By all outward indications, it's difficult to tell if Steve Hutchinson is having a good day or a bad day. He rarely changes his low-key demeanor, with one notable exception – when his daughter Lily is involved.
At training camp this summer, Hutchinson was working on offensive line drills in the end zone and, despite a lot of background noise – coaches yelling, whistles blowing, general chatter, one little voice in the crowd, yelled "Daddy!" one time. Hutchinson's head snapped around, searching until he saw Lily, her brother Luke and his wife Landyn on the sidelines at Mankato. He immediately stopped what he was doing, called the kids past the invisible velvet rope that separates the players from everyone else, smiled broadly and dropped to his knee to hug and kiss his kids.
It was a moment that went largely unnoticed to the outside world – after all, he was working at the time – but was a slice of family life for the Hutchinsons. As he hugged his kids, Lily almost immediately noticed that Hutch had a scrape on his elbow that had the remnants of blood on it. When she went back to her mother, she immediately said, "Daddy's got an owie."
Hutch had the visible remnants of a much more significant "owie" – a wrap immobilizing a fractured right thumb – but, as with Mankato, he had the consolation of his little girl. She signed her name on the wrap and followed it up with "I Love You, Daddy."
While it brought a smile to his face as he was asked about the inscription, the thumb is a significant problem that Hutchinson will try to deal with Sunday. No stranger to pain, Hutch played the second half of the 2009 season with a right shoulder injury that often left his arm simply hanging after plays. This one, however, is something new.
He suffered the broken thumb early in the second quarter of Sunday's game at Washington, a run play in which he got his hand caught on the inside of a defender at the second level and felt something snap. He didn't know the extent of the injury, but said, compared to other pain he has played through, it was right up there.
"The rest of those two-and-a-half quarters was pretty painful," Hutchinson said. "Adrenaline – things like that – keep you going. You don't know it's broken, you probably assume that. Unfortunately, that's part of this game is playing through pain."
Hutchinson said he is unsure what the prognosis is – Chris DeGeare is scheduled to get the start if Hutch can't go – or what sort of timetable the coaches have mapped out. He was limited in today's practice and will likely be limited Thursday as well. By Friday, he thinks a determination as to what he can and can't do will be made, but he expects to start Sunday when the Vikings host the Buffalo Bills.
"That's the plan," Hutchinson said. "The issue becomes casting it up enough to protect it and seeing if we cast it up and pad it up enough where it doesn't hinder me from doing my job."
Asked if he expects to experience sharp pains in the thumb during Sunday's game, Hutchinson said the intent is to immobilize the injured thumb so as not to cause any further damage to it, but pain is part of the game any time you have such an injury and all the padding and protection in the world won't stop the "Shock and ‘Ow!" moments that will accompany the numerous collisions involving his hands he will have Sunday.
"It's a broken bone, so there's pain," Hutchinson said. "The idea is to cast it up enough so it is protected, so no matter what happens to it, it's protected. It becomes how much a nuisance that is and how much of a hindrance from me being able to do my assignments."
While reminded that he never holds defenders – a comment that brought a smile to his face – he was asked how much the cast will hinder his technique. Hutchinson said it will be a factor.
"You do use your hands on every play and you're punching with it," Hutchinson said. "When you don't have the ability to grab and control a guy it makes it tougher, but we'll have to see how it works."
Although he has suffered hand injuries in the past, he has never had a break and this experience will be a first for the future Hall of Famer.
"I've done plenty of sprains," Hutchinson said. "They put orthoplastic – a piece of molded plastic – around it and then tape it up. But, you still have the use of most of your hand. With a fracture, it's a little different story."
For those wondering if Hutchinson would take a page from former Cardinals offensive lineman Conrad Dobler, who were a rounded club on his right hand for what seemed like years, Hutchinson said he won't play with such a fiberglass boxing glove surrounding his injured hand, saying that, what made Dobler effective with his mauling club no longer applies in the modern-day NFL.
"They outlawed head slaps a few years ago," Hutchinson said. "A club makes you pretty much completely useless as an offensive lineman. It's just trying to get it in the way then. You try to figure out a way to have the some of some fingers or some resemblance of a hand."
Hutchinson said that the difference in this injury to the shoulder injury he suffered last year is that, with the exception of his thumb, the rest of his body is just fine. It's a problem he hasn't had to deal with in the past, but he has been far from injury-free.
"I've had shoulders (that have been injured)," Hutchinson said. "Last year, I had a shoulder that kind of takes away your strength when you're not able to punch and control a guy. This is just a different deal. You have to learn to deal with it."
A natural right-hander, Hutchinson said his day-to-day life has been changed significantly – he won't be signing any legible autographs any time soon – but said that, while doing "automatic" things like instinctively going for a door handle right handed has been forcibly modified, his experience with post-operative disability has made him somewhat ambidextrous. Yet, it's still a big inconvenience.
"In the couple of days I have this on, yeah (it's been a problem)," Hutchinson said. "But I have had a couple of shoulder surgeries on my right shoulder, so I'm kind of used to having to cope doing most stuff left-handed for six weeks or a month after you have shoulder surgery."
As for the loving words of his little girl on the cast, he appreciates them but they won't last for long … at least not in their current form.
"Unfortunately, this cast comes off today," Hutchinson said. "It's more of a splint. This comes off today and we'll go with a more traditional fiberglass cast I'm assuming. It's a little inspiring, but unfortunately it comes off today. I'll have to have her write something on the new one."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Hutchinson to compensate for broken thumb
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