NFL History

Top 10 Most Devastating Injuries in NFL Preseason History

Brenda SummersCorrespondent IIApril 22, 2011

Top 10 Most Devastating Injuries in NFL Preseason History

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    PHILADELPHIA - NOVEMBER 21:  Ellis Hobbs #31 of the Philadelphia Eagles is taken off the field on a stretcher after getting injured on a kickoff returns against the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field on November 21, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylva
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Injuries are a part of the game of football that nobody likes.  They can make or break a team and even be downright frightening to watch at the fan level.  They can also end a player's career.

    Preseason is an especially tough time for NFL players.  The veteran guys are trying to make sure they are in shape for the upcoming season, and the new guys are doing everything they can to impress the coaches before the final roster cut.  The combination of veteran players with hungry young guys trying to leave it all out on the field can be dangerous.

    In fact, The American Journal of Sports Medicine published a study that concludes the same thing.  They looked at NFL athletes over a 10 year span and found that over half of all hamstring injuries occurred during the preseason.  These injuries can then be aggravated during the regular season and put playmakers on the sidelines for weeks or months.

    The players most at risk for this type of injury are the ones who have to use their off the line speed and those who jump for balls such as the wide receivers and the defensive secondary, as well as players on the special teams units.

    Hamstring injuries are certainly not the only ones to be concerned about, however, as the following list will show.

Eli Manning: 2010

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    Veteran QB Eli Manning had a close call in a preseason game against the New York Jets in Aug. 2010.  It was not as devastating as it could have been, but was a reminder of what could and can happen.

    Manning took a hard hit from his own teammate, Brandon Jacobs, and Jets linebacker Calvin Pace.  Manning's helmet was knocked off, and he ended up going head first into another player.  He injured his head during this play and had a three-inch gash that required 12 stitches.

    Fortunately for him, the injury wasn't worse, and he was able to play in the regular season.  However, it brought to light the risk of putting your front line out on the field.

    Preseason is normally a time where you don't play your first-string guys much, just in case of injury.  It is a time when the second and third stringers get playing time and when the rookies or other guys new to the team get a chance to play in the NFL.

    Manning's unprotected hit to the head could easily have resulted in a concussion or a neck injury.

    This slide serves as a reminder of the risks to key players in preseason play.

Stafon Johnson: 2010

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    Stafon Johnson
    Stafon JohnsonOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Stafon Johnson, RB, has quite a story to tell and hopes it to be an inspiration to everyone.

    He had recovered from a horrible, near-fatal weightlifting accident at USC on Sept. 28, 2009, where he crushed his larynx and needed emergency surgery.  He was on a breathing tube for almost a month after.

    Johnson worked hard to get back in shape for the 2010 draft, where he was projected to go in the mid–rounds. However, teams were skeptical about how far he was in his recovery and he went undrafted.

    The Tennessee Titans chose to pick him up after the draft and he began competing for the RB position left open by LenDale White.  During his first preseason game of 2010, Johnson was in the air making a third quarter catch when hit by a Seattle Seahawks defensive back. 

    The hit spun him around, and Johnson landed awkwardly on his right leg.  He would be carted off the field and later told that he had dislocated his right ankle, had a high ankle sprain  and broke his fibula.  Prior to this injury, he carried the ball three times for a total gain of 23 yards. 

    He was looking to be a very promising prospect for the Titans before he went down and the coaches appeared to be impressed.  Instead, the Titans felt they had no choice but to release him.

    The good news for Johnson is that he may be given another chance this year.  The Titans are reportedly considering giving him another chance.  Even though they no longer have head coach, Jeff Fisher, who put Johnson on a contract through 2011, Mike Munchak, their new head coach, has seen what this kid can do.  Munchak, of course, was the offensive line coach last season.

    Johnson's injuries were probably the most gruesome of any on this list, but his story has to be the most inspiring.

Michael Vick: 2003

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 11:  Michael Vick #7  of the Atlanta Falcons lies in pain after being hit by the Eagle defense on a touchdown he made that was called back on a holding penalty during their NFC playoff game on January 11, 2003 at Veterans Stadiu
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Michael Vick, currently the QB for the Philadelphia Eagles, has had several injuries to contend with, but the most devastating one happened in a preseason game in 2003.

    In 2003, Vick was coming off a great season with the Atlanta Falcons.  In 2002, Vick made the Pro Bowl  and set three NFL records for rushing by a quarterback.  However, 2003 would not be a repeat for the 23-year-old QB.

    On Aug. 16, 2003, the Atlanta Falcons were taking on the Baltimore Ravens in a preseason shootout.  Things were not going very well for Vick from the beginning, as he was sacked on his first play and then thew an interception on his second. 

    The night might have gotten better if Vick would have seen his first two plays as an omen and left the field. 

    However, on a third-and-six from the Atlanta five yard line, Vick was chased out of the pocket and tackled by Adalius Thomas. When Vick fell on his right leg, he knew he had injured it when he reached out and grabbed his leg before even hitting the ground.

    He would soon find out that he had broken his fibula and would be out for the next 10 games.

Jason Sehorn: 1998

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    Jason Sehorn
    Jason SehornDoug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Back in the mid-to-late 1990s, Jason Sehorn was considered one of the league's most elite cornerbacks and certainly one of the best players on the New York Giants defense.

    Sehorn and the Giants took to the field in their first preseason game in 1998, looking forward to defending their 1997 NFC East Championship. The Giants were taking on their in-State rivals, the New York Jets, and the energy was high.

    However, no one could have predicted that the season would end so shortly for Sehorn.

    On the very first play of the game, Sehorn was on the kickoff return unit. Within seconds of starting the game, he was hit and went down.  Sehorn would find out that he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn medial collateral ligament that required season-ending reconstructive surgery.

    This injury not only kept Sehorn from playing the rest of the season; it also, ultimately, ended his career.

Top 10 Most Devastating Injuries in NFL Preseason History

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    Ki-Jana Carter
    Ki-Jana CarterMark Lyons/Getty Images

    Injuries are a part of the game of football that nobody likes.  They can make or break a team and even be downright frightening to watch at the fan level.  They can also end a player's career.

    Preseason is an especially tough time for NFL players.  The veteran guys are trying to make sure they are in shape for the upcoming season, and the new guys are doing everything they can to impress the coaches before the final roster cut.  The combination of veteran players with hungry young guys trying to leave it all out on the field can be dangerous.

    In fact, The American Journal of Sports Medicine published a study that concludes the same thing.  They looked at NFL athletes over a 10 year span and found that over half of all hamstring injuries occurred during the preseason.  These injuries can then be aggravated during the regular season and put playmakers on the sidelines for weeks or months.

    The players most at risk for this type of injury are the ones who have to use their off the line speed and those who jump for balls such as the wide receivers and the defensive secondary, as well as players on the special teams units.

    Hamstring injuries are certainly not the only ones to be concerned about, however, as the following list will show.

Bubba Smith: 1972

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    Bubba Smith
    Bubba Smith

    It may be difficult for younger readers to remember that the 6'8" actor who played Moses Hightower in the Police Academy movies was actually once a bruising defensive end named Bubba Smith.

    Smith played for the Baltimore Colts (yes, the Colts used to be in Baltimore—don't bring it up with a Baltimore Colts fan because it is a very sensitive subject) and then briefly for the Oakland Raiders and Houston Oilers (this one is a little more complicated—the Oilers became the Tennessee Titans and Houston eventually was given the Texans).

    Smith was the number one pick of the first round in the 1967 draft.  Drafted by the Baltimore Colts, he went on to help them win Super Bowl V and starred in two Pro Bowls.  All of this led up to a fateful night in 1972.

    In a preseason game, Smith went out of bounds and ended up getting tangled in a down marker and chain.  Though it may not sound serious, it was.  In fact, Smith's injury was described by one Colt executive as "one of the worst knee injuries our team doctor had ever seen."

    This injury would cause Smith to lose the entire season and due to continued problems with his knee, he was never the same player again.

Chris Spielman: 1999

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    Chris Spielman
    Chris SpielmanAndy Lyons/Getty Images

    Chris Spielman, middle linebacker, was a beast of a player in the NFL.  He was picked up in the second round of the 1988 draft by the Detroit Lions. Prior to the draft he played at Ohio State where he was a two-time All-American and winner of the Lombardi Award.

    Spielman was with the Lions for eight seasons from 1988-1995.  During his time there he was integral in helping them win two NFC titles.  He also played in four Pro Bowls and was voted Detroit's defensive MVP for 1993 and 1994.

    When Spielman left Detroit, he was their all-time leader in career tackles with 1,138.

    Spielman played for the Buffalo Bills for two seasons (1996-1997). In 1996, he set a personal and team record with 206 tackles on the season.

    In 1997, Spielman had a devastating injury in a preseason game against the Chicago Bears. 

    Spielman had a nasty helmet–to–helmet collision with Bears' Center, Casey Wiegmann, that left him laying on the ground, paralyzed, for several minutes.  Though he was eventually able to get up and walk off the field on his own power, he would find out that his injury wold require spinal surgery and it ended his season.

    Spielman attempted to make a comeback in 1999 with the Cleveland Browns, but after another neck injury before the regular season began, he chose, reluctantly, to retire.

Donnie Avery: 2010

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    Donnie Avery
    Donnie AveryElsa/Getty Images

    Donnie Avery, WR for the St. Louis Rams, had a rough start to the 2010 season. 

    Avery was a second-round pick by the Rams in 2008 (first wide receiver taken in the draft).  In his rookie campaign he had 53 receptions, which was the second most by a rookie in franchise history.  Avery's record was bested only by Eddie Kennison's 54 receptions in 1996.

    Avery played in 31 out of 32 regular season games in his first two seasons and has been an essential part of the Rams offense.

    In 2010, during a preseason game against the New England Patriots, Avery went up for a pass from rookie QB Sam Bradford and ended up hitting the ground hard and fell on his right leg awkwardly.  This fall would end up being a season-ending torn ACL which required surgery to repair.

    Sometimes you don't know how fast a player will heal from a devastating injury and though this one already cost Avery a year. The team is hopeful that he will be back on the roster for 2011.

    Time will be what tells if Avery is able to get back to the speed and form he was in prior to his ACL surgery.

Harry Williams: 2008

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    Harry Williams
    Harry WilliamsRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    Harry who?  Harry Williams is just one of the players who had his career in the NFL end before it barely began.

    Williams wasn't exactly new to the NFL.  He was a wide receiver drafted in the seventh round of 2005 by the New York Jets, but primarily used on the practice squad.  He then went on to play on the practice squads of the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and Chicago Bears.

    In 2007, he spent most of the season on the practice squad of the Houston Texans except for two games when he played on special teams. On Aug. 27, 2008 he got to play in a preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.  It was during this game that he received the most attention he'd ever had in the NFL.  Unfortunately, it was not for his performance, but for his injury.

    Two minutes into the game, Williams was running to make a tackle on special teams.  He collided with one of his own teammates and hit the ground hard with his helmet.  This fall would cause the entire stadium to hold their collective breath for 20 minutes.

    Williams laid motionless on the field.  Several minutes later he was strapped to a board and carted off to a local Dallas hospital.  The news was both good and bad.

    The bad news was that Williams had fractured his C3 vertebra and had a significant ligamentous injury to the neck. The injuries required surgical stabilization.  The good news was that he regained his mobility.

    However it is looked at, he was lucky not to be paralyzed.

    Even though he partially dodged a bullet that Friday night, his days as a football player in the NFL were over.

Darrl Stingley: 1978–Worst Ever Veteran Preseason Injury

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    By far, the worst injury in preseason history was when 26-year-old Darryl Stingley, considered a star wide receiver in the NFL, was hit by defensive back Jack Tatum on Aug 12, 1978.

    In this preseason game, it was the New England Patriots (Stingley) against the Oakland Raiders (Tatum). Patriots QB Steve Grogan threw a slant pass to Stingley and as he went up to catch it, Tatum tackled him hard.  The hit was ruled legal and no penalty flags were thrown.

    There is still controversy over what exactly had to happen to cause Stingley's injury. However, the collision caused Stingley's spinal cord to compress and break his fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae. This would be his last game.

    Stingley lived the rest of his life as a quadriplegic.

    On April 5, 2007, Stingley died at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.  His death was attributed to heart disease and pneumonia, complicated by quadriplegia.  The Cook County Medical Examiner listed Stingley's cause of death as an accident.

    The collision that was heard around the world on that day in 1978 served as the impetus for several changes to the kind of tackles players are allowed to use in the NFL today.  For instance, the helmet-to-helmet rule is in place to try to keep players from suffering concussions and neck injuries.  You also can't hit a player in the back with your helmet.

Stone Johnson: 1963–Worst Ever Rookie Preseason Injury

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    Have you ever noticed that no one wears the No. 33 jersey in Kansas City?  No one has in almost 50 years and no one will again.  The last player to wear NO. 33 was Stone Johnson in 1963.

    Stone Johnson doesn't have any old football cards with his name on them, but he should be remembered as if he did.

    Johnson was a track guy, a sprinter, and he was one of the best in the world, competing in the Olympic Games in Rome.

    At the U.S. Olympic trials that year at Stanford University he ran one of his heats in the 200 meters at 20.5 seconds, which equaled the world record held at that time by Englishman Peter Radford.

    Johnson came out of Grambling State University in Louisiana, where he also played football for the legendary coach Eddie Robinson and was a college teammate of Pro Football Hall of Famer Buck Buchanan.

    The Chiefs selected Johnson in the 14th round of the 1963 AFL Draft (held in December of 1962) as a futures pick. A mix-up in credits had forced him to sit out Grambling’s ’62 season and once he was taken by the Chiefs, he signed with the AFL team.

    By all reports available from the time, Johnson had a real shot at making the Chiefs roster that year. He wasn’t just a sprinter playing football; he understood the game and had excelled at the sport.   Just the week before the Chiefs  trip to Wichita, Johnson had caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from QB Eddie Wilson in a preseason game against Denver that was played at Municipal Stadium.

    While blocking on a first-quarter kickoff return in a Chiefs preseason game against the Houston Oilers in Wichita, wide receiver Stone Johnson injured his neck. Unable to move any of his limbs, Johnson was carried off the field on a stretcher.  Taken by ambulance to St. Francis Hospital in Wichita, it was determined that he suffered a compression fracture of his fifth cervical vertebrae. He underwent surgery that night.  His condition seemed to stabilize.

    Eight days after the surgery, Stone Johnson passed away, his parents at his bedside in Wichita. He was just 23 years old.

    Johnson's jersey No. 33 was unofficially retired as a tribute to his memory.

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