There was only
one thing for Surgeon Nicholas to do: cut the whole thing out. Orthopedists
have learned recently that if any part of the meniscus is left in, far from
serving any useful function as a shock absorber, it becomes a growth site for
unnatural tissue or causes erosion of normal bone, and the whole thing has to
be cut out later on. Surprisingly, leaving the meniscus space empty, to be
filled with air and fluid, causes no discomfort or appreciable imbalance.
Checking other structures in the exposed joint, Dr. Nicholas found that one
ligament had been stretched. To tighten it, he folded it back on itself in a
pleat, and put in a few stitches. He made a shorter (1�-inch) incision on the
outer side of the knee, to check on the lateral side, and found it undamaged.
The two incisions and removal of the cyst—which probably had not bothered
Namath much anyway, but was better out—prolonged the operation to an hour and
As soon as Joe
Namath emerged from the wooziness of anesthesia, he found Dr. Nicholas at the
foot of his bed in the recovery room, grabbing his ankle, and telling him to
lift that right leg and keep it straight. This proved even tougher than playing
on the injured knee had been. It hurt—plenty. But surgeons who treat these and
similar injuries insist that retraining by exercise (they prefer this term to
"rehabilitation") must begin without so much as an hour's delay. Joe
had to lift that extended leg, no matter how much it hurt at first, 50 times a
day. He also had to contract his quadriceps muscle forcefully (as in a strong
twitch) 400 times a day. These exercises will continue. In three or four weeks,
he will have a weight put on his foot, and he will have to lift that, both with
his knee bent and with his leg extended, to get back full strength in the upper
part of his quadriceps.
Joe Namath is due
to leave the hospital this week, but before him are some three to four months
of retraining back on campus at Tuscaloosa. That right leg, the doctors are
determined, is going to be stronger than the uninjured left before he goes back
to athletics. It has to be, so that he won't be tempted to favor it. But if all
goes as well as the doctors now expect, Joe Namath will be playing for the Jets
this fall and running as well as before.
Perhaps the most
remarkable feature of Namath's injury is that he was able to play as much and
as well as he did for more than two months. And this is involved with what
orthopedists and other athletics physicians are most concerned about for all
players. There is, they protest, far too little care taken in deciding at what
age a boy shall begin to play football, too little attention given to training
him in how to avoid injuries and far too great a tendency to send him back into
the game if he says he can make it. Joe Namath is an exceptional athlete by any
standard: at 21, he is physically mature and yet very limber, and he knows how
to take care of himself. He and Coach Paul Bryant worked out plays for the end
of last season that took some strain off Joe's knee. Having had surgery within
little more than three months, he has probably not aggravated the trouble
specialize in the treatment of athletes' injuries say that if this sort of
thing happens to a 17-year-old in high school—as it does, all too often—the boy
is not likely to get expert orthopedic attention soon enough, if at all. A
second or third injury may then do major and irreparable damage to the knee.
Many a man in his 40s or 50s who now brags of having a "trick knee"
dating from some famous college game has actually developed arthritis and is in
for a lot more handicapping pain.
In football, it
seems, a certain number of knee injuries cannot be prevented. The Giants have
had at least a dozen cases this season, half of them requiring surgery. But if
the injuries cannot be prevented, they can be treated in time to minimize
damage and the risk of disablement. Joe Namath's right knee just happens to be
the one with the highest price tag on it.