On paper, Jason Taylor robbed the Redskins blind for one mediocre 2008 season, in which he contributed 21 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 13 games. This, Taylor even joked about during his Hall of Fame induction speech.
In reality, it’s remarkable Taylor was even able to play in those 13 games, $8 million be damned. As Taylor explained to The Sports Junkies Friday, 2008 was the year he learned the true dangers of compartment syndrome, a condition brought on after being leg-whipped in a game which required immediate, emergency surgery.
“You know, I had no idea,” Taylor said. “I didn’t understand the severity of it, and really, up until the point when they put me to sleep for surgery, I was still fighting them.”
Taylor had what he thought was typical soreness in his lower left calf: “For nine years, I had trainers telling me, ‘If it gets worse, let us know.'”
“They always say that. As a football player, you go to bed, wake up in the morning, you start feeling better,” he said. “You don’t think about it.”
“But the pain got so bad, to the point where I was in tears late that night,” he described. “When I called up the trainer, they told me we have to go to the hospital right now, which I thought, ‘No, if I can just get to bed, I’ll be fine in the morning.’ And then once I got to the hospital and saw the panic in the doctors…”
“I called Dr. Andrews at that point,” he said. “And I told him I wanted him to do the surgery. And he said, ‘Yeah, you can fly down here. You’ll be here in two hours and I’m going to have to cut your leg off when you get here. Like, you need to seriously get off the phone and you need to do the surgery immediately.'”
“Come to find out, I ended up having about nine-and-a-half inches of nerve damage from the blood thinning in my leg that long,” he said, “and had drop foot for almost a year. Really, when I did come back in that season, I played with an air cast on, and they had to tape my foot just so I could kind of walk with a regular gait and have my foot touch the ground correctly, as opposed to rolling all over the place. It was pretty bad.”
Taylor says reality truly set in after the operation.
“You know, the outpouring of support from fans around the area, and also around the country, around the world, that sent stories of themselves having compartment syndrome,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking seeing them in wheelchairs, and people that have lost limbs over it. It is that serious.”
Taylor went on to play three more seasons — two more stints in Miami and one with the Jets — beyond his lone year in Washington.
“I bounced back and it was never the same,” Taylor said. “It was my power and plant leg, which was never the same, but I tried to make due with what I could. But listen, the staff in Washington was great. The doctors and the training staff, Larry Hess and the group, were great dealing with that, and then the infection that I got, having to go down to the hospital.”
“This was a long 2008,” he said.
Behind the Hall of Fame speech ribbing, Taylor says he gave Snyder a big hug, and thanked him for the opportunity, when they ran into each other in Canton.
“Dan Snyder and I even talked about it,” he said. “You know, when I was in the hospital with all of that — the surgery and having to stay in the hospital for days — he was the first person to come to the hospital when I got there, was there every night, would bring me dinner. I mean, he takes care of his guys and for that I always appreciated it and will forever thank him for that.”
Taylor saw Thursday’s news that former Patriots tight end, the late Aaron Hernandez — who committed suicide in April while serving a life sentence for murder — was posthumously diagnosed with a “severe” case of CTE, according to The New York Times.
“The skeptical side of me was trying to figure out who was saying this,” Taylor said. “Was it his lawyer? Who was it? But hearing that the stuff comes from the doctor, it’s alarming. It really is.”
“We all understand that there’s an inherent risk with playing this game,” he said. “And I’ve got two young sons that play, that I coach. You know, I had a moment yesterday, thinking about it. You know, like, ‘Jeez. My boys play, and I went through this for 15 years, at what level, at what extent do I have damage? At what point will it manifest itself?'”
“Those things go through your mind,” he said. “It’s real. The science is real. The damage done to your head is real. It’s different for everybody, tough, and I don’t think you can take one person’s case and say, ‘Well, if Aaron Hernandez had it,’ or some of the other names of guys that have had it that have passed away, they realized they’ve had it. It’s different for everybody.”
“I’ve had my share of concussions on record,” he said. “To be honest, it happens all the time where players get hit and dinged and don’t say things. There are guys that are trying to fight for jobs, that are trying to keep their jobs.
“We saw Alex Smith a couple years ago that had a concussion — I think it was a concussion — and missed one week and never got his job back. Ended up being on a different team, and that was a starting quarterback, so when guys on teams see that, there’s that thing in the back of their mind telling them, hey, I can’t always let people know when I get dinged.”
Now in retirement, Taylor coaches his sons and other youth players and says he constantly stresses the importance of speaking up when they get dinged.
“I tell the youth players that I coach now, if you get dinged, that is a concussion,” he said. “Like it’s not just a ding and ‘oh, I got a little woozy.’ No, you’ve got a concussion.”
“You watched last night’s game,” he said of Thursday’s 49ers-Rams game. “There were a couple guys that got whacked and you could tell that they weren’t all there, but they tried to get up and get back in the huddle. And it’s not right. It’s the nature of the game. It’s the way these athletes, or we athletes, are built in a lot of ways, but it’s very dangerous.”