SMITHFIELD, R.I. — Myth: The Patriots have never replaced Curtis Martin.
Fact: The Patriots have never replaced Robert Edwards.
It’s right there on the front page of ESPN.com, right alongside Nomar Garciaparra and his rehab story in Indianapolis. It wasn’t the headline. It should have been.
Let the words flow out of your mouth like the water of the Quaboag River. Edwards takes a huge step in his comeback. Edwards has been taken off the physically unable to perform list. Edwards has been cleared to step onto a practice field for the Patriots.
Folks across the country care more about Barry Bonds and his pursuit of Mark McGwire than this. Many folks care only about who leads the Winston Cup, and where this Saturday’s race will be. And still others are still reeling in shock that Tiger Woods didn’t come close to winning the British Open.
Ignorance is bliss. In this case, ignorance is just plain ignorance.
Myth: Robert Edwards is the next Kenneth Sims.
Fact: Robert Edwards is the next Helen Keller.
In due time, every American sports fan should know who Robert Edwards is. It’s not enough that the good people of Foxborough, Massachusetts and Athens, Georgia are riveted to this story of all stories. Every person who has been touched by sports in some way all their lives should tune in to this miracle-in-the-making.
This is more than Tony Conigliaro. This is more than Ted Green. This is more than Bryce Florie.
There is no other way to state it. It is a miracle.
Edwards will be to athletics what Helen Keller was to disabled people. Just merely being able to attempt this comeback with the Patriots is much like Keller mumbling “wah-wah” as a young girl. His passing Bill Belichick’s endurance test, thereby removing himself from the PUP list, is tantamount to Keller tapping out the letters “w-a-t-e-r” in Annie Sullivan’s hand.
And if Edwards does indeed make it back all the way?
Go ahead and call this a whole bunch of overstated hyperbole. Then go ahead and call up your doctor buddies who know about the injury Edwards sustained three Februaries ago in Hawaii. Tell them that this man, minutes away from having his injured leg amputated, is poised to return to the NFL after only two and a half years of rehab. That sentence minus the last nine words will raise eyebrows all by itself.
Myth: Robert Edwards will be lucky to even walk again.
Fact: Kevin Faulk had better learn quick how not to fumble.
Ahhh, those people who thought Edwards was finished. Shame on them. Yours truly wears the bloody badge of shame with the rest of them. You sat there and watched the gruesome video, and read the even more gruesome newspaper accounts of the nerve damage done to his knee, and formed a lay opinion of the situation. Edwards is done. Forget football. Let’s just hope he walks someday. Let’s hope he doesn’t wind up like Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump.
How could anyone with just one ounce of common sense not conclude such? Edwards nearly tore his leg off. Every ligament was torn around the patella. But the biggest problem of all was that the main artery that supplies the flow of blood to his lower leg was severed. His lower leg went for a long period of time with no blood. That is why it was minutes away from amputation. And that is why the key issue here was to just save the leg, not rehabilitate it.
Your heart ached for Edwards. He was done as a professional football player. Cold-hearted fans cursed fate and called Edwards another blown draft pick by Bobby Grier. It was a bad day for Patriot Nation, plain and simple.
Up until then, Edwards had done everything that the Patriots had asked of him. The heir apparent to Curtis Martin, he gave the Patriots one more year of decent running in 1998. He gained 1,115 yards, averaging 3.8 yards per carry. That was just 45 fewer yards than Martin’s 1997 total on only 17 more attempts. The Patriots lost in the first round of the playoffs that year to Jacksonville, but it was not because of Edwards (Edwards scored the most recent postseason Patriot touchdown to this day).
Simply put, the Patriots were more devastated by the injury to Edwards, and less by not matching the offer sheet to Martin. Their running attack since has been comprised of retreads like Terry Allen and Raymont Harris, and mightneverbees like Kevin Faulk and J.R. Redmond. None of these guys quicken your pulse like Edwards did when he was a rookie touchdown machine three years ago.
Today, Edwards stands on the threshold of the greatest New England sports story in the last 50 years. Again, if you feel this is hyperbole, go back to the phone and give your M.D.s another ring-a-ding. You will have to remember the words “anterior”, “medial”, “posterior”, “collateral”, “cruciate” and “ligament”. And don’t forget the biggies, “peroneal” and “popliteal”. Those two words go with “nerve”, and ought to cinch it for you. Well, if not you, it will for your doc.
Let there be absolutely no misunderstanding here. If Edwards plays only one down with the Patriots this year, the game should be halted and Edwards given a twenty-minute standing ovation. Every player on the field ought to have tears streaming down their faces. Stop the game. Lift Edwards high on someone’s shoulders. Parade him around the stadium. Then have all players on both teams join hands at the 50-yard-line and thank their Almighty for what He hath wrought.
The Patriots could really use this guy. But if he never plays another down again other than that one down, who cares. Maybe that will inspire Antowain Smith to never complain again and Redmond to work his tail off and Faulk to turn his hands into magnets. Patriot Nation wants a winning team this year badly, but Edwards may relegate that to a lower rung on the priority ladder.
And perhaps Edwards won’t make it all the way back. He still has to beat out Smith, Redmond and Faulk. He may get popped in a preseason game or a contact drill and end his comeback right on the spot. He is more of a question mark than a surety.
But the fact that he has made it this far when most everyone envisioned him as Lieutenant Dan is a miracle in and of itself. Edwards has become a walking inspiration to every athlete who suffers the most gruesome injury they can imagine, short of perhaps paralysis. Here’s a man who by all rights should be minus a leg, and he’s three or four steps away from making it back to the NFL gridiron all the way.
His long road back to where he is today is rarefied air that perhaps no one has breathed. Driven by a dogged determination none of us may ever know, Edwards has climbed the highest mountain, and made possible the most impossible dream of them all.
Myth: Robert Edwards is finished as an NFL player.
Fact: J.R. Redmond needs to begin looking over his shoulder.
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