It is Sept. 15, the day after the Bears' 32-7 loss to the Lions. On this morning 16 Chicago players will enter the club's state-of-the-art, 50-by-20-foot trainer's room for treatment, including 14 who were injured the previous day. "Another 10 to 15 probably should be here but don't think they're hurt bad enough to come in," says team orthopedist Michael Schafer.
"We are the NFL's MASH unit," says head trainer Tim Bream. "We laugh at these guys in other sports: Randy Johnson misses three weeks with tendinitis in a finger. Come on!" Here's what it's like to spend a Monday morning with Bream, Schafer and assistant trainers Eric Sugarman and Buckey Wilson.
9:07 a.m.: Four of the six training tables are already occupied when running back Rashaan Salaam, who broke his right fibula in the second quarter against the Lions and is out for the season, enters glumly on crutches. Players rise to greet him. Nearby lies Chris Villarrial, who broke his left fibula a week earlier in a game against the Vikings and is not expected to return until late October. "We lead the league in broken bones," says Villarrial. At that moment Joe Cocker can be heard on a stereo, singing, "Feelin' all right, not feelin' too good myself...." The soft cast on Salaam's leg is replaced with an inflatable one that stimulates blood flow and reduces swelling. Salaam lies on a table, forearm over his eyes.
9:18 a.m.: Villarrial gets an X-ray of his leg so the medical staff can see how his break is healing. He's followed into the X-ray room by guard Evan Pilgrim, who has a sore hip.
9:23 a.m.: Bream and Schafer examine strong safety Marty Carter, who has a sprained right elbow. Ice is applied, and the arm is put in a sling. Carter, who would miss the upcoming game against the Patriots, is the ninth player to be treated. "That's nothing," Sugarman says. "Usually we've got the tables full and guys waiting in line by now."
9:35 a.m.: Walking like Walter Brennan, cornerback Walt Harris enters. What hurts? "Shoulder, calves, shin, knee," he says. Bream examines Harris, then calls to Sugarman, who is standing near a chest loaded with ice bags, "Ice on the shin, ice on the calf, ice on the shoulder." Harris thinks nothing of it. "I'm so used to being in here on Monday," he says, "I think of it as part of the job. People get up and go to work on Monday; I get up and come here."
9:44 a.m.: James (Big Cat) Williams, the 345-pound right tackle, limps in, favoring a sprained right ankle. "Any better, Kitty?" Bream asks. Williams says there's no change but adds that the ankle doesn't feel any worse. Players feel pressure to practice, and Williams has been drilling for two weeks on the bad wheel. "Kitty, you're not working till Friday," Bream says. "We've got to get some improvement in here." It's interesting to watch Bream and Williams interact. Players generally listen to the team's medical staff. "You have to build a trust with these guys so they know you're not just using them," Bream says.
9:56 a.m.: Wideout Bobby Engram receives electrical stimulation to treat a bruised left shoulder. A minute later linebacker Michael Lowery walks in, surveys the nine players getting care and says, "Damn, we're the walking wounded."
10:17 a.m.: Most of the injured are gone, giving Bream a chance to catch his breath. "None of these guys are really going to get better during the season," he says. "The questions you have to ask yourself are, One, can we make them functional so they can play? Two, by playing, is the player going to damage himself for the rest of his life?" Players learn quickly, however, that you don't get sidelined by sprains and bruises. "If they want to make the money," Bream says, surveying the room, "this is what they have to face on Monday morning."
10:32 a.m.: Salaam, one of two players left, appears bored. "You should have brought a book," Schafer says. Salaam, who won't leave for another 90 minutes, nods and says, "I'll remember that next time." Everyone in the room knows there will be a lot of next times.