Imagine 15-years of work riding on a 60-minute performance that is only partially choreographed and half of the individuals sharing the stage with you are trying to undermine everything you do. Now imagine suffering an injury three minutes into that performance. Welcome to rookie free agent Chad Spann’s world the night he faced the Cincinnati Bengals in the final preseason game of the summer.
The Colts running back and special teams performer described his rookie learning curve at an NFL training camp with one of the league’s great offensive minds at quarterback and in Parts I and II of this series. In the final installment of this conversation, Spann describes his injury in the Colts final preseason game and why Colts trainers were in disbelief that he managed to play an entire game at a high level.
Waldman: Tell me about the injury that you sustained, how it happened, and later let’s talk about your rehab process.
Spann: The Cincinnati game was the last game of the preseason. It’s a game where all the young guys know they are going to get a lot of time. Guys can make the team off this game. Blair White made the team off this game last year when he had I think 15 catches and 150 yards. Also Melvin Bullitt the starting safety had 15 tackles in that last game, which helped him make the team. It was important that all of the rookies and especially us rookie free agents went at this game seriously and did everything we could to make this team. That being said, three minutes into the game during the second kick off I get blocked in the back and overextend my leg and getting a grade three tear of my hamstring. Three minutes into the game! After I just expressed to you how important this game is to all of us young guys trying to make the team. I knew that I couldn’t stop playing. I told the trainer that I thought I was kind of tight.
He looked at it and asked me what I wanted to do and I told him that I wanted to keep playing. It was ironic that had a great three tear because if it weren’t for the fact that I had tightness in my leg before the game and instead of wearing the regular NFL socks that most players wear I opted for these special stockings that come up to your hip: compression stockings. It’s not like wearing tights. These offer much more compression than a pair of tights would offer. The purpose is to keep the blood circulating through your legs. The stockings keep your legs compressed, keeping your legs warm, and keep the circulation flowing. I had a conversation with one of the trainers before the game to determine what I should wear. The choice was the stockings or a neoprene sleeve and I opted for the stockings.
Waldman: A grade three tear is an injury that means you can barely move without pain. How could you have played?
Spann: Well after I got the injury I told the trainer that I was a little tight, but I was definitely lying because I could barely lift my leg all the way up. I was on the sidelines doing leg swings and trying to keep as warm as possible. In retrospect, wearing those stockings was the best thing I could have done because with my hamstring tear it kept the muscle tight, compressed, and circulating blood, which prevented the muscle from swelling.
Waldman: One of my colleagues at Footballguys.com is Dr. Jene Bramel and when I initially told him you suffered a grade three hamstring injury he repeatedly asked me if I was sure that was what you told me because I couldn’t believe there would have been any way you could have continued playing, but the compression stockings and what it did to keep you functional makes a lot more sense now.
Spann: Yep. And I continued to cover kick offs for the rest of the game. I was the personal protector on punts and I was one of the guys on punt blocks. I had a lot of responsibilities in this game and I had to keep doing them as well as wait for my opportunity to get into the game to play running back.
If you saw me on the sidelines you would have seen me doing leg swings, riding the bike, and doing whatever I could to keep my leg warm. It was hard during the first half, but as we went into the locker room during halftime I asked one of the trainers for a heat pack and I sat on that heat pack during half time and I came out much looser than earlier. It didn’t feel perfect, but it was a lot better than earlier in the game.
I was able to move around a lot better and made a lot of plays in that second half. I made a couple of tackles and I had a couple of good carries and I was in during the game-winning drive where we drove 85 yards down the field and I had a big first down run to the 10 yard-line to set up a play action pass for a touchdown on the next play.
I had to stick it out. This was my career on the line. It’s my job and what I’ve done for the last 15 years of my life and it was all going to come down to this game and I had to be able to produce. I thought I did all right knowing the circumstances.
Waldman: So what happened after the game?
Spann: I got into the locker room and took the stockings off and showered and by the time I returned to my locker I couldn’t bend my leg any more. I went to see the doctor and he gave me a shot so I could take the two-hour bus ride home from Cincinnati. The next morning I got an MRI and did a little rehab. On my second day of rehab the trainer comes up to me and asks me, “When did this happen in the game?”
When I told him it happened three minutes into the game he asked me how I felt now. I told him it doesn’t feel terrible, but it definitely hurts. He said okay and walked away. He did this a number of times so I asked the trainer I was working with at the time why the head trainer kept coming over and asking me these same questions. My trainer said that my MRI was “horrible,” and we’re all trying to figure out how you were able to play because you weren’t tiptoeing around out there and it’s definitely a grade three tear.
It was funny to me because the words they used when talking about my performance included “anomaly,” and “you weren’t tiptoeing around out there.”
I didn’t think I had a grade three tear – not that I would have known what one would feel like. I was able to move around well enough to think that I had a nice little strain, but nothing as seriously as they told me what it was.
Waldman: There has to be a point of pride to have played with an injury like that even if the outcome wasn’t what you wanted.
Spann: Coach (Jerry) Kill at Northern Illinois always preached to us that you can play hurt, but you can’t play injured. I just thought I was hurt so I just kept playing through it. The year before I played for Coach Kill after I had torn 60 percent of my labrum and I played the next week. I wore a sling for the whole week and I practiced once. I had a brace on and played in the game. He gets the most out of his players and I thought I would be letting him down if I didn’t continue.
Waldman: You had to have done more damage to the hamstring as the game progressed, don’t you think?
Waldman: What has your rehab been like and what’s your outlook with the Colts? Although I’ve left out the grunts, groans, laughter, and “pray for me,” you’ve been getting a deep tissue massage while we’ve been on the phone and you’re heading into a ice bath. What’s your routine been like for these weeks?
Spann: The agreement I have with Indianapolis allows me to rehab wherever I’m comfortable. The last six months of my life before I got to Indianapolis I was training for my pre-draft with Elias Karras at EFT Sports Performance and I have been working with him since Week One. It’s the same routine every day. I get up here sometime between 10-11 a.m. and we’ll do a soft tissue massage, laser stimulation treatment to help blood flow, and a workout that’s upper body or to strength my legs. As I’ve progressed I’ve begun running again to test my hamstring out. I do this five days a week and after my workouts I get into the cold tub and keep my hamstring iced so I don’t have any setbacks.
Waldman: Do you have access to a playbook to continue studying?
Spann: Indianapolis actually collects everyone’s playbooks the week before camp ended. Nobody has any, but I still have all my notes and installs. All that information is what you need with the Colts and not the stuff that’s in the playbook. That’s the basic. You need the stuff that you won’t find in that book and my notes are the best thing I can have and I go over them all the time. I can watch the games and call out the play and who the running back might have to protect or the route he’s going to run. I do that stuff all the time. I definitely keep up with.
Waldman: What’s been the reaction of your family and friends when it comes to your NFL experience thus far?
Spann: It’s kind of hard to explain to everyone. A lot of people don’t really understand the injury settlement. A lot of people haven’t really even heard of it. It’s simple to let them know I’m on injured reserve and that’s what I basically tell people who don’t know a whole lot about the game. Then for others I’ll explain it in more detail. My family has been very supportive about it.
Author’s Note: Spann has been signed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad after visiting them last weekend. He’s with the team in London for their match up with the Bears.