Erasmus James: ‘I Owe the Vikings'

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Erasmus James completed his third knee surgery in the last 14 months, but a number of things are different this time around. He went with a different doctor for an interesting reason and he expects the recovery time to be shorter because of a lesser injury. See how James detailed the process and his emotions.

The last two years have been nothing short of a nightmare for Vikings defensive end Erasmus James. From the time he was taken in the first round of the 2005 draft, big things were expected of him. After a solid rookie season in which he became a starter at midseason, hopes were high that he would be the sack master the Vikings envisioned he would be when they drafted him.

But, two games into the 2006 season, James was felled by a horrific knee injury – tearing both the anterior cruciate ligament and the medial collateral ligament. The damage was so extensive that he had to wait more than a month simply to have surgery. Dr. Richard Steadman of Vail, Colo. performed the procedure and the rehab process was extensive.

He missed the minicamps of May and June. He was limited in training camp. He wasn't on the field in the preseason. The going was slow, but the expectation was that he would return in 2007 at some point.

After playing in five previous games, James returned to the starting lineup when the Vikings met the Lions Dec. 2. Early in his first start, James was ready to put the pain and rehabilitation behind. It was time to resume his career … or so he thought. Early in the game, he felt the same ACL pop and, while it wasn't as severe as the initial injury, his season was ended again in an instant.

"It tore a significant amount where it couldn't be saved," James said. "On the third play of the game, I was trying to jump and bat down a pass. When I came down, the offensive lineman was pushing on me, so I was on one leg. It buckled and I immediately felt the pain. It was my first start back. I wasn't thinking about the leg. I was just thinking about getting the job done. I was very excited to be back until that happened."

His excitement was much more subdued this week as he walked around the Vikings locker room, having returned from Birmingham, Ala., where renowned athletic surgeon Dr. James Andrews performed a construction of the ligament. While the rehab process is nearing, James says he can be thankful that the timetable for recovery this time should be lessened considerably.

"The surgery wasn't nearly as extensive as the first one," James said. "The first injury also involved a MCL tear and hyper-scarring, which caused most of the problem with the pain. That's why the surgery took so long to happen the first time."

James is trying to keep a positive outlook, despite an enormous career setback that has wiped out another season. After the hours of work put in at the Vikings training facility, it seemed to go for naught before he could prove that he was still the same player that was the apple of the Vikings draft eye in 2005. While disappointed with the first injury, this time he was angry. But he's been forced to adjust his emotional state and once again focus on getting better.

"It's been very tough," James said. "It was a big blow. Sometimes that happens and you just have to ride with it. You just have to let (the anger) go, because if you don't let it go, it's just going to bother you. So it's another year of rehab for me."

While the early prognosis has James expected to be 100 percent by the start of training camp, he's putting more pressure on himself to live up to the contract the Vikings signed him to. Some players would be despondent over their situation, but James said he just has to suck it up, accept it and show the Vikings that they didn't make a mistake when they took him in the draft.

"You've got a lot on your shoulders as a first-rounder," James said. "There are high expectations and those last eight games of my rookie year, I felt like everything was coming along. Heading into the second season, things looked really good in the preseason. To get hurt in the second game was big blow. But I just have to keep working to live up to (being a first-rounder)."

The hardest part currently for James is watching his Vikings teammates making a playoff push a bit shorthanded at defensive end with injuries to James and Darrion Scott, and Ray Edwards serving a suspension. It has been difficult for James to enjoy the team's run knowing that he could be part of the push for the playoffs while his body is saying "no."

"Just even watching games like the Monday night game was tough," James said. "It was exciting and there was so much on the line. You want to play in games like those. To not be able to play in games like those is really difficult. But you can't do anything about it, other than move on and accept it."

James said his decision to go with Dr. Steadman for his initial surgery was due to his practice of using tendons from cadavers to replace the injured ones. Dr. Andrews, whom James went with this time around, uses a patient's own patella tendon to repair injuries. James was emphatic that he hadn't lost confidence in Dr. Steadman – just the opposite in fact – but that this time, he preferred to use his own tissue in hopes of finding a cure for his ailing knee. And if the early prognosis sticks, things are looking up.

"I feel good," James said. "I just wanted to try something different. I still have all the confidence in the world in Dr. Steadman. He did a good job, especially considering the extent of the damage there was. This time I decided to go with my own tissue to try to help the healing process."

While James will spend another Christmas staring at months of rehab until he can practice again, he's not letting it get him down. As he sees it, the harder he works, the sooner he can reclaim his professional career and show teammates, coaches and fans that the Vikings made the right move to take him – they just had to wait a little longer to see the seed bear fruit.

"It's still early, but everything feels really good right now," James said. "I have to dedicate myself again to working every day. I'll be back. I owe to the Vikings. I owe it to the fans. I owe to myself."

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