Football is so brutal, the sport has categories of catastrophic injuries all its own:
The “Oh My God I’m Gonna Throw Up After Seeing That” Injury.
The “My Leg Once Looked Like A 1 But Now Looks Like A 7” Injury.
And in the case of veteran wide receiver Allen Hurns, the “Wait, Feet Are Not Supposed To Turn Sideways” Injury.
In front of a national TV audience last January, Hurns joined a fraternity whose initiation fee is a pound of flesh (and bone and ligament and a few tendons too).
In the Dallas-Seattle playoff game, the then-Cowboys receiver snapped his fibula and dislocated his ankle when Seahawks safety Bradley McDougald fell on Hurns’ leg as his left foot was planted.
The trauma twisted his foot sharply to the left, so anyone looked down at Hurns from above would see his left leg in the shape of the letter L — an unnatural and unforgettable image.
Hurn’s night and season, of course, were over. It would be his final play in a Cowboys uniform. Some, including Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, feared it would be his last NFL play — period.
But eight months later, Hurns — the ex-Miami Hurricane and current Miami Dolphin — is fully healthy and returns to scene of his worst NFL moment as a member of his hometown team.
And if the football gods had any sense of justice, his day will end with a touchdown catch or two, not a trip to a local hospital for emergency surgery.
“Hell yeah,” Hurns said a few days ago, when asked of about the idea of scoring a touchdown in the stadium where his body broke.
“It’s crazy for me, especially [happening in] the first playoff game,” Hurns said. “I had had injuries in the past. The week before, the week of, I was saying, ‘I’m proud that I made it through the whole season healthy.’”
Did you jinx yourself?
“Yeah, pretty much. Things happen.”
They do — again and again in professional football.
Just this week, Jets quarterback Trevor Siemien sustained season-ending ligament damage when his left leg got rolled on by Browns defender Myles Garrett and snapped back in gruesome fashion.
We think of professional athletes as gladiators, but in truth, their bodies are just as fragile as ours. And when their legs get landed on awkwardly by 300-pound behemoths, they twist and snap in ways that the viewing public can never unsee.
Just think of a name, and it’s impossible to think of the injury.
Joe Theismann. Alex Smith.
When Broncos offensive lineman Chris Kuper snapped his leg in 2011 finale, teammates who saw it happened became visibly sick.
So how does it happen? Basic physics.
Big, strong, fast men crashing into other big, fast, strong men.
Shortly after the Hurns injury, Dane Wukich, a professor and chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, wrote the following:
“As Hurns was tackled, his left foot planted on the ground and his body continued to rotate around the stationary foot under the weight of a Seahawks player. The visual was nauseating; it was obvious that Hurns was in severe pain as medical trainers stabilized his ankle, removed him from the field, and rushed him to a nearby hospital for emergency surgery. “
“We call this type of injury a high-energy orthopaedic trauma. I see similar injuries regularly in patients who survive vehicle crashes, falls, and cycling accidents, for example. ... The dislocated joint compromised the skin because it increased pressure on the arteries and nerves, threatening circulation. Without the prompt care Hurns received, his bone might have protruded through the skin, increasing the risk of bleeding and severe tissue damage.”
Here’s the crazy part. In the moment, Hurns didn’t even realize how badly he was hurt in the moment.
The pain was bad, yes.
But not nearly as painful as the high ankle sprain that kept him out of six games in 2017. That was “10 times worse,” Hurns insisted.
“I didn’t know like the severity of it, but I felt like something was a little odd,” Hurns said of January’s injury. “Once I seen it, that’s when I actually freaked out. ... This one, I just felt like something was wrong but it wasn’t the worst pain of my life.
“But what did it hurt was when they got to me and put it back in place. That s--- hurt.”
That happened at the stadium, and then the Cowboys’ medical staff immobilized the leg in an air cast and put Hurns in an ambulance, headed for the hospital.
When he got there, a group of concerned people were waiting for him. He got to see his mother, Erica Wilson, before going under.
Hurns said “Dr. Curry” — believed to be Eugene Curry, an orthopedic subspecialist consultant to the Cowboys and foot and ankle specialist — performed the surgery. But the details are fuzzy. He doesn’t even remember the name of the hospital in which he would spend the next three days.
Curry and his team set the leg and ankle by inserting a plate and screws, leaving two long scars on each side of his foot.
Back at AT&T Stadium, Garrett had to refocus his shaken team on the task at hand — beating the Seahawks — while fearing the worst. Doctors quickly ruled out amputation, but “there was absolutely concern” Hurns would never play again, Garrett said.
“Like with any injury, you try to resist what your initial reactions are and let your medical people kind of to tell you what happened and what the prognosis is, and we did that,” he continued. “And they felt fairly optimistic right from the start, right after he he had his surgery.”
Much of the medical team’s optimism came from knowing Hurns’ character.
“He’s been such a professional throughout his career, certainly in his time with us and then all throughout his rehab process,” Garrett continued. “Just handled things the right way. His body responded and he’s back in action, playing as well as ever.”
It wasn’t easy. In the beginning, he could barely get out of bed, let alone put weight on his foot. And then when he was healed enough to start moving around, the pain from the blood rushing to his foot was excruciating.
He got through it with the support of family and by keeping his mind engaged with puzzles.
Finally in the spring, Hurns was well enough to start running routes, but not practice. His target date all along was to rejoin the Cowboys on the field for the start of training camp. But the week he was supposed to report, the Cowboys unexpectedly cut him.
Hurns believes he was cut for financial reasons, not because of his injury, but he admitted the timing angered him. Fortunately, he didn’t stay unemployed for long. The Dolphins signed him to a one-year, $2.5 million contract in August and despite a quiet preseason, he made the team.
Now, with Kenny Stills gone to New Orleans and Albert Wilson hurt, Hurns is basically a starter. Expect a big role for him Sunday against his old team.
His emotions will run the gamut when he steps back on the field in Arlington. A moment he hates to remember is one that he can never forget.
And when another unlucky player joins the mangled body club?
“I can’t watch it,” Hurns said. “I can’t watch the replay.”
Hurns does have advice, however, for football’s next casualty:
“Of course you’re going to have to deal with pain. That’s unfortunate. But if you stay strong mentally you can overcome anything.”