Who: Jim Langer.
Current age: 68.
Dolphins career: 1970-1979
NFL career: 1970-1981. Member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame
How are you today? Langer has had six leg and knee operations. He also has arthritis in his right hand as a result of broken fingers.
“My legs are bad, my knees are shot. It started to affect me when I’d go ice fishing and I felt encumbered on the ice. It’s hard to push-mow my grass. I still have my original joints, but I walk around every day with bone rubbing on bone and a pain level of 5. Old people get old, they limp, they hobble, they wobble. It was my decision to play a violent game. I’m not a victim. The players from the Perfect Season, we’re all going to be dying like flies soon. It’s called the life cycle.
“Anybody who played in the NFL is going to feel it at our age. You can’t be in a continuous car crash for three hours per week and not feel it when you get older. It’s a small sampling on the CTE diagnoses. They need to determine whether CTE affects non-athletes. Lots of people who never played sports have dementia. Only 10 percent of your lifestyle determines whether you get these debilitating diseases. You’re handed a ticket when you’re born. Genetics is the main factor.”
“Otherwise, I’m good. My upper body is good. I had a physical last year and my blood test was perfect. I stay active but I also eat bacon and butter. I’m overweight. My brain is functioning fine. I’m still ornery. I have excellent recall. I read a lot, keep up with the news.”
A different time: “We’re like cars. If you drive a car 600,000 miles and it has collision damage it’ll leak oil and bust bearings. It’s not the car’s fault. A doctor told me when I was 32 that I had the skeletal structure of an 85-year-old. I said, ‘Yeah, I suppose. A lot of miles.’
“I broke my right leg when a fat-ass fell on it in 1976. Sheared the side of the tibia off. I wanted to be back in time for the playoffs five weeks later. So the doctor decided to screw it back onto the top of the bone. Three weeks later they cut the cast off and I practiced. But the screws popped out. Doc says we’d have to go back in and tighten those screws. I asked if we could do it a less invasive way. So we decided to pound them back in using a two-by-two piece of wood and a hammer. I’m on the table with a local anesthetic watching on the X-ray machine as they proceeded to beat the shit out of my leg. We got the screws back in but broke open the incision. I didn’t make it back in time for the playoffs.”
“It was a different era. We played for each other. Shula’s goal was winning: ‘Shoot him up, we need him.’ I remember when Kooch [Bob Kuechenberg] was taken out for one series, then he was right back in the huddle. After the game X-rays showed his ankle was broken in three places. Was that negligence? No, he wanted to win. [Larry] Csonka would come into the huddle with his nose sticking sideways and we’d reach up and straighten it out.”
Any regrets? “I would not do anything differently. No question. You can step off the curb and get hit by a drunk driver.
“Hurt or not, we wanted to be on the field. That’s the way we played. I’m going up against Dick Butkus, Alan Page, Joe Greene. That’s a battle that appealed to me. There was nothing that could compare to that competition after I retired from football.”
“In 1972 my salary was $26,000. I drove a 1968 Volkswagen bug and picked up Kooch [Bob Kuechenberg] and Zonk [Larry Csonka] on the way to practice. If we won the Super Bowl we got the huge bonus of $15,000. Nothing would keep us from playing.
“The NFL did not sit in New York and conspire against us or fail to warn us. Not once in the locker room, not once having beers, not once in 12 years do I recall a conversation like, ‘You know, football is pretty damn dangerous. We could actually get hurt playing this game.’ I was under no illusions that football was good for my body. I had several concussions. You’d come back to the huddle to collect your senses or run to the sideline for smelling salts and be good to go. Other times your head was ringing like somebody hit it like a gong. But I had to be ready to snap the ball. I never saw a guy forced to play if he couldn’t. The trainers, doctors and coaches genuinely cared about us. We used to cuss out Shula but he was committed to his players.”