Athletes Who Improved After an Injury

It’s a true testament to the human spirit that an injury – no matter how deep, be it physical, mental, emotional, etc. – does not have to be career ending. Heck, history is full of examples of people suffering seemingly insurmountable maladies, only to both heal up and come back better than ever. One disquietingly personal example of this is the time your stepfather, Todd, got laid off at the wire-molding factory, and he drank all the rye in the house! You thought he was done with the sauce after that fateful wednesday night with all the yelling. But the next day…boy howdy. That’s when he bounced back and started drinking right through the hangover.

But hey, forget about all that. You and your therapist have already done a lot of work there. Besides, pop culture has a ton of characters overcoming injuries too! Balrog defeated Gandolf, only for him to come back with a new hairdo and a spiffy white robe. Don Flamenco suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Little Mac, later returning better than ever (even though he still looked like Prince Charles). Heck, even Henry Rowengartner bounced back from that nasty broken arm.

Unfortunately, you’ll note that all these examples will absolutely get the piss beaten out of you at your neighborhood speakeasy. Luckily, we’ve got some examples of sporting gentlemen who have suffered the greatest of maladies and came through better than ever on the other side. Next time this conversation comes up, just cite these four and you’ll blend in with those athletic ruffians in no time!

Next: Your friendly neighborhood Kurt Warner

1. Kurt Warner

The Injury

You might know Kurt Warner as the acrobatic blue-skinned mutant capable of teleporting himself short distances. But you’d be wrong, because that’s Kurt Wagner, aka Nightcrawler. Come on, man. Help me help you. This really isn’t a “Bill Paxton/Bill Pullman” scenario. Although, that said, Kurt Warner may actually be a superhero.Now, you might recognize Warner for his trademark powers, like being super-kind and super-dorky (but so charmingly super-genuine). But Warner wasn’t always the gunslinging quarterback that most people recognize today. In fact, he started his career as an undrafted free agent, playing for the Arena Football League and bagging groceries for the most over-mined human interest story in the history of sports.In 1997, he thought he was about to break into the NFL with a tryout with the Chicago Bears. Unfortunately, an injury he suffered on his honeymoon required him to cancel the tryout (…not that kind of injury. After all, Warner’s gotta be a “lights on, lots of eye contact” kind of guy. No real risk there).

The Comeback

After recovering from his injury, Warner signed on with the Rams, where he eventually became the centerpiece of “The Greatest Show on Turf,” which was, without a doubt, one of the most potent, spectacular offenses in the history of the NFL. Later in his career, he would go on the lead the luckless Cardinals to a Super Bowl as well. Pretty impressive for a guy whose NFL career started off with an injury. Oh, right: what was that injury again? He got bitten by a spider. You know. Like Spider Man.

…now we’re not saying he’s a superhero, or that this spider bite gave him the superpowers to lead two different franchises to a Super Bowl. We’re just strongly implying it with a sequence of increasingly persuasive words and pictures.

2. Drew Brees

"One day, all of this will be yours, Simba."

“One day, all of this will be yours, Simba.”
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Sport/Getty

The Injury

Drew Brees is a perennial David to the crushing Goliath of real life. In fact, some sexy comedy writer who’s totally able to lift like a hundred pounds should write an entire story about hi- OH WAIT SOME STRONG, SEXY COMEDY WRITER DID.A brief summary, for those of you who have just read the article linked above and need an immediate refresher: After a few years of mediocre years with the Chargers, San Diego drafted Philip Rivers, his heir apparent, in the first round in 2004, making Brees’ fate in San Diego all but sealed. Knowing his starting days were numbered, Brees hung up a respectable season in 2005, before John Lynch (you know, the white guy from Stanford) tore his labrum. After a brief, shining comeback, it seemed certain that his best days were behind him.

The Comeback

In 2005, the Chargers released Brees, leaving the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints to vie over Brees and Daunte “I’m currently selling insurance in Topeka, Kansas!” Culpepper. Assuming that you have even an inkling of an interest in football, we’ll guess you know how the last 7 years have gone for Drew Brees. And if you don’t – HERE’S THAT ARTICLE AGAIN! (Spoiler alert: he became the most popular good guy since Hulk freaking Hogan in the mid ’80s).

3. Tommy John

The Injury

You might recognize “Tommy John’s” as that sandwich place in Jersey that makes a killer capicola hero (“Killer Capicola Hero,” by the by, was my short lived Impact Comics title in 1992). You would be wrong. That’s Jimmy John’s. Tommy John’s is where Nightcrawler buys sandwiches. But it’s also the name of a surgery that’s arguably more famous than its namesake, which is a shame since Tommy John was a 26-year baseball veteran with a few World Series appearances and a number of all-star nods. His legacy, however, was cemented in 1974, shortly after tearing his, uh, let’s see here…”ulnar collateral ligament.” We’re not doctors here at Man Cave Daily (ever since “The Incident”) but we’re pretty sure that that was probably career threatening at the time, since they had to name the damn surgery after the man having it.

The Comeback

Now, we’re inclined not to trust anyone with two first names (like Kobe Bryant. Or Dwight Howard. Or…Steve Nash? Jesus, Lakers, what the hell?) but we can’t help but feel for a guy who needed to “[replace] the ligament in the elbow of his pitching arm with a tendon from his right forearm.” HOLY CROW. THAT’S WHAT TOMMY JOHN’S SURGERY IS!? That sounds awful! They just patched him up with another part of himself like he’s made out of fleshy Legos! There’s no way that could have worked, right?

Wrong. In the 10 years after his surgery, John won 164 games – 40 more than his previous 10-year run. And ever since, every time Dr. James Andrews needs to start pasting tendons in different parts like Mr. Potato Head, we think of good ol’ Tommy John.

4. Adrian Peterson

The Injury
Hardrada went on to star in the R-rated version of Where the Wild Things Are.

Hardrada went on to star in the R-rated version of Where the Wild Things Are.

Many of you know Adrian Peterson as the toughest viking since Harald Hardrada, who was traded to the Saints following a brutal neck injury in 1066. In 2011, Peterson failed to live up to expectations of the “Third-best player in the NFL” (behind Brady and Manning) after tearing his ACL and MCL, which, in layman’s terms, means that his leg was basically a gigantic pile of goo. Now, this was the first time in his career that Peterson failed to reach 1,000 yards in a year. To show you how laughably pathetic this is, consider that I walk 1,000 yards every 6 or 7 days. AP apparently couldn’t even manage that in 12 games.

The Comeback

Just 8 months after an injury that should have put him on the “woulda/coulda/shoulda” list with the likes of Bo Jackson, Peterson not only returned, but had such a dominant season that he won the 2012 MVP award. Plus, but he was juuuuuuuust shy of the record for most yards by a running back in a single season. Remember, less than a year prior he had all of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area biting their nails for trepidation of the future of the franchise. Now, he’s the best player in the league. That’s a Wolverine-like level of healing right there.

So as you can see, a crippling injury doesn’t have to end a players’ career. With enough grit, determination, and motivation, any athlete can overcome his or her physical limitations and return to the apex of their sport. All it takes is hard work and the steadfast, unwavering belief in oneself.

And steroids. Every single athlete is on steroids.

All will be made clear. It can't be explained, but it will be made clear.

Most of them are down there.

Brian Cullen previously wrote about the 10 Greatest Busts in the NFL. Also, did he mention his Drew Brees article? Follow him on Twitter @bucketcullen or on tumblr at Brian Cullen’s Bag of Sad.

This is the most tasteful representation possible. (photo: Thinkstock)

This is the most tasteful representation possible. (photo: Thinkstock)

The Surprisingly Common Embarrassing Injuries have nothing on the embarrassment or injury of The Worst Part of This “Olive Oil-Injected Penis” Story…

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