Are We Nuts With Injury Information?
I worked five years with Bill Belichick in Cleveland. He was the head coach (1991 through 1995), and I was the vice president of public relations.
Like every head coach with whom I have worked, Bill went out of his way to give as little information as possible regarding players and their injuries.
Let's use wide receiver Michael Jackson, who played for us in Cleveland before he became a Raven in '96, as an example. (By the way, Michael will be at M&T Bank Stadium this Sunday as our "Legend of the Game.")
In 1994, Jackson missed seven games with a hamstring injury. And, we went to some lengths in keeping away details of that information from teams we were playing. I found a transcript of an exchange with Belichick and local reporters from that season:
Reporter: "Bill, how's Michael Jackson doing?"
Belichick: "He's good."
Reporter: "He didn't play yesterday. Think he'll play this Sunday?"
Belichick: "We hope so. We'll find out."
Reporter: "What's Michael's injury?"
Belichick: "I am not a doctor."
Reporter: "Do you know what the injury is?"
Belichick: "You'd have to ask the trainer."
Reporter: "You don't make the trainer available to us."
Belichick: "Like I said, I'm not a doctor."
Conversations went on like this for seven consecutive weeks.
(I was witness to an interview Belichick had with a reporter in January of 2004 in Houston prior to his Patriots beating the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII. My guess is that there were probably 800 reporters in the room on this Wednesday before the game. Belichick was at a podium.
Ron Borges, then of the Boston Globe and a reporter who had taken on Coach Belichick publicly, asked about linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who had left the AFC championship game with an undisclosed "lower body" injury.
Borges: "Bill, can you give us an update on Tedy Bruschi's injury?"
Belichick: "He has a leg."
Without hesitation, Borges, loudly in the microphone he was holding, replied: "Yeah, I know, he has two of them."
The two then stared at each other as Bill waited for the next question.
The following season, the NFL adopted new rules regarding injuries. You could no longer give answers like Bill's "He has a leg." Teams would have to be more specific. Starting then and continuing now, you have to list a particular body part. You can't just say "leg," for example. You have to list "ankle," "calf," "knee," or "thigh.")
Why List Injuries?
While many "Fantasy League" players believe team injuries reports are for their benefit, injury reports go back to the late 40's and early 50's when the NFL became concerned about individuals "getting inside information on teams."
To be honest, that was a polite way of telling the world that the league was not going to give illegal gamblers incentive to seek inside information about players. The theory was to let everyone know which players were dealing with injuries or could not play.
Here's what the NFL says today about injuries: "The Injury Report is of paramount importance in maintaining the integrity of the NFL. … The purpose of the policy is a full and complete rendering of player availability. The information must be reported in a satisfactory manner to all parties, i.e., the opposing team, local and national media, broadcast partners, etc. for dissemination to the public through the news media."
How does the NFL police this and make sure all teams comply? First, teams must submit activity lists to the league and media for the three practices prior to a game. There are four categories on the daily report: "Out" (player has been declared out for that game), "Did Not Participate," "Limited Participation" and "Full Participation." (Why have that "full participation" listing? If a player left a previous game and did not return to it or missed the game, the player must be listed even if he is 100% healthy.)
Second, all of our practices are recorded, and the league can check any player to make sure teams are complying with the rules by viewing what the player actually did at a practice.
The system works. However, teams still try to keep some mystery about players and their injuries. Why? The answer may surprise you. Certainly, teams want opponents guessing which players are going to play. Importantly, teams want the other teams to spend extra time on the field and in video study preparing for schemes with the injured player and the injured player's replacement. If opponents have to run extra plays at practices against various schemes depending on which players are healthy, that's a good thing. Keeping players fresh is important, and the fewer plays you run in practice, the better.
Our tight end Owen Daniels had a knee surgery prior to our game against Cincinnati two weeks ago. My guess is that the Steelers were surprised last Wednesday when we listed Daniels as a limited participant for the practice that day. After all, it had been just a week since the procedure on his knee. Perhaps Pittsburgh coaches believed Daniels was not going to play, and they were studying/preparing for all of the schemes we have run without Daniels. But, once we listed him as practicing, I'm sure there was some Steelers coach losing a lot of sleep last Wednesday and Thursday studying plays we have executed with Owen.
Then Daniels didn't practice on Thursday and that Steelers coach probably grumbled some. Alas, on Friday, Daniels returned to practice, participating fully. Who knows what the Steelers were thinking then? Maybe they were surprised. Our first two passes of the game last Sunday went to Daniels for 19 yards.
And, how about a shout out to Daniels? HE HAD KNEE SURGERY and missed just one game! Talk about toughness!
We're ready to show more toughness, resolve and determination this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. It's good to be home after playing four of our last five games on the road. Let's beat the Titans!
Talk with you soon,