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Cards adopt modern approach to fitness

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports

TAMPA, Fla. – Brett Fisher is not listed in the Arizona Cardinals media guide or on the team's Web site. Yet his presence has had a tremendous impact on the organization.

Fisher, a physical therapist who has been on the team's sidelines all season and at its facility most mornings, is an example of how Arizona seems to have finally gotten it and, in doing so, has finally reached the Super Bowl. Working in concert with first-year team trainer Tom Reed and second-year strength coach John Lott, Fisher represents a significant change in thinking for a franchise playing in its first Super Bowl and first league championship since 1947.

"I feel very fortunate that he's part of the organization," Cardinals defensive end Bertrand Berry said.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt, in his second year, made it a priority to change the perception of how players were treated and trained. With the support of owner Bill Bidwill's son Michael, who is the team president, Whisenhunt's first move was in 2007. He brought in Lott, who previously worked for the Browns. The next move was to hire Reed away from the Falcons to oversee the operation.

The final came after taking a tip from his wife and daughter.

Hire Fisher.

Wife Alice and daughter Mary Ashley both attended Fisher's clinic in Phoenix shortly after moving to the area. Alice is a former athlete herself and Mary Ashley had a number of nagging injuries from her days as a gymnast and cheerleader while growing up in Pittsburgh, where Whisenhunt coached before joining the Cardinals.

"Obviously, I had a history with Brett because both my daughter and my wife had gone to him for rehab," Whisenhunt said. "They've been in this business for a number of years, so they had an idea how good he was. So we were very fortunate to get Brett with us and he's done a tremendous job.

"There's nothing more important than getting your football players on the field to play games and that's one of the best things we've done this year. We haven't had a [big] number of injuries. A lot of that goes to John Lott and our strength staff. A lot goes to Tom Reed and the training staff and a lot goes to Brett."

The Cardinals were tied (one behind the Jets) with the Chargers, Eagles, Panthers and Titans for having the second-fewest number of players (four) on injured reserve. Each team but the Jets reached the postseason.

Fisher has taken a two-pronged approach in trying to minimize injuries and the length of time players are sidelined. His clinic uses a system called ASTYM, which helps in the healing of soft tissue, such as the hamstring and Achilles tendon.

Second, with the help of the Cardinals, he purchased a Zunni machine, which displaces weight from certain parts of the body while a player works out. For instance, with Berry, he worked on a treadmill to rehab his groin. But instead of having his full weight on his legs as he worked on the treadmill, his weight was supported so that the groin – which resulted in two missed games – could be stretched without extra tension.

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Berry has had his healthiest season in the last four years.
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

"I believe [Fisher] cut my recovery time in half, I was only out two weeks," said Berry, an 11-year veteran who missed a total of 21 games from 2005-07 with a variety of injuries. "Without him, I think I would have been out four weeks, at least. Brett is awesome."

This approach has been a drastic change for an organization that was considered backward by some and downright cheap by others when it came to the simplistic ways of taking care of players.

How cheap?

According to two players and an agent, Bill Bidwill has on more than one occasion chastised players for taking bottles of water and Gatorade from the team's training facility. Water and Gatorade that the players were instructed by the team training staff to drink in order to keep from dehydrating.

If the absurdity of denying a few bottles of water and Gatorade to athletes the team pays millions of dollars to keep healthy wasn't enough, there was the backward approach the Cardinals took toward healthcare and training.

The team had the same trainer, John Omohundro, for 42 years before his resignation last June. While there is something to be said for loyalty, people around the organization said Omohundro's tenure became a sign that the team wasn't willing to work in the best interests of the players.

That belief has changed.

"We've worked together on a daily basis since that injury and he's helped change my body in so many ways and I can feel it help me," Berry said. "I'm glad I've had an opportunity to work with him, I wish I had a lot sooner. The fact that he's here now, I just feel Coach Whisenhunt and the coaching staff and the rest of the organization have made a concerted effort to investigate every avenue to help us win and you've seen the benefits of it."

Since the start of the season, Fisher's day has started at 5:45 a.m. at the Cardinals facility and finished at his private clinic.

The 80-hour weeks have been worth it.

"The whole situation has been really gratifying for me because Tom and John and I have all been able to really work together, be very progressive in the way that we work with the players," said Fisher, who counts Maria Sharapova, Donovan McNabb, Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood and dozens of other NFL players among his clients.

"The thing that happens a lot in training and physical therapy is that guys can get really territorial about dealing with athletes," Fisher said. "It's like, 'Hey, that's my guy that I'm working with.' With Tom Reed, the whole approach is, 'Hey Brett, I want you to work on this with this player and John, I want to you work on this.' It's been extremely cooperative and you get a real sense that the players feel it and trust it. That's why Ken said he wanted me here every day. He wanted to build up that faith and trust for the players."

And in a very short time, mission accomplished.