Originally posted 7/11/11. Everyone’s favorite orthopedic surgeon is back in the news after performing surgery on America’s favorite athlete, RGIII, and professing that the quarterback is superhuman. What would we do without sports’ superhuman surgeon?
Good things come to an end all the time in sports; it’s just something that comes with the territory. The LA Dodgers file bankruptcy, Brett Favre finally retiring, Roger Federer’s major tourney streak, etc. Today I’m concerned about a streak that will soon end, and ruin the sports world as we know it. It was reported this week that Terrell Owens suffered an ACL tear, and the injury was surgically repaired by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews. This is SOP for Dr. Andrews, as he has performed tens of thousands of surgeries in his career. What’s more at stake is what will happen to the sports world when he inevitably retires?
Andrews’ list of clients reads like a list of people who probably own an American Express Black Card: Joba Chamberlain, Drew Brees, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, Roger Clemens, John Smoltz, Troy Aikman, and Andy Pettitte (just to name a few). Do a Google search for “Tommy John surgery” or “ACL repair” and “Dr. James Andrews,” if you want to be amazed by the work he has done for athletes over the last 3 decades. Even high profile athletes who don’t have the surgery by this icon still consult him for expert advice (Tom Brady, Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan). He mainly practices out of Birmingham, Alabama. Think about that for a second. The world’s greatest sports surgeon works in a town where people probably walk around barefoot, extensively wear overalls, and have more fingers than teeth. If we say that Brett Favre had a golden right arm, what can we say about Dr. Andrews’ right hand? Most first class athletes couldn’t find Alabama on a map, yet they fly to the back woods of America to get treatment. That in itself shows how invaluable he is, so finding a new stud is going to be difficult.
How many prominent athletes are still going strong in their 40s? How many surgeons are still going strong at 69 years old? I personally don’t know any, but who is Andrews going to pass the torch to? Magic and Bird had Jordan, Jordan had Kobe. Conners and McEnroe had Sampras/Agassi, Samprass/Agassi had Federer and Nadal. Joe Montana had Steve Young and Troy Aikman, they had Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Think of any sport, and you can find a young replacement for every prominent figure. There is no up-and-comer to substitute for Dr. Andrews. Moreover, if I was paid lots of money to throw a baseball very fast, I wouldn’t want surgery from the new guy; I’d want my ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction done by the master. This is going to be a huge issue since more is expected from elite athletes, the envelope will continue to be pushed. Stephen Strasburg is nowhere near the beginning of the young phenom who blew out his arm line, and as these physical freaks continue to get younger and younger, and the sluggers get bigger and stronger, it’s easy to expect more injuries in the future. Same goes with football. As guys get bigger, stronger, and faster, more tension, force, and impact is handled by the knees. At a time when Dr. Andrews’ services appear to be needed more, his age doesn’t go in reverse like Benjamin Button. Several areas of sports need a savior (soccer in America, all women’s sports, boxing, NCAA basketball, horse racing), but maybe none more so than sports orthopedics once the pole-vaulter turn surgeon James Andrews hangs up the scalpel.