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The Most Devastating NFL Preseason Injuries Ever

We’ve all heard the arguments about the NFL preseason, and some of the problems that it brings with it.  Yes, it’s a chance for the coaches to get a look at players, and make determinations as to who is going to make the squad.  But the games don’t mean anything, so why risk your key players?

And that is the fear of every head coach, and every general manager.  What if during one of the few series I have my starters in the game, one of them has a season-ending injury?  It’s happened before, and it will most certainly happen again.

Here are the the most devastating NFL preseason injuries through 2011.

No.6  2008:  New York Giants vs New York Jets – Osi Umenyiora

The Giants were already dealing with the retirement of Michael Strahan, the experiment of moving Mathias Kiwanuka to linebacker, and other nagging injuries to starters. The last thing they needed was to lose pass rusher extraordinaire Osi Umenyiora for the season.

Welcome to the NFL preseason.

Umenyiora suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Jets, but ultimately it didn’t derail the Giants season.  Plaxico Burress and his quick trigger finger saw to that.

No.5  2003:  Atlanta Falcons vs Baltimore Ravens – Michael Vick

Falcons quarterback Michael Vick had a rough start right from the get-go in this game. He was sacked on his first play, and then thew an interception on his second.  The Falcons would have done well to just remove Vick from the game at that point.

Then on a third-and-six from the Atlanta five yard line, Ravens’ linebacker Adalius Thomas chased Vick out of the pocket, and brought him down on the Georgia Dome’s newly installed field-turf.  The silence from the dome was deafening when the pumped up Atlanta crowed saw Vick reach for his right leg before he even finished hitting the ground.

Vick suffered a broken fibula, and was out for the next 10 games, and Atlanta’s 2003 season went up in smoke.

No.4  1997:  Buffalo Bills vs Chicago Bears – Chris Spielman

Prior to coming over to Buffalo, Spielman was one of the top defenders in the NFL, and ended up as the Detroit Lions all-time leading tackler in his eight seasons there.  After a superb 1996 season with the Bills, Spielman had high expectations for 1997.

But, in a 1997 preseason game against the Bears, Spielman collided helmet–to–helmet with Bears’ Center, Casey Wiegmann.  Spielman lay on the ground paralyzed for several minutes, and many feared the worst. He eventually did get up and walk off the field on his own power, but the injury would require spinal surgery and ended his season, and eventually, his career.

No.3  1972:  Baltimore Colts vs Pittsburgh Steelers – Bubba Smith

In what was one of the most unusual and tragic preseason injuries ever, Bubba Smith (aka: Hightower in the ‘Police Academy’ films) had his career unfairly shortened.

Smith was one of the most ferocious pass rushers and tacklers in the league, and while in pursuit of a ball carrier out of bounds, he got tangled up in the down-marker chains, and injured his knee.  What had looked to be a fairly innocent play, ended up turning into what Baltimore team doctors called one of the worst knee injuries they had ever seen.

Smith was forced to watch the remainder of the season from a wheelchair on the sidelines, and was never the same player again.

No.2  1998:  New York Giants vs New York Jets – Jason Sehorn

Perhaps the Giants should consider taking the Jets off of their preseason schedule.

The Giants came into the 1998 season as the defending NFC East champions, and cornerback Jason Sehorn was a big part of the team’s success.  With the first preseason game coming against the in-state rival Jets, both teams and the crowd were at a fever pitch.

For Jason Sehorn, it was a short-lived fever, as on the first play of the game, while playing on special teams, Sehorn was hit hard and crumpled to the ground.  He tore both the anterior cruciate ligament and the medial collateral ligament in his knee, and required season-ending reconstructive surgery.  Though Sehorn tried to comeback the following season, his loss of speed was apparent, and he effectiveness as a pass defender was gone.

No.1  2010:  Tennessee Titans vs Seattle Seahawks – Stafon Johnson

Many of you are probably saying “who?”, as Johnson never had the opportunity to make his mark in the NFL.  But for tragic stories, this one has to top the list.

While still at Southern California, Johnson was involved in a near-fatal weightlifting accident, where he crushed his larynx and needed emergency surgery.  He was on a breathing tube for almost a month after the accident occurred.

After going through grueling rehab to get himself back into playing shape, he went undrafted in the 2010 NFL Draft, but was picked up as an undrafted free-agent by the Titans.  Johnson was in competition for a starting running back position during training camp, and had really impressed Titans coaches.

During the first preseason game of 2010, Johnson was airborne making a catch, when he was hit and spun around.  In what was a gruesome sight, Johnson landed awkwardly on his right leg, and had to be carted off the field.  He suffered a dislocated right ankle, a high ankle sprain, and a broken fibula.  The Titans released Johnson after the injury.