“What’s gonna set you free? Look inside and you’ll see. When you’ve got so much to say it’s called gratitude. And that’s right.”
– Beastie Boys, Gratitude, 1992
“With a little luck, we can help it out. We can make this whole damn thing work out.”
– Paul McCartney, With a Little Luck, 1978
Joe Burrow, quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals, has played only ten games in his NFL career. He was quarterback of LSU’s national championship team, the number one draft pick in 2020 and will forever be remembered as having one of the single, greatest seasons any college quarterback has ever submitted. On Sunday, in a game against that nameless team from Washington, a sandwiched tackle gone horribly wrong tore Burrow’s ACL and MCL. He was carted off the field with tears in his eyes.
Cincy had looked (and still looks) to Burrow to turn this constantly-underachieving franchise around – and he still may – but it won’t be until after they surgically repair his incapacitated knee. Conservative estimates have him out for most of next season.
A thousand miles to the South, the ever-durable but perhaps luckier Tom Brady, 42 years old and more notably twice Burrow’s age, is playing in his 295th career NFL game. Brady hardly had the college career of Burrow. In fact, when picked 199th in 2000, few had ever heard of him.
It wasn’t until another far more famous injury, this one to the previous Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe, that Tom Brady would become a household name and ultimately, a six-time Super Bowl champion.
In no way does calling Brady “luckier” negate the effort he has put in towards keeping his mind and body sharp over the last twenty seasons. Yet after reading of Burrow’s injury, and the countless others we’ve seen to young superstars this year (i.e., Dak Prescott, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, Jimmy Garoppolo, Joey Bosa), I couldn’t help but think of the role luck plays in sustaining an athlete’s career or more appropriately, longevity. While we can make the argument that one creates one’s own luck, that might not be the case in the NFL where on any given snap, a wrong tackle or even mis-manicured, piece of turf can turn your ankle, leg, knee, back, neck or shoulder in a direction it’s not intended to go.
I’m 52 and still work a physically, mentally and emotionally demanding job for forty-plus hours a week, fifty-two weeks a year. Never, not for one instant, do I take for granted the role that luck plays in my life, especially in time of a pandemic. I suffer from normal wear and tear, aches and pains but as an adult have never gone under the knife for something as serious as an ACL/MCL tear. But then again, I don’t have three hundred-pound linemen tackling me by the knee. Fortunately.
Longevity and luck go hand in hand. Brady is 14th all-time in career games played. He’s also played in more playoff games (41) than any other player in NFL history. In 2008, he tore his ACL and missed the entire season. In 2009, he won the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year and has, luckily, not missed a game since. He would go on to win three more Super Bowls on that surgically repaired knee. LeBron James, soon to be 36, has played in 17 seasons, amassing 1,265 games, which ranks 33rd all-time. A full season played next year will put him in the top 20. He still plays with the enthusiasm of a young man. James, like Brady, has been the focal point of every team he’s played on. His training regimen is unparalleled but even he, like Brady and all other athletes that have played longer than they ever dreamed, would tell you, luck plays an essential role in keeping these guys between the lines. These men take nothing for granted as they, nor any of us, should.
Joe Burrow will be back, eventually, as Cincinnati awaits. He’ll spend his Thanksgiving in a cast, still grateful, but counting down the days until he can walk without a limp. His patience and determination in returning to form and promise will be tested like nothing he’s ever known. Such is the life of a professional athlete, or any one of us who faces this sort of adversity.
There’s not a sports fan around who doesn’t wish him speedy recovery or doubt his ability to return. All he’ll need is every ounce of resolve he can muster, some gratitude… and a little luck.