?Last year, playing on the turf of Michigan State's Spartan Stadium, Notre Dame wide receiver Alvin Miller goes 13 yards on an end around, trips on the turf and falls. Torn knee ligaments. He is out for the rest of the year. "He wasn't even touched," says coach Gerry Faust.
Garrick, in cooperation with the NFL, is currently studying film clips of open-field noncontact injuries. Experience tells him that "three out of four, or more, will be the result of turf traction." Because it creates severe torque, such traction has increased the trauma of many leg injuries. On turf what would have been a simple ankle sprain on grass can become a damaged knee. A damaged knee can be a career killer. "You don't just sprain a ligament and get up and walk away," says former Colorado trainer Ted Layne. "[An] anterior cruciate injury can doom a player." Three years ago, Colorado lost four players whose anterior cruciates "exploded" while playing on artificial turf. Not one of them was hit. Only one is still playing.
Other body parts are also jeopardized when a moving player gets glued to the carpet. A surface that doesn't give won't absorb the energy directed downward. Thus the body's more vulnerable joints must accommodate the punishment. The result, doctors and trainers find, is more foot problems, more ankle injuries, more knee damage.
Sometimes the turf seems to reach up and grab a player. The Steelers' Bob Kohrs was running down the field against Tampa on a punt at Three Rivers Stadium two years ago, tripped on a loose seam, tore up his knee and ended his season. Three other Steelers have been injured on the same area of the field: Eric Williams (ankle), Ernie French (ankle) and Ron Johnson (knee)—all without contact.
Turf toe is just one more painful manifestation of the hazards of turf traction. Hyperextension occurs when the toe slams into the end of the shoe from a turf-glued sudden stop or push off. Crushed down into an unyielding asphalt base, the toe has nowhere to go but back into itself. Resultant ligament and tissue damage can be permanent. Besides Csonka, turf-toe victims include Jim Covert, the Bear tackle whose foot "hurt like heck" all last year after the toe was injured on the artificial surface at Indianapolis in the last exhibition game. He still had to play: "You learn to run on the side of your foot. The problem with that was, my ankle turned over against Tampa, and it's been doing that all season."
Eric Dickerson, the Los Angeles Rams' star tailback, suffered a turf toe in his first game as a rookie, at Giants Stadium. He had to be fitted for a splint on his right foot. Two years later, he still wears the splint. Raiders safety Vann McElroy suffered a "stressed foot" when his shoe grabbed on the Raiders' turf practice field "and the arch seemed to explode." He says he played the next game "with a little help from my friends"—i.e., a pain-killing shot.
?In the 1984 season opener, the Pittsburgh Steelers' All-Pro linebacker Jack Lambert suffered a dislocated toe when he planted his left foot trying to make a tackle at Three Rivers. Two weeks ago Lambert retired, saying he "won't go through the pain I went through last year."
Then there is turf traction, which rasps and tears at exposed flesh like sandpaper. Turf abrasions frequently produce second-degree burns over bony prominences. Turf burns infect arms, legs, elbows and hands. Staph infections are not uncommon. Coach Jimmy Johnson says one of the sweeter realities of going to the grass fields of the University of Miami from the turf of Oklahoma State was all the infections he left behind. His Texas linebacker son Brent, however, did not escape a turf-burn arm infection.
"You can pad up from head to toe, and you still get burns," says Falcons guard R.C. Thielemann. "You pay the price when you wake up the next day and you're stuck to the sheets." At such times, says Chiefs guard Tom Condon, "You can't just rip the sheet off, because that starts the bleeding again. So you go in the shower and stand there with these sheets stuck to your arms and let the water kind of loosen them. It's disgusting."
In 1983, Cowboys wide receiver Doug Donley skinned his right hand on the Texas Stadium AstroTurf four times in one game, ripping away layer after layer of skin. His flesh was so tender thereafter that "it felt like it was on fire." Donley missed two games and was forced to wear gloves the rest of the season. He became so nervous about a recurrence that he wore gloves even at practice in 1984. For similar reasons, gloves have become standard equipment for many players. So have antibiotic ointments and the disinfectant scrubs players now use routinely in the showers.