Donahoe, Williams should sit Bledsoe on Sunday

Drew Bledsoe insists he wants to play against the New York Jets on Sunday. It's up to the Buffalo Bills to stop him.

The Buffalo Bills quarterback of the present, and ideally, the future, missed practice Wednesday, still feeling woozy and light-headed after absorbing a hit to the head from Keith Hamilton of the New York Giants late in the third quarter of Buffalo's 24-7 win.

In case you understandably found better things to occupy your time last week, Bledsoe underwent an MRI and other tests after he was still woozy on Wednesday from a shot taken against Indianapolis three days earlier.

He said he felt fine by Saturday. A day later, after taking another head shot on Buffalo's final scoring drive, Gregg Williams gave him the rest of the afternoon off.

"I got hit in the head hard," Bledsoe said Wednesday about Hamilton's shot. "I closed my eyes for a couple of seconds. When I got up everything looked yellow."

A player experiencing such symptoms after absorbing brain-jarring hits two weeks in a row shouldn't set off any bells with management, whether he makes $500 or $6 million.

It should set off bells, whistles, strobe lights and one of those man-overboard alarms that goes "Awuuugah, awuuugah."

Concussions have gotten more attention over the past decade, mainly because so many high-profile players have been forced to retire after suffering too many of them. Quarterbacks Troy Aikman, Steve Young and Chris Miller all walked away before suffering permanent damage. In 1994, Pittsburgh fullback Merril Hoge was cleared by team doctors to play a few weeks after suffering one concussion, then endured another that ended his career. New York Jets wideout Al Toon retired at age 29 after sustaining nine concussions in eight seasons.

Bledsoe doesn't have the lengthy history of brain bruises that led those players to retire with their facilities intact. And testing has gotten more sophisticated and aggressive since Hoge's last concussion.

The motivation for management's increased interest is as much financial as personal. Hoge ended up winning $1.55 million from the team doctor who sent him back on the field too soon.

Buffalo's opponent on Sunday took no chances last month. When New York Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet experienced lingering headaches 10 days after a concussion sustained on Nov. 2, the team put him on the injured reserve list, ending his season.

That level of caution stemmed, at least in part, from the team's experience with Toon. When the wide receiver retired 19 days after his last concussion, he wasn't able to drive home from the news conference where he made the announcement. He spent several years suffering from post-concussion syndrome, which brings with it vertigo, fatigue, concentration lapses and light sensitivity.

Anyone who follows the Buffalo Sabres or the National Hockey League should recognize those symptoms as the ones endured by Pat LaFontaine after he suffered his last concussion, as well as by then-Philadelphia Flyer Eric Lindros.

Even in the midst of Buffalo's crashing disappointment of a season, Bledsoe wants to be on the field. Then there's the tough-guy code that permeates professional sports, particularly football. That's why Williams and/or Bills President/General Manager Tom Donahoe have to take the decision out of Bledsoe's hands.

One or both have to realize that any benefit to putting Bledsoe out there and gambling that he doesn't get his brain rattled for the third straight game is far outweighed by the risk to the team's future, and far more importantly, to his health.

Stories of Jim Kelly's reactions to the concussions he sustained while quarterbacking the Bills have become part of the lore of the Super Bowl teams of the early 1990s. On one occasion, he trotted off the field to the wrong sideline. On another, he returned to the huddle and called a play out of his high-school playbook, drawing a roll of the eyes from Thurman Thomas that was visible to television cameras.

A couple weeks after Hoge's career ended, I was working on a story about post-concussion syndrome, still a relatively novel diagnosis. During the weekly news conference Kelly staged in the visitors' locker room at the former Rich Stadium, I asked him to describe the feeling of having one's brain bruised.

"Come over here," he said with a wide smile, "and I'll show you."

Kelly was kidding. I think. But it shouldn't take a smack in the head to stop Donahoe and Williams from taking an enormous risk with their quarterback's future.

For all the new tests and diagnostic equipment available to track brain activity, dealing with concussions remains a very inexact science.

"Is this another player that is entering that dark hole of post-concussion syndrome?" Jets team doctor Elliot Pellman said after Chrebet was placed on injured reserve. "I will answer you honestly and I will tell you I do not know. I also will tell you Wayne Chrebet is not Al Toon. I have retired players, some unhappily, because of this injury."

The Bills don't need to go that far with Bledsoe. Keeping him on the sidelines this week and making sure he has more than one or two symptom-free days before allowing him to return to the field would go a long way toward making sure they, and he, aren't faced with such a dire decision.

If they decide to let him play, though, anything that happens to Bledsoe falls squarely on the heads of Williams and Donahoe.


Buffalo Football Report Top Stories