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IronMan  
#1 Posted : Monday, October 13, 2008 6:16:50 PM(UTC)
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Green Bay - "I'd rather them say, 'There he went,' instead of, 'There he lay.' "


- John Henry Johnson, former NFL fullback - and one of the toughest - after he stepped out of bounds before three defenders could touch him
The consequences of collision are undeniable.

The grimaces and sighs, the frowns, the limps and wayward walks, the scars from surgeries that healed correctly and the marks of injuries that quite didn't. And that's just the defensive backs.

Green Bay's locker room is full of men fighting through pain this very week, this very moment, just to walk to the training room for treatment.

What pushes a player to fight through his wincing when pain is the body's signal to the brain to stop? Other than combat or a real survival situation, why would anyone find it perfectly acceptable to run on a sprained ankle, chase on a bad hamstring or race with an injured groin?

In the National Football League, working and living with pain isn't just the norm. It's right there in the job description.

"We're talking about a different kind of guy here," said Packers strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson. "Toughness is kind of a choice."

When quarterback Aaron Rodgers hurt his throwing shoulder yet continued to play with lightning bolts shooting down his arm, he wasn't just proving to his own teammates and the Packers faithful that he would and could fight through pain. He was following an NFL code that dates to the creation of the game.

"In the pros, if you can walk, you play," former Packer great Paul Hornung once said.

NFL veterans never forget. Lionel Washington was in his 12th season of his 15-year career when against Dallas, he reached out to tackle running back Emmitt Smith.

"My arm got extended and pulled back behind me," said Washington, almost 48 and now an assistant coach with the Packers secondary. "It seemed like you could hear things snapping and popping. I had a lot of numbness at first and then the pain came."

He tore his rotator cuff. It was only the third week of the season, but Washington never missed a game the rest of the year and he practiced, too, because he didn't feel like he could miss a practice.

In the book "The Running Backs," written by Murray Olderman, there's a picture of halfback Red Grange rubbing liniment oil on a bum knee.

"All you had were aspirin and an ice bag," said former defensive end Carl Hairston, now an assistant defensive line coach with the Packers.

In 1984, he just came out of knee surgery - this was before arthroscopic technology, and he's got the zipper scar to prove it - when he was traded from Philadelphia to Cleveland still wearing a cast. The Browns were counting on him to be a starter, so time to rehabilitate was not a luxury he had.

"I had pain. I just said to hell with it," said Hairston, 55. "I just played. I loved the game. I didn't want to stay out. My senior year in college, Coach said get off the ground because pro scouts don't look at guys that are hurt. That's always stuck with me.

"So I had hamstrings, bad ankles, my knees were banged up. I just said to hell with it, I just wanted to play."

To get through the pain to play, he would try an anti-inflammatory ointment that they also used on horses, Hairston said.

"Oh that was awful. But it worked. It works, but it stinks," said Hairston. "Like it would come out of your breath. We had some guys use it just to get their breath real bad to blow it on offensive linemen."

Today, players use ice and electronic stimulation as standard treatment for pain, but it's never a cure-all and many Packers have played through excruciating pain in the last decade with memorable performances.

Nose tackle Gilbert Brown faced off against dual linemen with a torn biceps muscle. Guard Marco Rivera played with shredded ligaments in both knees. Defensive end Aaron Kampman played with a broken hand and a concussion. Cornerback Al Harris wrangled with wide receivers despite a bad back.

Defensive end Cullen Jenkins kept up pursuit of quarterbacks on bad ankles. Brett Favre kept flinging fastballs with a broken thumb. Linebacker Nick Barnett wrapped up running backs with a broken hand.

In the second week of the 2003 season, receiver Donald Driver suffered a concussion and injured his neck, but he missed only one game. The pain, however, never subsided until well after the season ended.

"My wife wanted me to retire - she was worried it was one more hit and that's all she wrote. But I played," said Driver. "I told her God blessed me to play this game; it's not over yet."

The Packers medical staff is considered by and large to be very conservative, insisting on tests that they use to judge whether a player is a risk for re-aggravating the injury or suffering long-term health problems. When those are ruled out, like they were with Driver and the others, it's up to the player to fight through the pain.

"Yeah, it hurt the whole season, but I still played through it," said Driver. "It was my first year after becoming a starter, it was just after my new contract, it was one of those things where I don't want people to feel like it wasn't worth it."

This year, cornerback Charles Woodson has been playing well, some say at a Pro Bowl level, on a fractured toe and unlike Washington in his day, without practice.

"He's one of the best I've even been around," said Washington. "To play that position, you can't practice on it (with that injury). Woodson is such a sharp guy, he trusts and believes what he sees. Not many guys can not practice at all and be as competitive and play as well as he has."

Free safety Nick Collins seems to be playing better despite an injured and sore back. Linebacker A.J. Hawk won't let a chest muscle injury and a painful groin sideline him.

If they're lucky enough to get past the pain for a moment - usually when the pregame adrenaline rush kicks in - they're brought back to reality.

"I felt my back hurt all the time in the game," said Collins. "Every time I made the tackle, hit the ground or anything like that, I felt stinging pain, but I didn't let it get to me.

"You've got to just fight against it. You don't want to think, 'Man, my whole body hurts.' You do that and try to play, all you'll think about is how much you hurt. You don't want to take that to the game."

But Rodgers might be the topper. One minute he was rifling a 25-yard touchdown pass and the next he was gingerly holding the arm next to his body as if the jog back to the sideline was too rough on his shoulder.

"We knew how painful it was," said receiver Greg Jennings, who himself fought through pain from his injured ankle as a rookie in order to play through five games he could have missed otherwise. "You could see the grimaces on his face, after every route we ran when we got back to the huddle, the pain was in his face. He tried not to show it, but you could tell it hurt. All we could think was, he's out there giving it his all."

From the former players who are coaches to the current Packers who have all fought through pain, they all seemed to hold Rodgers in even higher regard after that game last weekend against Atlanta. He completed 25 of 37 attempts for 313 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in a three-point losing effort.

"Nothing can be more painful for a quarterback than for his throwing shoulder to be sore," said Gullickson, "and for him to be reminded of it every time he winds up and throws the football."

What makes the Packers a little unique is that they've got some young guys fighting through the pain when it usually is the veterans who can deal with pain better.

"They've been there before, they trust that the doctors aren't going to steer them wrong," said Gullickson. "They know what it takes during a week to prepare themselves, they've been through it before. They can put a lot of pain aside."

The pain threshold for Rodgers, Jennings, Collins, Hawk and the others may only get bigger and stronger as they keep taking their lumps and coming back for more.

"Sometimes I tell myself my pain threshold is so high," said Hairston, "I could have a heart attack and wouldn't know it."

Just look at Driver. Thirty-three years old and he still dives for catches in practice without pads. He knew he could take almost anything when, shortly after that neck injury, he took a big hit against Arizona.

"But I got up, still smiling," said Driver. "I guess they said, 'He's baaaack. . . ' "
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