Assuming Logan Couture suits up for the Sharks’ Stanley Cup playoffs opener on Wednesday night, he’ll join an all-time group of athletes who have fought through gruesome injuries to play for their team.
Bay Area News Group columnist Mark Purdy has all the details on the nature of what Couture has gone through since taking a puck to the face 2 1/2 weeks ago and all signs point to Couture gritting his teeth — or what’s left of them — and playing in San Jose’s series against the Edmonton Oilers.
That begs the question: is this the worst injury anybody has ever tried to play with? That’s a debate that could probably never be settled, but let’s take a look at some of the other vicious injuries that athletes have played through over the years.
Ronnie Lott (football)
Lott, the Hall of Fame safety who played for the 49ers and Raiders, had his left pinkie finger smashed in a 1985 game against the Dallas Cowboys. After taping it up and playing through that game and a subsequent playoff game, Lott was presented with a decision to make in the offseason. He could’ve had surgery and had a pin placed inside the finger and dealt with a long recovery, or simply cut off the injured half of the pinkie. He chose the latter, a decision he later regretted.
“I was trying to laugh it off, but I felt sick,” he told the Associated Press in 1986 of his first reaction to seeing his amputated finger. “I tried to stand up, but I broke into a cold sweat. It was just a total shock. I thought, ‘Oh, man, I should have had the pin put in.’ … We are losing the compassionate side of sports. We’re becoming gladiators. If I ever become a coach, I hope I never lose sight of the fact that players are people. They feel. They have emotions. I could have all of Eddie DeBartolo’s corporations and it isn’t going to buy me a new finger. It has given me a new perspective on life.”
Lott of course resumed his career and set career highs the following season with 10 interceptions and two sacks as the 49ers won the NFC West, but were crushed 49-3 in the playoffs by the New York Giants.
Willis Reed (basketball)
The New York Knicks center is one of the famous names when it comes to playing through an injury. He tore a thigh muscle in Game 6 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers and it was unknown if he could play — and defend Wilt Chamberlain — in Game 7. He hobbled onto the court just before tipoff and gutted through 27 minutes of action as New York won 113-99 to capture the Knicks’ first NBA title.
Kerri Strug (gymnastics)
Strug became an American hero at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. After badly spraining her ankle on his first attempt at the vault, Strug found enough will to take another attempt and stuck the landing to earn a score of 9.712 to clinch the first Olympic team gold in women’s gymnastics for the Americans.
Jason Pierre-Paul (football)
The New York Giants’ defensive end experienced a similar fate to Lott when he was forced to have a finger amputated following a July 4, 2015 fireworks incident that left his right hand mangled. He would miss the first eight games of the 2015 season before returning fitted with a special glove. Last season, he started to return more to form, delivering seven sacks in 12 games and signed a four-year, $62-million contract this offseason.
Tiger Woods (golf)
Maybe gruesome isn’t the right word here, but it’s impressive nonetheless what Woods overcame to not only participate in but win the 2008 U.S. Open. After having arthroscopic knee surgery following the Masters, he rushed himself back and ended up suffering stress fractures in his left knee. He played through the pain of those, as well as a torn anterior cruciate ligament that would need to be repaired about a week later. Despite all that, Woods birdied the 18th hole on Sunday to force an 18-hole playoff on Monday with Rocco Mediate, birdied 18 again in the playoff and then won on the first hole of sudden death.
Curt Schilling (baseball)
The Boston Red Sox pitcher had three sutures in his right ankle to stabilize a torn tendon sheath when he pitched Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees. With blood soaking his sock, Schilling pitched seven innings of one-run, four-hit ball in Boston’s 4-2 win. A day later, the Red Sox completed their rally from down 3-0 in the series and beat the Yankees to reach the World Series, where they swept the St. Louis Cardinals to end their 86-year title drought.
Byron Leftwich (football)
A former quarterback of Jack Del Rio with the Jacksonville Jaguars — one of four NFL teams he played for — Leftwich gained a reputation for toughness in college at Marshall. In a 2002 game against Akron, Leftwich left the game with a broken tibia before eventually returning, needing the help of his linemen to carry him down the field in between plays. He finished the day 26 of 38 for 307 yards and a touchdown, but Marshall lost 34-20 to Akron and another future NFL quarterback, Charlie Frye.
Chris Simms (football)
Another brutal injury for a quarterback came when Simms was playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Simms took several hard hits in a 26-24 loss to the Carolina Panthers in 2006 and after the game had to have his spleen removed in an emergency procedure. Despite the injury during the game — believed to have occurred in the second quarter — he only missed a few plays.
Shun Fujimoto (gymnastics)
The Japanese gymnast broke his right kneecap during the floor exercise of the 1976 Summer Olympics, yet he continued to compete in the pommel horse and the rings and helped Japan win gold in the team competition.
Duncan Keith (hockey)
For comparison’s sake to Couture, Keith comes to closest. The Chicago Blackhawks defenseman lost seven teeth when a puck off the stick of the Sharks’ Patrick Marleau nailed him in Game 4 of the 2010 Western Conference Finals. He missed a few shifts, but still logged 29 minutes as Chicago swept the Sharks in the series that day and went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Jack Youngblood (football)
The Los Angeles Rams defensive end broke his fibula in a 1979 playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys. Raiders fans are well aware of how a broken fibula ruined their season last year, but Youngblood played through it all the way through the Super Bowl. He even played in the Pro Bowl, a sure sign of the different times. Unfortunately for Youngblood, his Rams lost the Super Bowl, just like the subsequent players who have played in the NFL’s biggest game with a similar injury (Atlanta Falcons’ Alex Mack in SB LI, the Raiders’ Charles Woodson and Tory James in SB Super Bowl XXXVII and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Terrell Owens in SB XXXIX).
Bert Trautmann (soccer)
Soccer players get a reputation more for flopping than toughness, but Trautmann’s toughness in the 1956 FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium can’t be denied. The German, who played goalie for Manchester City, broke his neck with 15 minutes left in that match, but played through the duration of the 3-1 victory over Birmingham.
There’s no doubt we’ve left out some impressively tough athletes who have played through gruesome injuries. Drop us a line in the comments section with you would would add or which of these you think is the toughest.