When Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller's knee was blown out by Houston Texans' rookie D. J. Swearinger in the preseason, the news barely made a ripple in New England.
But morbid curiosity trumped compassion. After all, knees aren't supposed to bend that way, and when they do, the law of physics dictates that something has to give, and for Keller it was his entire knee. ACL, MCL PCL and a dislocation of the knee cap - the video of the hit so gruesome that it became a viral sensation.
Keller's injury was one of the worst that the orthopaedic surgeons had ever seen - on the scale of injuries to the knee of multi-ligamentous injury tears that Keller sustained, it is the most severe and often associated with long-term instability and high incidences of the early onset of arthritis.
But few outside of Miami really cared - it was sure to be an isolated incident. After all, the players care about each other, and at the end of the day, it's just a game. Besides, Swearinger was a rookie and had yet to learn the unwritten rules of the NFL.
The only thing that registered in the minds of Patriots' fans was that the versatile and cat-quick Keller wouldn't be shredding New England's linebacker corps this season as he had done previously as a member of the New York Jets - because, let's face it, on the celebrity scale and in terms of effervescence, Keller's injury was a blip on the radar, the isolated incidence...
...particularly when compared with the status of easy going man-child Rob Gronkowski, the New England Patriots' steam-rolling tight end, he of the paparazzi glam, dating porn stars, doing wrestling moves for the cameras at red carpet / black tie events - his sometimes boorish behavior and devil-may-care attitude perfect for those who like their athletes with a pronounced rebellious streak.
But now that the message from Keller's devastating and possibly career-ending injury has hit home with the injury to Gronkowski, it's had an eerie effect of Deja vu amongst many players and fans alike - and therefore worth revisiting in hindsight.
When the Patriots' celebrity tight end had his knee ripped apart on a low blow by Cleveland Browns' safety T. J. Ward on Sunday, it shook the entire NFL and millions of fans world-wide - and everyone had an opinion, both as to whether or not Ward targeted Gronkowski's knee and if the NFL is at fault for his injury by forcing players to tackle receivers lower on their frame to protect the head.
Keller had an opinion as well, as you might expect, and at the same time his injury months ago comes back into focus as documentation to back up the people who oppose the NFL's safety rules, that were seemingly borne out of litigation to begin with and have nothing to do with player safety as a whole, and everything to do with lawyers.
Praying for @RobGronkowski and a speedy recovery and a MAJOR comeback..something has to be done about these low hits!!!At the time of Keller's injury, Swearinger, in his first NFL training camp, apologized profusely but also absolved himself of blame at the same time:
— Dustin Keller (@DUSTINKELLER81) December 9, 2013
"With the rules in this era, you've got to hit low, if I would have hit him high, I would have gotten a fine. So I think I made the smartest play. I'm sorry it happened. Right now, it's just instinct. You see somebody come across the middle, you've got to go low. You've got to play within the rules.'' - Houston Texans' safety D.J. SwearingerFor those keeping score, those words were spoken almost verbatim from Ward on Sunday, defending the hit to media members directly after the Patriots' come-from-behind win over his Browns. Some around the league weren't buying what Swearinger was selling, but defensive backs are obviously going to hide behind the shield to make their plays, regardless of the backlash from the public and the players.
But the most outspoken critic of Swearinger's hit on Keller was Atlanta Falcons' certain Hall-of-Fame tight end Tony Gonzales, who was incensed by the hit, and perhaps even more so by the explanation:
"I saw his remark, 'That's just football,' and he showed a little bit of grief for the guy – I'm not buying it at all, don't tell me that the rules prohibit you from hitting a guy up top. You have a whole target area above his knee up to his neck that you can hit. I've watched that play a bunch of times." - Falcons' tight end Tony GonzalesGonzales went on to express that a hit at the knees should be a fineable offense, just like it is making helmet to helmet contact, and was hopeful that the hit would cause players and officials and league management to be more judicious in their choices and rulings which, obviously, it hasn't.
"I just don't want defenders to be able to hide behind, 'Well, I can't hit high. I have to go low.' No, you don't. That's not what the rule is saying at all. It's not saying to go low. I keep seeing the debate and all these people saying, 'They're forcing defenders to go low.' No, they're not. That play was ridiculous. All you have to do is hit him right in his waist and knock him back."But that's exactly what's happening, Tony, because the players have taken carte blanche to damage whatever they have to damage to get the job done - just so long as it doesn't involve the head - and have taken the NFL's sheild to hide behind...
...and as long as the league tolerates these assaults, players on both sides of the ball are going to pay the price in blood, and punks and the coaches that back them up are going to ruin the game, because there's not going to be anyone left to play it.