There's back pain, and then there's back surgery, and then there's the ordeal Linden Gaydosh endured.
Last August, the Carolina Panthers' defensive tackle underwent surgery for a herniated disc before he had a chance to make the team as a rookie. Doctors ordered him not to sit down after the operation.
For a month.
That meant no driving, no lounging on the couch, no chairs for eating meals. Gaydosh, who is 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, could only sit down in the bathroom.
"I limited those trips as much as I could," Gaydosh said Tuesday by phone. "Until I was pretty much bursting."
He had his meals standing up, and spent his training camp bus rides lying down in the aisle.
"Watching TV was kind of an issue," he says.
But physical discomfort isn't an insurmountable burden when you're from Peace River, Alberta, and one of the few people from your town ever to play football at the college level, let alone beyond that. The trial for Gaydosh wasn't when he got to a new country and a new style of football; the trial was knowing his father's painful football story, and going ahead in spite of it.
Peace River, pop. 7,000, is not a football hotbed. There's one field, surrounded by a track and small bleachers. The nearest NFL city is Seattle, which is a 15-hour drive away. Kids from there want to grow up to be the next Chris Osgood (who is from there) rather than the next Tom Brady. Linden Gaydosh was one of them.
"I thought I was a hockey player for the longest time," he says. The problem was, the biggest NHL player he knew about was Todd Bertuzzi, who was 240 pounds, and Gaydosh was 300 at age 15.
His high school coach wanted him on the football team, but Linden's father, Dave, already went down that road. It did not end well.
As a high school player, Dave Gaydosh was speared in the back by an opponent, and he briefly lost feeling in his legs. He remembers the ensuing pain as "excruciating." Doctors told him if he continued playing, he risked his chance to continue walking.
"Since then I've had five knee surgeries and a hip replacement," he says. "You don't want your kids to go through that and follow the same path."
So to avoid exposing the sport to his two sons, he literally avoided exposing the sport to his two sons: he drove the long way around Peace River to prevent his children from having any glimpse of the football field.
It didn't work. Linden's coach was unrelenting in his push for the mammoth teen, and Dave eventually gave in.
"I went to a spring camp," Linden says. "I knocked a kid out the first day. Everyone was cheering. I thought, 'All right, I like this sport now.' "
There wasn't much Dave Gaydosh could do at that point, and there wasn't much he wanted to do to stop his son's growing love for the sport he too once loved. Linden went off to Edmonton for his final year of high school – a five-hour drive – and then the University of Calgary for college – an eight-hour drive. His dad once put 17,000 kilometers (10,563 miles) on his Ford truck in one month, getting to his son's games. Linden started all four years at Calgary, and was drafted by the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2013, but there was another team interested: the Carolina Panthers.
Ron Rivera has some experience with Canadian players – one in particular. Israel Idonije played college football in Manitoba, was drafted into the CFL, and wound up as a pass rusher for the Chicago Bears when Rivera coached there. Gaydosh has a similar story and, perhaps, a similar shot at a steady role in the NFL. Rivera signed him last summer and Gaydosh arrived at camp without ever seeing an NFL game in person. Then, in July, Dave Gaydosh got the call he'd been dreading for years: his son had sustained a severe back injury.
"It was kind of like déjà vu," he says. "He phoned me and he's practically in tears. Kinda scared. Same situation. He was already talking about getting flights back to Calgary and if Hamilton will still take him."
After wishing that his son would never even look at a football field, the father was in the position of telling his son to do everything he could to stick with the game.
"I said, 'Just hold on.'" Gaydosh told Linden. "'You have to look at it in a business sense. Are you worth keeping? They must have seen something in you that they liked.'"
That settled Linden down, and he went ahead with surgery (a microdiscectomy, which relieves pressure on the spine) and the rehab – including the month of vertical torture.
Last season, Gaydosh saw his first NFL game from the press box and sat in team meetings (after standing in meetings) to learn a new version of his sport. Now he has a second chance to make his first roster.
"I'm just worried about making sure I'm here at the end of August," he says.
The fact that he's "here" has made a huge difference back in Peace River. Dave Gaydosh says the whole town is following his son's career, and 300 "crazy Canucks" are hoping to make the trip to North Carolina if Linden finds a spot on the team.
"He's a pretty big thing up here, for people to live through him," Dave says. "We have a lot more kids that are playing, and working harder to keep their [grades] up – kids that don't even know him."
That might be Linden Gaydosh's legacy in Alberta, no matter how far he gets in the NFL. He's made that Peace River football field even more of a place to gather, after for so long it was a place his father tried to avoid.
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