The Minnesota Vikings made the trip to Lambeau field on Jan. 3 for the 2015 season finale against the Green Bay Packers. They ended up coming away with a victory and a division title, but not everyone was celebrating afterwards.
Tight end Rhett Ellison suffered a torn patellar tendon in his right knee during the game and was about to experience one of the toughest times he had ever gone through. He was relegated to watching his teammates play, and lose, in the first round of the playoffs, and knowing there was nothing he could do to help devastated him.
“That was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do,” he said. “Just watching, not being able to help them out, even being on the sideline to just kind of have some extra eyes on it, and I was in pain for the first two to three weeks after surgery. Couldn’t sleep, just pain 24 hours a day, so it was not a fun time.”
Tears to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) have become somewhat common in the NFL, but a tear to the patellar tendon is still pretty rare - about a 10-to-one ratio, according to Ellison.
He had no idea what was going on at first because he had never suffered a serious knee injury before. He said that he felt a “pop” in his knee when he got tackled on the sideline and then realized he couldn’t move his leg.
“My knee cap was floating around,” he said, “so I knew something was wrong.”
His knee didn’t hurt very much initially; it wasn’t until after the surgery that the pain really started to settle in.
Ellison experienced what he called “some dark days” following that injury and there were times he questioned whether or not he would ever be able to play football again. Luckily for him, though, he had his wife Raina to lean on throughout the process.
“If I didn’t have my wife, there’s no way that I think I’d be back, at all,” he said. “... She got me closer to my faith. She’s been my rock throughout this whole process. She had to drive me everywhere; I was pretty much completely dependent on her for three months. She’s been my rock.”
The two of them got married on May 13, 2016, while Ellison was still rehabbing and coming back from his injury. She was the one who was able to keep him on the right track and thinking positively.
Even after he was able to move around and run, Ellison still wasn’t able to participate with his teammates. He had to watch from the sidelines throughout organized team activities, minicamp, training camp and the team’s first two preseason games. But instead of dwell on the fact he couldn’t play, he decided to take advantage of the opportunities.
“I just turned it into a learning opportunity,” he began.
“It was actually nice to have the young guys because then I can help out and still participate in the learning process. The best way to learn is to teach, so I just took it as an opportunity.”
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The Vikings have their third preseason game coming up on Sunday, but Ellison isn’t sure yet if he will be able to play or not. He is still in a wait-and-see mode as he continues to fully acclimate his body back into playing mode.
“We’re just going day-to-day right now, just one day at a time,” he said. “We’ve got two in and that’s where we’re at. Baby steps.”