Are you hurt or are you injured?
In football, it’s not a question, but a way of life.
What’s the difference? Hurt, you can play. Injured, you cannot.
“I want to hurt everybody I play; I don’t want to injure anybody,” Dolphins wrecking ball Cameron Wake explained recently. “I want you to be able to get up and go to the next play or feed your family and play next week but I want you to say, ‘Man, Cameron Wake.’ I don’t want you to be off the team or like not playing. I want you to obviously be physically defeated. I want to intimidate. I don’t want you to be harmed beyond tomorrow at all.”
So let’s be clear: Wake wishes Patriots quarterback Tom Brady nothing but good health, beginning Tuesday morning.
But as Wake prepared for Monday night’s nationally televised game with New England, he had the same mindset as always: To so dominate his opponent (this week, it’s Brady) mentally and physically that he either taps out, or gets so jittery that he might as well.
That was Miami’s game plan when these teams met two weeks ago, and it almost worked. The Dolphins hit Brady eight times and rattled the future Hall of Famer enough that he threw a rare interception.
“I want you to obviously be physically defeated,” Wake said. “I want to intimidate. I don’t want you to be harmed beyond tomorrow at all. It doesn’t always work that way.”
Wake continued: “What do we got? What is it, 10 guys on [injured reserve] or whatever? (Actually, the number is 11). I’m sure every team has about that with 50 players on a team and then when you think about a 90-man roster … that’s a 20 percent chance every time you’re on the field, a 20 percent chance that whatever happens to you, you’re not going to play football this year.”
Against the Patriots two years ago, the odds finally caught up with Wake. He suffered his first major injury as a pro, tearing his Achilles tendon and ending his season.
That was a fluke injury, one that could not have been prevented, no matter how many rules designed to protect players the NFL writes.
The same goes for the hit last week that sent Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier to the hospital, where he remains after spinal surgery. One could quibble with Shazier’s technique on the damaging tackle, but it was legal and certainly not dirty.
But by and large, that night was plain ugly. The Steelers and Bengals hate each other, and it showed in a game marred by cheap shots. The NFL fined the worst offenders a combined $64,000, leading some to ask: Should the players start policing themselves, since the league’s punishment isn’t really a deterrent?
“I wouldn’t be able to do that unless the offensive players are doing the same thing because if I say I was going to have to slow down or adjust to protect myself to not hurt tackling this player, meanwhile he’s saying, ‘I’m going to do everything I can to completely annihilate you when I have the ball in my arms,’ it has to be … if it’s not mutual, if I’m going 20 miles an hour and you’re going 15, I’m going to win. Now you’re like, well now you’ve got to go 30. Well then I’ve got to go 45. And we’re going to go until I’m maxed out and you’re going to max out and we’re going to have a tremendous collision.”
Wake continued: “Where’s the line? Are you going to tell all the running backs, ‘Listen, you’ve all got to slow down a little bit?’ … but I also feel like as a defender, I’m trying to give myself as big of an advantage as possible without trying to hurt myself, because we’re rarely defenseless as a defender. I mean my knees aren’t valuable to the NFL. They can cut me, they can do everything; but if I brush a quarterback, I get fined.”
“I don’t want to injure anyone; but I want to hurt you, and I’m sure he wants to hurt me and so on and so on,” Wake said in summation. “But as a defender, I feel like I’m obviously much more vulnerable than a quarterback, receiver or a running back.”