'Tess' is trained to heal Trainer: Ravens' Bill Tessendorf has been trying to keep players healthy for 24 years, but has never seen a season like this one.

November 22, 1996|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

After spending half of his life as an athletic trainer in the violent arena of pro football, Bill Tessendorf has dealt with just about every type of ache and pain imaginable.

But he has never been through an injury-filled year like the Ravens' 1996 season.

Only one starter on defense, strong safety Stevon Moore, has gone through the season without a significant injury. Defensive end Rob Burnett is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. Tackle Dan Footman has been out for six weeks with a broken arm, and might return next month. End Anthony Pleasant, who missed five weeks with a badly sprained ankle, has returned and will play in pain for as long as he can last.

"No two seasons are ever the same regarding injuries. This is the worst I've ever seen," said Tessendorf, the Ravens head trainer who has been with the organization for 24 years. "From 1987 to '88, we lost five quarterbacks in Cleveland, but this has affected the entire side of the ball. I've never seen anything like that. There's always a waiting line [to get into the training room]," he said. "I've become more of a floor manager instead of a trainer. But we're still getting the job done."

There probably isn't a job that Tessendorf has not performed. The man known as "Tess" around the Ravens complex can do it all. He's equally comfortable driving a hammer or operating a drill as he is taping a player before practice or icing down the latest bruise after a game. Before the Ravens moved into the complex last April, they sent Tessendorf to Owings Mills to oversee the $1 million renovation project.

Tessendorf's heart, though, is in the training room. There, the team's wounded come to him for a diagnosis, treatment, progress reports, a comforting word of reassurance, or simply for a man-to-man talk.

Tessendorf talked about the bonds he has forged with players, and the moments that have defined those friendships. He remembers when veteran running back Earnest Byner got married and had the first of four daughters. The same goes for 19-year veteran linebacker Clay Matthews, now with Atlanta.

"Some great relationships have come out of this job. We're a tight community, a family. We live with them [the players]," said Tessendorf, 46. "If I put all of the years together, I've spent two or three years of my lifetime in training camp. I've got one daughter and 53 boys."

And an awful lot of Tessendorf's boys are banged up these days, which means his typical 14-hour workdays are as packed as ever.

"As soon as one guy gets better, someone else walks in with a new problem," he said. "You kind of roll along and say when is this thing going to end? I feel bad when I talk to the coaches, because I can't bring them good news."

Tessendorf hurts, too, when his players go down with injuries, particularly the type that require surgery and a rehab program that he designs for them. When a player returns to the field successfully, Tessendorf feels a deep sense of reward.

He felt that way watching linebacker Mike Caldwell rebound quickly from arthroscopic knee surgery after going down against Houston on Sept. 15. Caldwell missed four games, then returned to make two sacks against the St. Louis Rams.

"He [Tessendorf] explains everything to you in a way you can understand. He would show me diagrams of skeletons, so I knew exactly what he was talking about. That made me feel comfortable," said Caldwell, who had never been seriously injured. "Bill never wants to rush you. He's always listening to the player's needs."

Pleasant has gotten to know Tessendorf well over his seven-year career. They have spent a lot of time together this season. Pleasant severely sprained his ankle on the first play of the season opener, and missed five weeks before returning against the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 13. If Pleasant makes it through the rest of the season, he will be in pain while doing it. But he credits Tessendorf for getting him back on the field.

"Tess understands injuries, and they bother him like they bother us," Pleasant said. "He'll try to find any way, whether it's medicine or a contraption or whatever, to get you playing again. He'll meet you early in the morning and stay with you all night to get you back on the field. He's one of the best trainers in the league."

Team physician Claude T. Moorman agreed with that assessment. Tessendorf calls himself the "eyes and ears and facilitator" of the team doctor. Moorman recalled the Indianapolis game as a classic example of Tessendorf's skills. During the first half of that costly defeat, the Ravens lost Burnett and Footman.

"By the time we got off the plane in Baltimore, Footman was headed to surgery and an entire sequence of events for all of the injured players from that game was laid out for the next few days," said Moorman, who works at the University Sports Medicine Center at Kernan Hospital and talks with Tessendorf about five times a day.

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