These days, scarred knees are more of a badge of honor than a career death sentence. Mangled ACLs and ruptured Achilles’ are no longer so scary; advancements in modern medicine are to thank.
Torn patellar tendons, however – those are a different story. They’re rare. And serious. Some can never play the game again.
Brandon Gibson is one of the lucky ones. Some 10 months after a freak in-game injury upended his career, Gibson’s journey back isn’t over – but he has a view of the finish line. Indications are he will play when the Dolphins open the season Sunday against the Patriots.
There’s an odd symmetry at play here. Gibson’s 2013 season ended prematurely against the Patriots. New England visits Sun Life Stadium on Sunday for Gibson’s expected return.
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Yet Gibson, the veteran receiver, didn’t give the coincidence much thought this week. He has no taste for such indulgences.
One possible reason: Just because he’s well enough to return to action doesn’t mean he’s 100 percent.
Gibson didn’t come out and say that this week. But he dropped some hints. The estimated recovery time for a torn patellar is around a calendar year, he said. Gibson got hurt Oct. 27 last year.
When asked when he will be at full speed, he responded: “It’s hard to really say. We’ll see how I get moving the next couple of months. But for me, I’m out there and I’m able to do what I can do.”
At the very least, he must be proud of how far he has come, right?
“We’ll see when the season’s over how I make out,” Gibson said. “My thing is to make sure I’m on the field as much as possible and be there for my team.”
Gibson seems reluctant to talk with any degree of certainty about much of anything. If that’s the case, it’s hard to blame him.
Not long after the injury, Gibson got an unsettling phone call. It was from a former NFL player who suffered the same tear. Gibson wasn’t comfortable with sharing the athlete’s name. But he did relay his story.
“The guy was never really the same,” Gibson said. “And had to basically call it quits.”
That doesn’t appear to be Gibson’s fate. He was one of five receivers who survived the final round of cuts – a group that includes rookie Jarvis Landry, drafted to push for Gibson’s place on field, and possibly the roster.
That hasn’t happened. Gibson played in three preseason games. He started them all, and even caught a touchdown pass – the only scored by Miami’s first-string offense all summer.
“Any time you get to line up and run out and play this game, a game you love, it’s special,” coach Joe Philbin said. “I imagine for him, it has to be a great feeling to get back on the field again.”
Added teammate Mike Wallace: “I think that was part where Gib was just starting to turn it up, when he did get hurt. I’m excited to see him pick up where he left off and hopefully he can do that starting this week coming up.”
Wallace is right. Gibson had emerged as the Dolphins’ best third-down receiver and a true red-zone threat early in 2013.
But that all changed with one freak play, a non-contact tear suffered while jumping for a pass. He was able to walk off the field, but not to the locker room. The diagnosis was swift; his season was over.
The team’s physician, John Uribe, performed the surgery – a butterfly incision that, as Gibson jokes, wrecked a future career in knee modeling. He was on crutches for six weeks. He couldn’t run for five months.
And he didn’t begin feeling like himself again until mid-spring.
“That’s just how it goes with this injury,” Gibson said. “Some days you’re going to feel good, some days you’re not.”
These days, it’s more good than not. Thirteen Dolphins players appeared on Thursday’s injury report. Gibson wasn’t one of them.
He swears he doesn’t worry about getting hurt again. Can’t live that way, he said.
“I’m pretty confident,” Gibson added. “My thing is, once I get on the field, the rest takes care of itself. I can play football with the best of them. That’s why I’m here.”