- - Sunday, February 2, 2020

Concussions in the National Football League were up 4% this past season.

The protector of the players, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, called that increase “statistically insignificant” as he barely addressed the league’s plague in his annual state-of-the-league remarks last week at the Super Bowl in Miami.

“Statistically insignificant.” Sort of like what former Redskins coach Jay Gruden said about tight end Jordan Reed in August when Reid suffered his seventh documented concussion.

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“We’re quite confident that Jordan will be fine,” Gruden said.

Reed didn’t see the field again in 2019. The “statistically insignificant” Redskins tight end will never be fine.

It seems like there is a hangover of sorts when it comes to thinking about brain damage in the league. It hurts to think about it because there still is no answer, no solution.

This was a week to celebrate football — highlights and talk of greatness, arguments and lists of the best the game has ever seen — the greatest Super Bowl moments; ranking all Super Bowl quarterbacks; the all-time Super Bowl team, the greatest Super Bowl commercials.

Why not an all-time brain-damaged Super Bowl team?

Tasteless? If Tony Dorsett is having a bad day — he suffers both short-term and long-term memory loss — he won’t remember any highlights they might have shown last week on any broadcasts of his touchdown in Super Bowl 13.

Mean? Dave Herman paved the way at guard for fullback Matt Snell in the New York Jets 16-7 upset win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl 3. He doesn’t remember large chunks of that game.

Remembering the thrills of so many Super Bowls past is great fun. But how can we pretend, knowing what we now know, that those moments of glory come without cost?

Let’s not forget those who have paid — and continue to pay — the game’s unforgiving price. If the NFL and its fans are going to reminisce, take time to remember the all-time brain-damaged Super Bowl team:

Quarterback: The Snake, Hall of Famer Ken Stabler of the Oakland Raiders. Stabler led the Raiders to a 32-14 win in Super Bowl 11. After Stabler died of colon cancer in 2016, researchers studied his brain and found severe damage throughout.

Running backs: Dorsett, who ran for 66 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown in the Cowboys’ 27-10 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 12. He said in 2013 he was diagnosed with CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Joined in the backfield by Jamal Anderson, who gained 96 yards on 18 carries in the Atlanta Falcons 34-19 loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 33. Anderson was one of the plaintiffs in the concussion lawsuit filed against the league. He has been arrested several times since retiring on drugs and DUI charges.

Wide receivers: Dwight Clark, who made “The Catch” in the 1981 NFC title game against the Dallas Cowboys, perhaps the most historic play in NFL history. It led the San Francisco 49ers to their first Super Bowl championship in Super Bowl 16, one of two Clark played in. He died of ALS in 2018 and said he believed football may have caused his disease. Mark Duper played for the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl 19, a 38-16 loss to the 49ers. He said he suffered from memory loss and mood swings and was diagnosed with CTE in 2013.

Tight end: John Mackey, the Hall of Famer who caught a 75-yard touchdown pass to lead the Baltimore Colts to a 16-13 victory over the Cowboys in Super Bowl 5. He would suffer from dementia after he retired and died in 2011 at the age of 69. A study of his brain showed he had CTE damage. Mackey’s case led to the league and the NFL Players Association creating the “88” plan, providing money and nursing home care for former players.

Tackles: Justin Strzelczyk was a tackle on the Pittsburgh Steelers 1995 AFC championship squad that lost 27-17 to the Cowboys in Super Bowl 30. He had numerous incidents involving police after his playing career and died in a car crash at the age of 34 in 2006. An autopsy revealed Strzelczyk had CTE. Jim Tyrer was an eight-time all AFL offensive tackle who played in Super Bowls 1 and 4 for the Kansas City Chiefs. He shot his wife and committed suicide at the age of 41 in 1980. There were no studies of Tyrer’s brain. I’m going to go out on a limb and say he had some brain damage.

Guards: Herman, the starting guard on Joe Namath’s Super Bowl 3 team, and John Wilbur, who was on the Redskins offensive line that lost 14-7 to the Dolphins in Super Bowl 7. He died in 2013 and postmortem research showed he had CTE.

Center: The first NFL player diagnosed with CTE, Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, who snapped the ball in Super Bowls 9, 10, 13 and 14. He suffered from amnesia, dementia and depression and was homeless for periods of time after he retired. He died in 2002 at the age of 50.

Defensive ends: Bubba Smith, a two-time Pro Bowler who played for the Colts in Super Bowls 3 and 5. He died in 2011, reportedly from heart disease, but a study of his brain in 2016 revealed Smith had brain damage. Leonard Marshall was a two-time Pro Bowl defensive end for the New York Giants who played on their championship teams in Super Bowl 21 and 25. Marshall said in 2017 he was diagnosed with CTE and the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, and struggles with short-term memory loss and erratic behavior.

Defensive tackles: George Andrie was a defensive end, a five-time Pro Bowler who was on the Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl 6 championship team. He was diagnosed with dementia in 2014 and died in 2018 at 78. Shane Dronett was a defensive lineman on the 1998 Falcons Super Bowl 33 I team that lost to the Broncos 34-19. Dronett’s life post-football was filled with paranoia and rage, and continued even after having a benign brain tumor removed in 2007. After threatening his wife with a gun in 2009, Dronett committed suicide. After his death, a study showed his brain was damaged by CTE.

Linebackers: Junior Seau was a 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker and Hall of Famer who was part of the San Diego Chargers team that lost 49-26 to the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 29. He struggled with emotional issues until he committed suicide with a gunshot to the chest. An examination of his brain showed he suffered from CTE. Wally Hilgenberg was a linebacker on the Minnesota Vikings team that played and lost in four Super Bowls — 4, 8, 9 and 11. He died at the age of 66 from ALS. An examination of his brain found CTE. Ted Johnson played linebacker on three New England Patriots Super Bowl winners in 36, 38 and 39. He says he suffers from severe depression, and doctors have said he has signs of early Alzheimers.

Defensive backs: Dave Duerson was a four-time Pro Bowl safety who was part of that great Chicago Bears defense that demolished the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl 20. He was also part of the New York Giants Super Bowl 25 championship squad. He shot himself in the chest in 2011 at the age of 50, with a note left behind asking his brain be donated for research. A post-death examination showed Duerson had brain damage. Willie Wood was a Hall of Fame safety with those Green Bay Packers teams that won the first two Super Bowls. He is here in Washington in an assisted living facility suffering from dementia and memory loss. Doctors believe he has CTE. Tyler Sash played safety for the Giants in their Super Bowl 46 victory. He was 27 when he died in 2015, caused by a mixture of drugs. Tests showed he had brain damage. Jets safety Jim Hudson intercepted a pass in their Super Bowl 3 win over the Colts. He died in 2013, suffering from dementia, and was found to have CTE.

Some of these players suffered their brain damage at a time when the NFL reagular season was 14 games. Others played under the current 16-game schedule. Now there is talk of expanding the season to 17 games.

“Safety has been at the forefront and number one priority of our players,” Goodell said last week in Miami. “We believe we have made the game safer, and we believe we can reconstruct the schedule that doesn’t impact the future of the game.”

And if there are a few more concussions? Statistically insignificant.

More candidates for future all-time, brain-damaged Super Bowl teams.

⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan podcast Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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