Monday, July 14, 2008

Retro: Amputate his fingertip and let him play

There was a time when warriors prowled the gridiron. It was long before the crybabies of today, whining about contracts and forgetting the game. It was a time when one man would leave his mark on the NFL, and be remembered for years to come. It was a time when Ronnie Lott would have his fingertip amputated, so he could fight on and not miss games. That became just one of the many stories throughout his great career. It was a time, back then, and it was his moment to shine.

At the end of the 1985 season in a game against the Cowboys, Ronnie Lott, then in his glory days with the 49ers, mangled his left pinky in a brutal collision with running back Timmy Newsome. Bone fragments and parts of Lott's finger lay somewhere in the turf. Lott came out of the game briefly -- a game his team won to gain a wild-card berth in the NFC playoffs. He bore the agony of his dismembered member in the manner of all Top Guns and Terminators of sports. Enduring the pain was a religion -- or at least a line-item entry in the game's Iliad of make-believe war. The next week, Lott had his fingers taped so he could play -- in a loss to the Giants. Over that winter, he remained in excruciating pain. He faced the next season with an awful choice: a complicated and delicate operation in which bone and skin grafting and the placement of pins in his hand might restore full use of his hand -- or, he could have the top of his finger amputated. Choice No. 1 meant missing playing time and risking reinjury. Choice No. 2 meant missing some finger but being ready -- like Arnold Schwarzenegger -- for more. Most football fans know how this came out. Lott chose to have the top of his finger chopped off and then went on to his third Pro Bowl season with the 49ers, leading the team to yet another playoff appearance.~The Sporting News

Ronnie Lott was one of the most ferocious hitters in the history of the NFL. He’s also the only player to be named all pro at three different positions (FS, SS, CB). He is a 4 time Superbowl champion, powering his 49ers defense to become the team of the decade. He was committed to winning, and made every effort to bring about those results. The NFL still searches for others with the same desire, but the findings are few. Nowadays, the youth looks to be bigger than the game. But in Lott’s time, the game was bigger than the players, and that’s how it was played.

Today, Lott can be seen among the faces on the sidelines of USC football. He now watches Young Taylor Mays patrol the same areas of the coliseum that he once did. He listens to the comparisons, as Mays is mentioned in breaths of his own legendary name. It’s an honor for any player, amateur or pro, because to resemble a great one, great ability must show. Taylor Mays finds himself on a list of Lott Trophy candidates for 2008, an award named after his brethren of cardinal and gold, and given to college football’s defensive impact player of the year.

Ronnie Lott was a member of the 1978 USC National Championship team. He was recruited to Southern California as a two way player, and nearly found himself in a tailback competition with Marcus Allen. Looking back now, if reversed decisions were made by Coach John Robinson, Marcus Allen could have played out his college career as a cornerback, with Ronnie Lott sweeping in the “student body right”. Robinson’s assessment was correct, and while Marcus Allen went on to win the Heisman Trophy, Ronnie Lott received All American honors as the nation’s top defensive back.

Lott was selected as the 8th player in the first round of the 1981 draft, and with each tackle, interception, jarring blow, and pass defended, he created his own NFL legacy. He was inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame in 2000, but had already given everyone a preview, jacking up his first opponents on a coliseum field, as one of the greatest Trojans of all time.


*10 time pro bowl selection
* 4 time Superbowl champion
* second in rookie of the year voting (Lawrence Taylor)
* NFL Hall of Fame (Class of 2002)
* College Football Hall of Fame (Class of 2002)
* Jersey #42 retired by San Francisco 49ers

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