Palmer was also
angered by the doubts being raised regarding his future. He bristled when, two
days after the operation, the surgeon who'd repaired his knee, Dr. Lonnie
Paulos, told the Associated Press that the injury was "devastating and
potentially career-ending," though Paulos added that he was optimistic
about a recovery. When Palmer emerged from a rehab session at his
physical-therapy center in Anaheim, his voice mail was loaded with messages
from concerned parties, including Lewis. Palmer assured his coach that he'd
received an upbeat prognosis, and Paulos later clarified his comments in a
statement released by the Bengals.
Stuck on crutches
for eight weeks and deprived of his two favorite off-season activities, golf
and pickup basketball, Palmer seethed. "I was so bored that I watched the
whole [ NFL] combine on TV," he says. "At one point [former Saints and
Colts coach Jim] Mora was talking about my injury and said something like, 'He
definitely won't be back for the first game, and when he comes back he won't be
playing as well as he did before, and the team will suffer.'" Palmer felt
like screaming back at the TV. "That pissed me off," he says. "Who
is this guy? Isn't this the guy who said, 'Playoffs? Playoffs?' He doesn't know
me, and he doesn't know how hard I'm going to work. I've used that as fuel--I
keep thinking of all the naysayers who don't believe I'll make it back. I'm
going to prove them wrong."
The early stages
of rehab from reconstructive knee surgery are monotonous and painful. At that
point the therapy involves rebuilding the atrophied muscles, particularly the
quadriceps, and regaining a full range of motion. For the first two months
after his surgery, Palmer says, "I'd sit at the end of a table for two
hours a day, doing little hip raises. My therapist would push, and I'd push
back." In mid-March, nine weeks after the operation, in which, among other
repairs, his ACL was replaced by that of a cadaver, Palmer's range of motion in
his left knee was stuck at 65 degrees. A therapist told him, "If we don't
get past this point soon, we'll have you hang your leg off a table and bite
down on a rag, and we'll drain the liquid and force it to 90 degrees."
Palmer met the goal on his own.
thereafter he returned to Cincinnati to continue his rehab at the Bengals'
facility, where the team's trainers were anxiously waiting to evaluate his
progress. "The first day I got back here," Palmer says, "they put a
rope ladder on the ground and had me jog through it to test my mobility. When
the trainers saw what I could do, they were blown away. They said, 'I can't
believe you're doing this already.' I kept expecting to come in and be dreading
it. I kept expecting so many uphill battles. But so far there have been no
arrives at the facility at 8 a.m. He begins by jogging neck deep in a small
pool equipped with a treadmill, which allows him to run while taking most of
his body weight off his knee. Jacuzzi jets provide resistance, and underwater
cameras let Bengals trainers monitor his gait. After a half hour in the pool
Palmer rides a stationary bike, then begins a long series of balancing and
agility drills--making swift motions with elastic bands tethered to his waist,
jumping over boxes and performing a series of shuttles and shuffles. By late
morning he moves on to an elaborate two-hour weightlifting routine, then walks
into a darkened meeting room and watches game film.
he's right where you'd like him to be to have a chance to be ready for the
start of the season," says Sparling. "So it's not an unrealistic goal.
But very few rehabs ever go straight up, without setbacks, and it's still too
early to predict when he'll be all the way back."
Palmer will take the field at Paul Brown Stadium and throw to Johnson and other
teammates. The sight of their quarterback delivering the tight spirals he's
been known for since his arrival in Cincinnati is a major morale boost for the
rest of the Bengals. "Ain't nothing wrong with his arm," says
For Palmer to
return for the opener, Lewis says, he'll have to play in at least two preseason
games. The coach was skeptical at first but said in early April, "Based on
what I've seen him do--taking drops and throwing--I don't have much doubt that
he'll be ready."
importance to the franchise--roughly the same as Howard Stern's to Sirius
Satellite Radio--the question must be asked: Why the rush?
looking pretty good," says Bengals wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh, "but
you wonder--even if he's cleared medically, do you sit him the first four
games, then have him come back after the bye week? That's just being smart
about it. You don't want to risk his whole career for one season."