They are the assassins waiting behind the door in a dark room. They are pro football's unpredictable—yet only too predictable—curse. Injuries. As the fractures, concussions and bruises that play havoc with America's No. 1 sport struck down 183 NFL starters in the first half of the season, medical reports like these became commonplace:
?Two defensive backs, Anthony Young of Indianapolis and Tim Lewis of Green Bay, damaged nerves in their necks while making fairly routine tackles. They will never make any more. To do so would be to risk paralysis.
?On Oct. 26 the San Francisco 49ers fielded only 37 healthy players out of a possible 45 for their game with Green Bay.
? Dallas running back Tony Dorsett, after nine relatively injury-free years, missed three of his first eight games this season and hobbled through three more on an ailing knee.
?Two Kansas City Chiefs, linebacker Ken McAlister and wide receiver Anthony Hancock, underwent surgery after their knees buckled on artificial turf without having been hit.
?Before last weekend's games, 286 players were on the NFL's injured reserve lists.
?On Sunday, Cowboys quarterback Danny White suffered a broken right wrist after a blitz by the Giants' Carl Banks. He will probably miss the rest of the season.
?Five New England Patriots players were injured Sunday in a game against Atlanta. All-Pro linebacker Andre Tippett hurt a knee and may miss the rest of the season.
"Injuries," says Philip Rosenthal, the assistant director of New York's Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma, "are inherent to football. It's the nature of the beast."
O.K., but where does it stop? When do we make the breakthrough and start reducing injuries? The average playing career, 4.6 years in 1983, is now 3.6 years. Speed has increased through natural selection and lighter equipment. Size has shown a natural gain, too, but it also has an unnatural side because of the anabolic steroids that are such a major part of the weight-training programs favored by a number of players.