Playing With Pain, Just Part Of The Game

FAYETTEVILLE — Darren McFadden immediately felt the pain when he broke a bone in his hand in the second game of his junior season at Pulaski Oak Grove High.

But it didn't hurt enough to end his night.

McFadden just went to the sideline, got his hand taped up and went back out to finish the rest of the game against Joe T. Robinson High.

"It was a real lot of pain when it first happened," McFadden said. "It was just something you've got to play through with."

McFadden has shown that same ability to play with pain at Arkansas. He first broke freshman rushing records with a small cartilage tear in his left knee, and he's the Southeastern Conference's leading rusher despite being slowed earlier this season by a severe toe injury.

It could get much worse.

At this time of the season, most college football players are feeling the aches and pains associated with having some part of their body either sprained, strained or pulled.

But there are some injuries that are more severe, so much so that it takes a high pain tolerance — and maybe even some stupidity — for a player to keep going.

"(Playing with injuries) is kind of the nature of the beast," said former Arkansas running back Madre Hill, who battled knee injuries throughout his time with the Razorbacks from 1994-98. "It's a physical game."

And there are some players who can handle the pain better than others.

The image of quarterback Byron Leftwich, with his leg badly injured, being carried downfield by two of his Marshall offensive linemen late in a 2002 game against Akron is hard to forget.

The story of former Los Angeles Rams defensive end Jack Youngblood playing every defensive down in Super Bowl XIV with a fractured left fibula has grown to mythical proportions.

And then there was Georgia running back Herschel Walker in the 1981 Sugar Bowl.

The Bulldogs went into the game ranked No. 1 in the nation and the only major team still undefeated. A win over Notre Dame would give Georgia the national championship.

But on his team's second play from scrimmage, Walker dislocated his shoulder after getting hit. He walked to the sideline with his arm, according to former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, "stretching straight in the air."

"The trainers said he was finished," Dooley said, "but he decided he wasn't finished."

To Dooley's surprise, Walker put himself back in the game on Georgia's next offensive series. The freshman went on to rush for 150 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Bulldogs to a 17-10 victory and a national title.

"He would go until he couldn't go," Dooley said Walker. "... I don't think we would have won (if he didn't return)."

Arkansas linebacker Freddie Fairchild took a similar approach earlier this season.

In a show of effort that nearly made Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring cry, Fairchild kept making plays in a 20-0 win over Utah State on Sept. 9 despite unknowingly having a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Fellow linebacker Sam Olajubutu is not much different.

Already undersized for the linebacker position, the 5-foot-9, 222-pound Olajubutu has played the last few games with a pinched nerve in his neck. He kept going in last week's 38-3 win over Ole Miss despite a severely sprained knee ligament that will cause him to miss Saturday's game against Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium.

"That sucker's pretty (darn) tough," said Dean Weber, Arkansas' longtime athletic trainer. "He's up there in the tough category as far as I'm concerned with the ones I've seen, no question."

With his nagging ankle problems, Arkansas offensive tackle Zac Tubbs would also make Weber's list of tough players. So would McFadden and linebacker Weston Dacus.

Weber has been around the Razorbacks long enough to have seen every different type of injury, as well as how certain players have dealt with the pain.

Weber said Arkansas has had several players do as Youngblood so legendarily did and keep playing with a broken fibula.

In the 1970s, the Razorbacks also had an offensive lineman who refused to have surgery after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. He continued playing, but since he couldn't pivot on his foot, he learned to quickly pick up his foot and then move it when he blocked.

"That's not that unusual," Weber said. "We've had hundreds of players play with injuries. Every time someone is injured or hurt, in this game particularly, you're expected to play with it if at all possible."

And show as little sign of pain as possible.

Hill suffered a bruised sternum early in the 1995 season, but even though he said it felt like "someone took a sledgehammer" to his chest, the running back tried not to let on that he was in pain.

"I was one of those guys that considered himself tough," said Hill, who is now the running backs coach at Florida International.

Hill said he adjusted his running style and tried to lower his shoulder, but he kept playing. He didn't want to show any weakness.

Even after he tore his ACL against Florida in the 1995 SEC championship game, Hill said he tried crawling off the field on his own because he was taught to never let anyone see you hurt.

"I don't think you miss a game because of turf toe. That bothers me to see someone miss a game because of turf toe," Hill said. "I can see if it was a cracked rib or something. But a turf toe, come on."

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