IT WAS a tough play that caused an unusual—and dangerous—season-ending injury. Early in a Sept. 24 loss to Carolina, Tampa Bay QB Chris Simms was hit simultaneously in his stomach (by linebacker Thomas Davis) and back (tackle Kris Jenkins). Simms, 26, kept playing, but after the game doctors discovered he had ruptured his spleen and had lost five pints of blood due to internal bleeding, forcing Simms to have an emergency splenectomy.
"I remember the play," says Simms. "But the [rest of] the game is foggy." Simms spent seven days in the hospital, subsisting mainly on ice chips and Gatorade and dropping 13 pounds off what had been a 6'4", 220-pound frame. "I couldn't even do a crunch to get out of bed," says Simms, who was forbidden to eat fats that week. "All that time, I'm thinking about McDonald's french fries."
Though teammates like Joey Galloway and Ronde Barber visited the hospital daily, Simms missed the team, a feeling that continued after he returned to the Tampa home he shares with his wife, Danielle, and their daughter, Sienna. "My wife had two babies to take care of," says Simms. "I was the bigger baby."
The couch-bound Simms slowly gained weight—Danielle began making french fry runs—and in early November he started running in the team pool to regain strength while minimizing stress on his stomach and lower back. In the 12th week after surgery he jogged on a treadmill. In week 13 he began to throw. "It was the longest I'd gone without throwing since eighth grade," Simms says. "There was tightness in my stomach. The scar tissue made things uncomfortable."
Simms worked with Bucs trainer Todd Toriscelli doing ab exercises—"old school ... like in Rocky," Toriscelli says—and has worked his way back to a normal off-season schedule: chasing after Sienna, lifting weights and throwing five days a week. Though he has watched the hit ("Nothing dirty. I just didn't count on that hit in the back") Simms doesn't dwell on the injury. "We're just huddling up for next week," he says. Or, more precisely, next month, when he'll join the Bucs at team conditioning drills.