ALSO THIS MONTH
KEVIN RIDOLFI, a graphic designer and HTML programmer from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is the creator and editor of Renaissance Magazine.
Tragic Rookie Sand Trap
The New England Patriots suffered through a long season of misfortune in 1998. A season marked by a freak rash of injuries that stretched their unable-to-perform list to the breaking point. When the season crashed to a merciful halt, they fully expected their bad luck to end. They were wrong.
The injury bug that affected all-pro quality players the likes of Ted Johnson, Willie McGinest, Chris Slade, Drew Bledsoe and Terry Glenn had to end when the season ended. That's common sense, right? The Patriots' personnel - their investments - couldn't get hurt after the final whistle ended their season. One Patriot, who may never play again, wishes that bit of logic was true.
On February 5, running back Robert Edwards excitedly walked onto sunny Waikki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii to participate with his rookie classmates in a carefree game of exhibition football. A simple game of flag football in front of the surf and hundreds of adoring fans to celebrate the end of their great rookie seasons. An NFL sanctioned showcase of the league's future stars. For Robert Edwards, a key cog in the Patriots championship dreams, that once bright future is now in jeopardy.
Edwards, the running back from Georgia who gained 1,115 yards as a rookie for the Patriots, will miss the entire 1999 football season and perhaps the rest of a promising career after suffering a horrible knee injury on the beach in Hawaii. Back in coverage along with Charles Woodson of the Raiders, Edwards jumped to deflect a pass away from receiver R.W. McQuarters. He came down hard and stayed down. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala, also a participant in the game, believes that Woodson inadvertently landed on Edwards leg. Edwards, who provided the Patriots with a legitimate replacement for the departed Curtis Martin, suffered damage to the major knee ligaments, dislocation of the knee itself, damage to an artery as well as extensive nerve damage. He was operated upon immediately at the Straub Medical Center.
Now, a month later, it is unknown whether Edwards will ever completely regain feeling in his left foot never mind taking handoffs from Drew Bledsoe. A few short weeks earlier, Robert Edwards was the future of the Patriots before a fun-in-the-sun exhibition game came close to costing him his left leg. The NFL cost the New England Patriots a marquee player due to their incredible lack of foresight and common sense.
It is amazing that after study upon study has proven that less than perfect playing surfaces have so much to do with the long injury lists in the NFL that the league holds a sanctioned even on shifting sand. While many teams are turning their backs on artificial turf - including Edwards' Patriots - for fear of harming their players, the league has no problem with asking rookies to play a five on five game on such an unstable surface. The slightest wind or constant tide shapes and reshapes sand every day. Imagine what a group of 225-pound athletes going all-out for the glory of the fans can do to this surface. These men may have enormous skills, remarkable balance and cat-like grace but that means nothing when the ground practically moves out from beneath them.
By sanctioning these rookie Beach Bowls, the NFL is placing its most valuable assets, it's players, in terrible danger.
Many will place the blame solely on the shoulders of Edwards stating that the decision to play was his, that he signed a waiver and that no one twisted his arm. He's a big boy after all. A 240-pound man capable of making his own decisions. But is this really fair? Edwards plays football for a living in a league that is dictated by respect and physical presence. How would he have looked in the eyes of his peers if he had declined to play because he was afraid to get hurt?
For the players, the scenario was simple: the league told them they wanted the best rookies to play in a relaxing game of flag football as a precursor to the annual Pro Bowl. Every healthy rookie is going to answer that call, and play hard to boot. After all none of these proud athletes wants to be shown up or beaten, even when it's all fun in the sun. Not to mention, what 24-year-old is going to turn down a free trip to Hawaii in February (or at any time for that matter).
Rookie Beach Bowl is the NFL's answer to the NBA's wildly popular rookie's game. The huge difference, of course, being that the NBA game is played on a regulation court not on some undesirable, shifting surface. Imagine the NBA asking it's rookies to lace them up on a gravel driveway, where every wrong step would cause a sprained ankle or worse. This was exactly what the NFL designed for it's best young talent. Even MTV's rock n' jock sporting events, with their hype and jacked up rules, is better planned out than million dollar investments cutting in sand.
Perhaps next year, they can hold the event on ice or snow - after all extreme sports are all the rage these days. Better yet, the NFL can learn a valuable lesson. Without the best players, the game suffers (a lesson they should have learned during the 1987 strike). Not that future avoidance of sand will bring Robert Edwards back to the Patriots. Rather New England is forced to once again re-evaluate their running back position just before draft day, only this year the team can't be faulted.
Call it bad luck. Blame it on bad karma. That's fine for the superstitious. In this case, the NFL is at fault for allowing marketing and greed to make decisions for them. The offseason isn't the time for hand-wringing and hopelessness, but should be a time of optimism and hope for all fans and franchises.
It should go without saying that the only sand traps Robert Edwards should have encountered were those surrounding the ninth hole at one Honolulu's many golf courses.
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PICTURE of Robert Edwards copyright ©1998 New England Patriots