On Sunday of Christmas weekend, a relatively unknown Baltimore Ravens rookie named Morgan Cox ran onto the field at Cleveland Browns Stadium with the field goal unit. Cox was the long snapper.

A second or two after he snapped the football, men up and down the line of scrimmage could hear his screams. His anterior cruciate ligament was torn. His medial collateral ligament suffered a third-degree sprain. The game’s first half was not yet over.

Despite the pain and the fact the Ravens did have a backup in Willis McGahee, a running back, Cox wouldn’t ask to come out. He got his knee braced and returned to play when Baltimore needed its long snapper. He needed crutches to get to the team bus after the 20-10 win and season-ending surgery after returning home.

Why did Cox continue to play? I mean, it’s not like he was the quarterback.

It’s difficult for the pedestrians among us to appreciate what Cox did in a regular-season game. It’s difficult for outsiders to understand the storm around Jay Cutler, the Chicago Bears’ quarterback who didn’t return to the playoff game against Green Bay.

Cutler felt something give in his left knee. How much pain he felt, only he knows. He has a sprained medial collateral ligament, which is serious, although it shouldn’t need surgery.

Surgery can’t help the other pain he’s feeling. Sunday night, some NFL players tweeted the world, calling out Cutler for being gutless. Bears teammates have rallied around him publicly. What are they thinking privately?

University of Maine football coach Jack Cosgrove watched Sunday’s playoff games with his teenage son Matt. The enduring image from the Bears-Packers game was seeing backup Caleb Hanie on the bench, flipping frantically through the pages of a game-day playbook.

“Did you see Cutler in that shot?” asked Cosgrove. “He was totally disinterested in what was going on. I was really offended by him. He put himself outside the brotherhood of the locker room.”

In different words, Portland Pirates winger Mark Parrish said the same thing before Tuesday night’s hockey game.

“My greatest fear was letting down my teammates by not playing,” he said. “I’d do anything (to stay on the ice.) “

That’s why Parrish said he was “surprised, maybe shocked,” that Cutler didn’t do more to stay in the game on the field or from the sideline.

Little cogs or big wheels are all important in any team sport.

“There’s no tomorrow. I’ve played 12 years in the NHL and I’ve never gotten past the first round (of the playoffs.) This is what you play for.”

Parrish is a native of Bloomington, Minn., and a big Vikings fan. Both football and hockey are violent, brutally physical games. Players in both sports are part of the culture that encourages them to play despite torn or broken bodies. They don’t expect those outside their sports to understand.

This isn’t about courage or high thresholds for pain. It’s not about being disabled 10 or 20 years afterward. Several years ago at a Christmas party, I saw Derek Sanderson, who played on the Boston Bruins teams that won Stanley Cup titles in 1970 and 1972.

He limped as he walked across the room. He shrugged when he mentioned the numerous surgeries he’s endured. Success had its price. He paid.

Parrish played in the 2002 NHL All-Star game, but at 33 he’s facing longer odds playing for the Stanley Cup. Parrish would do anything to share that experience with teammates.

“Not having a clue as to the severity of (Cutler’s) injury, maybe I shouldn’t be saying this again. But I was shocked.”

The lines between personal sacrifice and personal stupidity are blurred. Thankfully, head injuries do get more attention today. A broken bone protruding through skin gets sympathy.

Jay Cutler, who asked out of Denver, forsaking teammates because of a grievance with then new coach Josh McDaniels, gets little.

“I would have put (Cutler) on crutches,” said Cosgrove, who was on a recruiting trip through the Baltimore area Tuesday. Sports-talk radio in New York was merciless, he said.

Crutches might have saved Cutler from the vitriol. Crutches were a badge of honor for Morgan Cox. We may not understand. The men who play the games do.

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]