ST. LOUIS — Another former Oklahoma quarterback knows all too well the difficult road facing Rams quarterback Sam Bradford following his second ACL tear in as many seasons.
Jason White tore the ligament in his left knee in just his third start as a junior at OU in 2001, and lightning struck twice when his right knee suffered the same fate in the second game of the 2002 season. So when he saw the news on television about Bradford’s repeat injury to his left knee in St. Louis’ third preseason game, White had plenty of empathy.
"I felt bad because the second one, I felt like it was tougher because you know what you’re fixing to have to do," White said by phone from Tuttle, Okla., where he owns and operates a store selling sports apparel and souvenirs. "All the hard work you put in from the first one, you know what you have to come back from."
In his first public appearance since the injury almost two weeks ago, Bradford said that realization hit him especially hard because of the circumstances. Coach Jeff Fisher and others initially believed this would be only a minor setback, and Bradford didn’t experience any of the pain or swelling that came with his first injury.
When the doctors told him the bad news, he could hardly believe it. He’ll know more after his surgery, which remains unscheduled, but so far Bradford has been given no indication this recovery will be any easier.
"Hopefully, it does feel better," Bradford said. "Hopefully, in a couple months I can tell you it’s been a lot easier and a lot less painful, but I guess I’m going to expect the worst and hope for the best."
If nothing else, the rehabilitation process should provide a new focus and keep him from feeling sorry for himself or thinking about what could have been with what he called "as talented a team as I’ve ever been a part of on both sides of the ball." White said the mental aspect definitely proved to be his toughest challenge in coming back, and it helped him to stay around his teammates as much as possible during the season.
Bradford has been doing the same in recent days, and he’s grateful for the outpouring of support from teammates and coaches. Their concern for Bradford’s well-being is clearly genuine through their words and gestures, such as Rams receiver Chris Givens reaching out to share his experience of coming back from two ACL surgeries.
Although the two former Heisman Trophy winners haven’t talked recently, White said he’s met Bradford on multiple occasions through their shared connections at Oklahoma. Those encounters left him confident Bradford has the mental fortitude and right attitude to get back to full strength.
"You’ve got to keep yourself motivated," White said. "You’ve got to stay focused on getting back to 100 percent."
But even if Bradford does everything right, there’s no guarantee his knee will cooperate after two surgeries. That’s a lesson White found out the hard way, despite an impressive end to his college career.
He transformed into a pocket passer virtually incapable of scrambling and still found a way to win a Heisman and a Big 12 title and to make two straight national title appearances. Then came the time for NFL evaluations, and White couldn’t shake the "injury-prone" label.
"They put it all over me," White recalled. "After the combine, after doing all the medical tests and things, that changed everybody’s opinion of me. But ultimately, they were right."
Although the daily grind proved too much for White’s knees and he quit football shortly thereafter, that doesn’t necessarily mean the same fate awaits Bradford. It’s worth noting he looked to be in top form before going down with his fourth season-ending injury, a list that also includes a high ankle sprain and a shoulder injury that required surgery before his rookie season.
Like Fisher earlier this month, Bradford understandably declined to speculate on his future Thursday afternoon. The emotions are still too fresh for him and the Rams, but eventually some tough decisions will have to be made by both with the former No. 1 draft pick’s seven-year, $78 million contract set to expire after the 2015 season.
"I haven’t even thought that far ahead," Bradford said. "It’s still pretty hard to comprehend right now."
You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter @FS_LukeT or email him at email@example.com.