Jordon Dizon suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and will miss the remainder of the season. (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)
It's the nightmare reality for any NFL player: One day you're on the field living a dream, and the next you might not be able to walk.
Not that they needed any reminders, but Monday at practice the Lions got a visit from Mike Utley, the former player who was paralyzed during a game in 1991.
Jordon Dizon's fate wasn't nearly that cruel last weekend. There's no comparison, really. But it was painful nonetheless to hear the Lions third-year linebacker talk about the season-ending knee injury he suffered in last Saturday's exhibition opener.
"It was bad," Dizon said, leaning on a pair of crutches in the locker room shortly after his teammates finished practice without him. "I woke up this morning feeling really good, hoping for the best. I got out of bed and I was able to walk a little bit and I thought it was healing. And then I got the devastating news of the MRI, which was a killer for me."
The result -- a torn ACL -- was not unexpected after Dizon was carted off the field in Pittsburgh. He'll undergo surgery the next few weeks, and the Lions placed Dizon on injured reserve Monday, officially bringing an end to his season.
"But it's part of the game," said Dizon, a core special-teams player who was expected to play a key role on defense this season. "It's one of the only sports in the world where you're pretty much guaranteed to get hurt. So it's devastating, but at some point it's expected."
And that's the troubling part about the NFL exhibition season.
On the one hand, you've got the commissioner of the league, Roger Goodell, acknowledging that no one wants to play these games -- at least not four of them.
"It's clear the fans don't want four preseason games," Goodell said recently, beating the drum for an expanded regular season. "It's clear the players don't want four preseason games. And we really don't need it to make the game better."
And yet every time these players put on helmets, they have no choice but to treat it as if their livelihood depended on it -- even when it doesn't.
'It just happened'
To be fair, Dizon wasn't complaining about any of that Monday, insisting that "preseason games are just as important as regular season."
"It doesn't matter that it happened in the preseason," he added. "It just happened. And that's the bottom line."
But they'll try in the upcoming labor negotiations, with Goodell and owners pushing for an 18-game regular season to increase revenue. Players understandably will resist, citing the increased injury risk. Because while the total number of games wouldn't change -- two exhibitions would be eliminated -- adding another 100 or so snaps in January, when NFL locker rooms already look like infirmaries, certainly won't come without a cost.
Still, even veteran linebacker Julian Peterson, who isn't a fan of the "enhanced season" proposal, admits, "You'd rather play in a real game, yeah."
And for real money, I might add. Because the danger is always real in the NFL.
Dizon was far from the only casualty in the opening week of the exhibition season: Houston's Ben Tate, Dallas' John Phillips and Indianapolis' Jamie Silva -- just to name a few -- suffered season-ending trauma, while established starters like Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Buffalo's Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson also went down with significant injuries.
Enough is enough
Heck, even the coaches aren't safe: Denver's Josh McDaniels suffered a broken right toe Sunday night in Cincinnati when a chair fell on his foot.
Sure, there's a value to the exhibition season for coaches and personnel departments and for young players trying to make an NFL roster. But the league went from six exhibitions to four back in the late 1970s and it's past time to eliminate a couple more.
With today's year-round training programs, players come to camp in shape -- that's no longer a valid reason. And there's absolutely no justification for asking fans to pay premium ticket prices for a product that hardly qualifies as premium entertainment.
The potential losses far outweigh the gains in the exhibition season, and even if Dizon won't volunteer to be the poster boy, I'll do it for him.
"I was at a point in my career where I was happy," he said Monday, smiling through the pain. "Really happy, really comfortable, really confident in myself. And then this happened."
It happens all the time, unfortunately. And while the games don't count -- quick, anybody remember the Lions preseason record a year ago? -- the injuries do go on your permanent record.
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