Jeff Hartings Meets the Press, Transcript

Steelers center Jeff Hartings returned to Latrobe at two o'clock Wednesday morning after traveling to Birmingham, Ala., the previous day to consult with orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews about the soreness in his left knee. Hartings didn't dress for Wednesday's morning practice but observed from the sideline. Here's what he had to say to reporters during a 10-minute interview conducted while the team was leaving the field:

Q: What did the doctor tell you?
A: He told me pretty much what I already knew. Basically I was getting a second opinion on how to approach the season as far as what kind of exercises I can do to alleviate some of the pain and to just be able to manage it better. I was real happy with how it went and I think now I'll get back to some of the rehab that I was doing, that I stopped doing because I aggravated it last week and I think once I get back to that I can get my quad strong and it will come back.

Q: Did he tell you to keep rehabbing or did he give you any other advice, Jeff?
A: The only other advice was just to manage practice, the amount of plays you do in practice, especially now because of training camp. He said there are a lot of guys around the league who've called him up wondering what they should do. Basically it's because of practicing so many days in a row. So I think right now I'm approaching this to let it get all the soreness out of there. I came into training camp and felt great, practiced seven straight days and practiced probably the best I've ever practiced, I think, at center. So that's probably part of the discouragement I had, because I went seven days and practiced well.

Q: Maybe you shouldn't have practiced seven days in a row?
A: In hindsight I probably wouldn't have. I probably would've taken maybe Wednesday off in the middle of the week. But that's tough to do when you're feeling good, and that's what he's saying 'You've got to manage it. Even though sometimes you feel good, still don't do as many plays as you normally would because it'll catch up to you.'

Q: Is there any further damage?
A: No. What it was was just aggravation of what was already in there. Last Monday I just aggravated what was, I guess, degenerative cartilage from a couple injures that I've had in the past couple years. I probably should've given it more time to heal.

Q: Is this all new to you?
A: What's new to me is it's not going away. That's what's new. I've had a lot of injuries and they just go away. Well, this is something that during the course of the whole off-season I did everything I could to try to get it to heal but it just didn't. Whether I have more time or not to let it heal I'm not sure, but we can't really find that out because the season's here. Now it's just a matter of how are we going to manage it? It'll definitely mean less practice because it's going to get sore and there's no sense in continual practicing because the more sore it gets the less effective I am and, quite honestly, the less fun playing football it is when you're in a lot of pain. So I'm going to work with the coaches and they're going to work with me in managing practice time and still, obviously, getting enough - especially on the offensive line where you work with such a group - to still play on Sundays.

Q: When will you return to the field?
A: I'll be back on Monday. Like I said I could practice today, but like he said, 'It's preseason and you're never going to let it catch up.' So right now I want to let it catch up, let it heal and do a lot of bike-riding and get it strong. Pretty much, from this point on, we're on a regular weekly schedule - two or three practices and a game, two or three practices and a game. So I think I can manage that a lot better than eight or nine days in a row like we started with.

Q: Is that what the rehab will be, bike-riding?
A: No, it's more complex than that.

Q: Do you worry this is going to shorten your career?
A: No, I don't worry. I mean it is going to shorten my career. I love playing football so I would love to play 15 years but God has a plan for all of us and this is what's happened to me and I can't help that in the last couple years a couple guys have fallen on me. You know, when they've fallen on me I've actually felt the cartilage scrape, so I knew that wasn't good. When you feel a crrrk, and it kind of scrapes, I know that's not something that's good. I've been able to play through it but then again last year I didn't play as effectively as I'm capable of playing when I'm healthy. I know that and I think the coaches know that so that's why my goal this year was to come back and try to get it to heal as much as possible and at the expense of coming into camp as in shape as I normally am. Yet, my knee was in as good of shape as it could've been. It's a learning experience, and, yeah, in hindsight I wouldn't have practiced eight or nine days in a row but that's why I went down there now instead of waiting until Week Two or Three.

Q: Jeff, how much is this a setback and how much can it affect your season this year?
A: I don't think it'll affect my season at all. I think it would've affected it more had I not found this out now and that's why I made the decision right now to go down there. And it wasn't just a second opinion on my knee per se; it was a second opinion on how to approach the season. I've talked to our trainers, and it's not that I wasn't satisfied with them it's just that we have a right to get a second opinion. Why not get as many opinions as you can? It's important to me to play good this year and it's important to them because the better everybody plays the better our team's going to be, so I want to be in as good a condition as possible to play well.

Q: Is this something you can play 16 games, and because of this, could this be your last year?
A: I don't know. I'm just playing this year. This will be the first time that I try to manage it. Last year when I came back, I still practiced every day and it was very sore all the way to the last game. It took a lot to go out there and play. But I still played pretty effective, so that's what's encouraging, that I can still play pretty good, not as good as I can when I'm completely healthy, but this is the hand you're dealt. But at the same time, I can use a lot of wisdom and when my knee feels good, I can play pretty good.

Q: Was surgery an option?
A: No, he ruled that out because there's nothing on the MRI to say that arthroscopic surgery would help. And if I did it, it would keep me out for a couple of weeks.

Q: Most of the cartilage is missing, right?
A: Actually, last year I tore the meniscus. That's actually in between the cartilage. At the same time, I damaged the cartilage. Like I said, I feel that. In the Indianapolis game, when I tore the meniscus, I felt the cartilage scrape too. And that's really to me the thing that has never really healed. It's fairly common sense, if you have your meniscus you feel better then when you don't.

Q: Are you going to have to get a little closer to painkillers this year?
A: I think Toradol is a painkiller, pretty much. And Vioxx is an anti-inflammatory, so it pretty much does take away the pain, and Tylenol. That's just pretty much part of an NFL player's life.

Q: Will you have to take the shots too?
A: Toradol is a shot. But we'd never get to the point of the old-school cortisone shot. That's just been proven to ruin a person's joints for after their career. Sure, I'd get through this year, but at what expense? Football's very important, but I have a long life ahead of me. I don't want to need an artificial knee in five years.

Q: Should there be a red flag with your problems, Kendall (Simmons)'s problems and the tackle switches and everything else going on here?
A: The way I see it, we're going to fight through it. A lot of times when you fight through things like that in life, you become better for it. A couple of years ago when we, in the media's mind, maybe had the best offensive line in the league, training camp wasn't exactly pretty. I fumbled a lot of snaps. Marvel (Smith) was still young. I know at that time, there were red flags, so to speak, but we got it together. I'm just telling the guys to be patient and Chukky (Okobi) will come back and Calvin (Collins) will come back. Kendall, we've got to take him slowly because his is more of a health issue. I'm not going to die if I play with a bad knee. He could possibly have worse effects than me if he plays when he shouldn't be.

Q: Are you going to have to take Toradol before every game?
A: I don't think I will. Some guys automatically take it. I don't like to take it because I think it feels even worse the next day. It's all part of the management. I've learned in this league not to play through pain you can kill with a Toradol shot. On a couple of occasions when I was young and didn't know about Toradol, after the game, I wished I would have known about it. I didn't play very good because I broke a rib once and didn't have anything to kill the pain. If I need a Toradol shot, I can do that every game and be fine health-wise.

Q: Don't you have to really love the game to put up with this?
A: Yeah. That's what my wife keeps asking me. When I feel good, I love to play football. I want to play it as long as I can. But I've got a long life ahead of me, so I'm going to be smart. That's why when you asked me if this will shorten my career, yeah, it's definitely going to shorten my career. How much? I'm just taking it a year at a time and in the back of my mind, I'm thinking two or three more years yet.

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