You know what else he did a lot last month? His job. Despite not being able to call a bootleg without going into a convulsive fit, Jerry Kill has never missed a game due to his condition. He also suffered seizures at the end of games while coaching Southern Illinois in 2001 and 2005. He gives new meaning to “playing through an injury.”
But he’s hardly alone. There have been a number of players who have played through the pain. Here are nine of the toughest players ever who “no pain, no gain” doesn’t even begin to describe.
In 1972 Ali fought Ken Norton (father of Ken Norton Jr.) and suffered a broken jaw. But Ali decided to keep fighting. This was not the greatest decision. The 12-round bout was decided by split decision in favor of Norton, costing Ali the heavyweight title belt and giving him his second loss ever.
In 2008, Anquan Boldin suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit from Eric Smith, resulting in both players being knocked out. But Boldin suffered more than just a concussion, he broke his face.
Even worse for Boldin, the injury happened after going for a touchdown catch with 27 seconds left in a game they lost to the Jets 56-35. Do the math. It was a completely useless play, unless you had some kind of side bet going as to whether a starting wide receiver will break his face.
After being carted off the field, Boldin had 40 titanium screws and seven plates put in his face to heal the fractures and his jaw wired to realign his bite. But, being either the toughest guy ever or the dumbest, Boldin was back three weeks later and caught nine passes for 63 yards and two touchdowns.
In first game of the 1988 World Series, Kirk Gibson sat in the clubhouse most of the game getting treatment on his strained hamstring and sprained knee. It was assumed he was unavailable to play since he wasn’t even on the bench. But come the 9th inning, the Dodgers were down 4-3 with two outs and Dennis Eckersley on the mound. So Tommy Lasorda called for the injured Gibson to pinch hit. He took two super gross looking swings and misses and then, on a 3-2 count, hit a walk off home run to end the game. His run (if you could call it that) around the bases has become probably the most replayed baseball clip ever. Amazingly, he was so hurt that this was his only at bat of the entire World Series.
While attempting to tackle Cowboys running back Timmy Newsome, Ronnie Lott got his finger stuck between Newsome’s helmet and his shoulder pads, resulting in a crushed pinky finger. Faced with the decision to miss the rest of the season and playoffs to have surgery to let the pinky heal or have the tip of the pinky amputated and play the rest of the season, Lott decided to simply tape the pinky and ring finger together and wait until after the playoffs (which ended up being one game, a 17-3 loss to the Giants) to make his decision.
Somehow this story has morphed into him getting his finger amputated during the game and returning to play, but while not quite as tough as that legend, the Hall-of-Famer still sacrificed part of his body (granted one of the more worthless parts) for his team.
During Game Five of the 1970 NBA Finals, Reed, the Knicks leading scorer and rebounder, collapsed to the floor with a torn muscle in his thigh and hip area. The Knicks went on to win the game, but with Reed out of the lineup for Game Six, the Knicks dropped the game to the Lakers.
With no one sure about Reed’s status entering Game 7, he hobbled out of the tunnel to a huge applause and scored the first two baskets of the game, which the Knicks won 113-99.
Unfortunately for legend’s sake, these were the only points he scored in the 27 minutes he played in the game, collecting three rebounds as well. So he sort of sucked. But the mere presence of the Knicks’ captain in the game is credited with inspiring the Knicks to their first NBA Championship, and he was named Finals MVP. So it can still make a great Disney movie.
During the 2004 playoffs, Curt Schilling injured his right ankle. And it wasn’t just twisting your ankle and manning up and playing through it like you do during pickup basketball. We’re talking a serious enough injury that a procedure was named after him (the Schilling Tendon Procedure even his it’s own Wikipedia page).
We all remember the Blood Sock to the point it became a little over-hyped, but looking back, Schilling is kind of the man. He tore his tendon sheath during his start in the first game of the ALDS, but refusing to miss the playoffs, Schilling underwent an experimental procedure where the tendon was stitched in place so it wouldn’t move during his delivery. The four stitches tore open a little, causing the blood to seep through to the sock.
But it didn’t seem to bother Schilling’s pitching, as he went seven innings in Game 6 of the ALCS, giving up one run and four hits and again in Game Two of the World Series, going six innings and giving up only one unearned run.
The second bloody sock was put in the Hall-of-Fame.
Sometimes people heroically play hurt. And sometimes heroically hurt people are stupidly made to play when they don’t need to and only can risk further injury. Kerri Strug falls into the latter category.
Kerri Strug was like three feet tall, had only one good leg, and a bad haircut. But she was the star of the 1996 Olympics.
The US and Russia were in a tight battle (showdown? We have no idea how to make gymnastics sound cool) for the gold medal in the vault. On her first vault, she landed awkwardly on her ankle, suffering a third-degree lateral sprain and tendon damage. She then limped to her second vault and landed it, guaranteeing the US gold. She was then carried off by her creepy mustachioed coach.
Unfortunately, since the two lowest scores were dropped, the US didn’t need the second vault. So it’s more like she medaled in a competition to see who can do the most work in the most painful manner possible. But it didn’t stop her from becoming the most famous gymnast for a while, meeting President Clinton and appearing on a Wheaties box with her teammates.
Everyone knew Tiger was hurting during the 2008 US Open. You could see him wince with every swing. It was painful to watch and probably more painful to actually experience.
But he came back to force a sudden death playoff with Rocco Mediate after sinking a now legendary 12-foot birdie putt. He went for par on the sudden-death hole and won his 14th major.
Two days later, it was revealed that Woods had a torn ACL and two stress fractures in his tibia and was going to miss the rest of the year after knee surgery. A torn ACL knocks your average NFL player out of the game immediately. Woods won a goddamn major championship with that injury AND two fractures in his leg.
This is quite possibly the only time in the history of sports when a career ending injury would have been a good thing. How many women Woods played through the pain with will probably never be known.
Late in the second quarter of the first game of the 1979 playoffs, defensive end Jack Youngblood was knocked over and got his leg stuck in the ground. He heard his leg snap above the ankle. X-rays showed it was broken but Youngblood pleaded with the trainers to tape it up and send him back in.
So they did. After missing the first few minutes of the second half, he was back in the game. He went on pick up a sack as the Rams upset the Cowboys.
A brace was made for his leg which he wore in the NFC Championship game and Super Bowl, which the Rams lost to the Steelers. But what really put him over the top is he wasn’t content playing three games on a broken leg. He played the next week in the Pro Bowl also. Not even the players with unbroken legs care about that game.