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Sauerbrun keeps kicking
Bears punter looking to come back from knee surgery
Posted: Sunday July 25, 1999 04:05 PM
PLATTEVILLE, Wis. (AP) -- When Chicago Bears punter Todd Sauerbrun was knocked to the ground last September, he hoped the pain would just end up being a swollen knee and he could be back on the field the next week.
Even when he found out he'd torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, he figured he could still play. He kicked with his right leg, so all he had to do was strap a brace on his left knee and he'd be fine.
Then he found out he'd torn not one, but two ligaments in the knee. Brace or no brace, there was no way he could play like that.
"It was devastating," Sauerbrun said. "It was pretty ugly at the time. I feel great now and I don't even like to think about what happened. I've bounced back pretty strong and that's all. We'll go from there."
Eleven months after he was roughed up while punting in the third game of the season, Sauerbrun's knee is back at full strength. Though he's being cautious not to overwork it during training camp, he can't wait for the season to start.
"He's worked his fanny off," Bears trainer Tim Bream said. "When he hurt his knee, there was no doubt in his mind he was coming back."
With good reason. Sauerbrun was an All-American his senior season at West Virginia, leading the nation with an average of 48.4 yards per punt, and the Bears drafted him in the second round in 1995.
But he couldn't quite match his impressive results from college in his first three seasons. His numbers were solid -- he averaged 44.8 gross yards in 1996, second-highest in Bears history, and had the NFL's longest punt that season, 72 yards -- but former coach Dave Wannstedt always seemed to have some complaint. And more often than not, the criticism didn't come in private.
While public humiliation isn't Sauerbrun's first choice for fun, it never made him question his ability.
"Definitely not," he said. "Once you start doubting yourself, that's when you hit rock bottom."
And he seemed to be on the verge of a Pro Bowl year last season. In the first three games, he led the NFC in both gross (49.4 yards) and net average (42.1 yards), and was second in the NFL.
"If you were to say, 'Name a player or two that might be on the road to some postseason honors,' I think Todd was on that course," Wannstedt said the day after Sauerbrun was injured.
Instead, he had to watch as the Bears went 4-12 for a second season.
"It was terrible being a cheerleader," he said. "That's the last thing I want to do, be the guy with the pompons. That's just not me. It was extremely difficult, but there was absolutely nothing I could have done to get better in a month with that type of injury.
"You come to reality pretty quick."
So after his surgery Oct. 2, Sauerbrun went to work. He did the exercises he was told to, and lifted weights to rebuild strength in the knee. He tossed footballs to himself at his house while he dreamed of the day he could boot one out of the subdivision.
Now, Bream said, his knee should be as strong as it was before the injury.
"He hit three or four yesterday and his hang time was the best he's ever had," Bream said. "We're still watching him, but he's doing great."
Sauerbrun said he feels rejuvenated going into this season, but he also feels like he's got something to prove. This doesn't have anything to do with ego or wanting to prove his critics wrong. It doesn't even have anything to do with his knee.
It's just that with new coach Dick Jauron, everyone's got a fresh start.
"Everybody's got to go out and fight for their position again. I think it's enjoyable when you do that," Sauerbrun said. "It keeps you on your toes and brings out the best in you."
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