Injury cover-ups are always a big part of big game
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP)
Dwight Freeney headed for the elevator in the team hotel, trailed by a few intrepid members of the media.
One focused a camera on his ailing right ankle. Another snapped pictures. Yet another jotted down notes.
No sign of anyone in a trench coat, but that wouldn't have been too far-fetched.
NFL teams are downright cloak-and-dagger when it comes to injuries, giving medical reports a significance roughly akin to state secrets. Everyone else tries to figure out what's really going on inside the human body, looking for the slightest hints.
This is about all you'll get out of Freeney: ``I'm feeling better.''
Late in the AFC championship game, he landed awkwardly on his right ankle and tore a ligament. Now here he is, less than two weeks later, desperately hoping that he'll be recovered enough to play in an even bigger game.
Freeney hasn't practiced since his injury. So he's not playing, right?
The Colts weren't saying. They don't have to. NFL rules merely require that teams on Wednesday and Thursday disclose which of three categories their players fall into: didn't practice, had limited participation or went through the entire workout.
Come Friday, the report gets a little more detailed, with coaches required to assess whether a player is doubtful (25 percent chance of playing), questionable (50 percent) or likely (75 percent). About the only way an opponent - and all the rest of us - really know for sure is if a team lists a player as out.
While commissioner Roger Goodell has tried to crack down on teams that abuse the injury report, there's little incentive for a team to be totally forthcoming. Just say doubtful and you're largely covered if the star player doesn't dress. Hey, a team can say, we gave him only a 25 percent chance of playing.
In early December, Saints coach Sean Payton said cornerback Jabari Greer was getting better after being hobbled by a hernia.
What the coach failed to mention was Greer had surgery one day earlier. Then again, he probably was doing better the next day, so maybe Payton gets by on a technicality.
Freeney acknowledged there's plenty of subterfuge and deception when teams talks about injuries, especially to key players. Knowing that someone is out can make it easier for an opponent to work on its game plan. Plus, a banged-up player has reason to worry about providing too much information to those guys on the other side on the line. A player with a sore right ankle, let's say, might be vulnerable to re-injuring himself on certain plays. There could even be an opponent with more sinister motives, looking to deliver a little extra blow to the ailing body part.
So, Mr. Freeney, even if you knew for sure whether or not you're playing Sunday, would you tell us?
``Probably not,'' he said with a sly grin.
As Freeney headed to the elevator, he hobbled along with a noticeable limp.
Then again, maybe it was all a ruse, designed to make everyone believe he's not playing.
The Saints aren't taking any chances.
``Obviously, we would love for him not to play in the game,'' New Orleans running back Reggie Bush said. ``But we have to prepare like he's playing in the game. We're going to continue to chip block. We're going to continue to do whatever we can to keep the pressure off (quarterback Drew Brees). That's not a secret.''
Freeney plans to test his ankle during Friday's practice, then see how it feels the following day.
Giving a glimpse into the seriousness of his injury, he conceded that his ankle looked downright nasty the day after he was hurt.
``I didn't even recognize my ankle,'' he said. ``It was huge. It was like a softball.''
Freeney provided another possible clue when asked to assess his chances of playing.
``I'm not going to say it's set in stone,'' he said. ``Miracles do happen.''
Hmmm, did he say it would take a miracle to play? That doesn't sound too promising. And when he said the Colts would be able to manage without him, that set off another red flag.
``We're kind of built for the next man up,'' Freeney said. ``We'll be fine if I'm not out there.''
That's a pretty strong clue.
Or was it?
``My ankle is getting better,'' he insisted. ``As long as it's moving in the right direction, that's all I can ask for.''