After being hit by Houston Oiler Defensive End Elvin Bethea last season, Pittsburgh Quarterback Terry Bradshaw managed to escape with only a fractured navicular bone in his left wrist. When Bradshaw got up, he was a magnanimous casualty. He said he didn't think they could do any more to protect the quarterback "without taking something away from the game."
"Take away" from football? How ironic a choice of words.
Here is a sample of what was "taken away" from football in 1977 because of that kind of talk.
In the first televised college game of the season, Pittsburgh Quarterback Matt Cavanaugh, a prime Heisman Trophy candidate, was buried by Notre Dame Defensive End Willie Fry just as he released a second-period touchdown pass. Forced backward under Fry's 242 pounds, Cavanaugh put his left hand back to brace his imminent fall and snapped his wrist. Goodby Heisman.
On the first Saturday of play, half the teams in the Big Eight lost their starting quarterbacks. One other Big Eight quarterback was playing hurt with a practice injury.
By midseason, eight starting Southwest Conference quarterbacks had been put out of commission. Texas was down to a fourth stringer as it held desperately to the No. 1 ranking. The Longhorns had lost two quarterbacks in one game—in the same quarter.
Georgia, suffering its first losing season in 14 years under Vince Dooley, was down to its fourth quarterback by the time it got to Georgia Tech for the final game. In that one, No. 4 sprained an ankle and No. 5, a freshman, dislocated a fibula. Dooley finished up with another freshman who had been a reserve on the junior varsity.
Almost every potential All-America quarterback was injured in 1977. Besides Cavanaugh, Houston's Danny Davis, Stanford's Guy Benjamin, Texas Tech's Rodney Allison, Brigham Young's Gifford Nielsen and Harvard's Tim Davenport all went down for varying periods. But that was child's play compared with what the pros were dishing out.
On a memorable Sunday in November, Fran Tarkenton of Minnesota, who had never had a serious injury, spun away from a rush on a busted play and was submerged by Cincinnati's Gary Burley. Tarkenton's ankle snapped. On that very same "day at the butcher shop," as one press dispatch called it, James Harris of San Diego was helped off the field with a sprained ankle, Bill Munson of San Diego with a fractured leg, Brian Sipe of Cleveland with a shoulder injury, Lynn Dickey of Green Bay with a broken leg, and Bradshaw with a shoulder injury to go with his dented wrist.
At one point, 20 quarterbacks in the 28-team NFL had suffered incapacitating injuries. In addition to the above, Jim Zorn, Richard Todd, Ken Anderson, Dan Pastorini, Billy Kilmer, Steve Bartkowski and Joe Namath were sidelined. Tampa Bay, the league's worst team, was also its hardest hit: four starting quarterbacks lost to injury.