Utley's injury is jarring reminder of risks they face, Redskins say

November 21, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Evening Sun Staff

HERNDON, Va. -- When tight end John Brandes of the Washington Redskins heard the news that Detroit's Mike Utley had been paralyzed last Sunday, he was stunned.

"I prayed hard when I saw that," Brandes said. "I bowed my head and prayed for the guy. I feel sorry for him. God does everything for a reason. The reason for this, we'll never know."

The specter of serious injury hangs over every game. That's why Brandes won't encourage his sons to play football.

"I hope my kids are a lot smarter than I am and can do other things where they can use their brains instead of their bodies," he said. "I hope they're smart and take after their mother."

"If I knew that one of these days I'd break my neck and be crippled later in my career, I'd pack my stuff and go home. It's not worth it. I want to be able to run with my kids and play with my kids."

Trainer Bubba Tyer remembers the Redskins had one scare in 1977 when running back Bob Brunet lost the use of his limbs for a few minutes on the field in Dallas when Jean Fugett's knee hit his head.

"Your heart just sinks and [you think] 'Oh my God,' " Tyer said. Brunet regained the use of his limbs before he left the field, but never played again. The Redskins had no trouble convincing him to retire.

"I don't think we had to say much," Tyer said.

Tyer, though, said he thinks the risk is worth the reward.

"Look at the great lives that are lived and the careers players have had without having permanent injury," Tyer said.

One Redskin, defensive lineman Eric Williams, was a teammate of Utley's before being traded to the Redskins last year.

"It brings you down to reality real quick that this is a dangerous sport," he said. "It's really sad. It's hard to put it in words when you have a friend and ex-teammate who'll probably never walk again. He's a great guy. He loves rock and roll and muscle cars."

Today, doctors at Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital are scheduled to join Utley's sixth and seventh cervical disks, but doctors are saying it will take "a miracle" for him to walk again.

His old Lion buddy Williams said he loves playing, but said it was too early to say whether the risk outweighs the reward of playing.

"I won't know until I'm 55 and if I have enough money to pay for a wheelchair," he said. "Hindsight is 20-20. You know the risk and hope and pray it doesn't happen to you."

Linebacker Wilber Marshall, who has the team's biggest contract ($6 million for five years), said it's worth the risk. "You make a large amount of money in a short amount of time," he said. "You can't do that in many places. It makes you think how fortunate you are and how lucky you are."

Marshall and veteran Jumpy Geathers said the accident showed the players are at risk because the pension plan and benefits haven't been increased since 1987 because of the battle between the owners and the NFL Players Association on a new contract.

"We need more money and benefits because we can get paralyzed on every play. I play every play like it's my last play because it could be," Geathers said.

Geathers, who has two bad knees, said it's a thin line in deciding whether the rewards outweigh the risks.

"I wouldn't make the money I'm making in a business suit, but I'd be healthy," he said.

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