The broken tibia suffered by Louisville guard Kevin Ware during Sunday's NCAA basketball tournament play was tough to watch even for those who are used to sports injuries. Ware came down hard on the court during the Cardinals' Elite Eight win over Duke and the resulting compound fracture was not for the squeamish. In the days following the injury, Ware received an overwhelming level of support. One of the people who reached out to him was former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, who suffered a compound fracture of the tibia -- an injury similar to Ware's -- in a 1985 game against the New York Giants. Theismann was unable to generate sufficient bone growth after the injury, and his career was over at the age of 36. His injury created two of the most indelible moments in NFL history -- the bone sticking out of the leg, while Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor frantically waved for medical assistance for Theismann from the field.
When Theismann saw Ware's injury, he got in touch with Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, who set up what has become a texting relationship between the young basketball player and the former NFL star.
“You just have to know the right kind of people to get to somebody," Theismann said Tuesday on The Mighty 1090 in San Diego. "A lot of guys have numbers and you just try to figure out a way to get to someone and … Coach Pitino was kind enough to help me out in getting in touch with Kevin. I felt so bad for him and I want to try to offer, as much as I can, support to him from an emotional standpoint. … He certainly doesn’t need me for anything at this point, but maybe down the road a little bit, some things may come up in his rehab or some questions may come up. … Unless you’ve actually been through something, you don’t know the physical and psychological impact that the recovery has.”
Theismann, who has found success as a national football analyst since the end of his NFL career, told NBC's Matt Lauer that "It just conjured up all the memories of what I went through that evening. The excruciating pain, and all the people around me and all the activity, and when I saw everybody start to get around Kevin, it just kept playing over and over in my mind. Those things just don't ever leave you.''
Ware has had a steel rod inserted in his leg, and he's hoping for a relatively quick recovery, given the severity of the injury. Doctors have told Ware that it will be a year before he's all the way back, but that he should be able to play basketball again. Certainly, medical technology is far more advanced than it was when Theismann suffered his injury, and Theismann sounded encouraged by the process.
"Physically the rehabilitation process is not going to be that difficult for him,'' he told Lauer. "Emotionally is where the big problem is, and it's not a problem. I had a chance to talk to him yesterday and he sounds like he's just in a great place. He knows the road is not going to be easy, but he is young and determined to come back. He may turn an ankle or something, but with that rod in there, I doubt if he's ever going to break that leg again."
The injury was even closer to home for Chicago Bears running back Michael Bush, who played his college ball at Louisville, and admitted to crying when he saw what happened to Ware. Bush broke his leg in the opening game of his senior season, and was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL draft. Many thought of Bush as a first-round talent before the injury, and he told the NFL Network that he had spoken to Ware.
"It was very painful [because] it was something I had to go through," Bush said (via the Chicago Tribune). "Just to see that. ... I know his life has changed. He's got a long road, but it's doable because I've done it ... I had to be strong for my family, let them know that I was okay. But just to see that happen to someone else, it's difficult. I don't want that to happen to my worst enemy."
Safe to say, few would. It's good to know, however, that so many are trying to help Ware through the process -- especially those who have been there before.
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