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Harty: Podolak lucky in the knee department

[ 0 ] August 28, 2012 |


Ed Podolak did some incredible things as a football player, including having 350 total yards in an NFL playoff game. But it’s what he didn’t do that is perhaps the most incredible.

Despite carrying the football numerous times in high school and a combined 1,565 times in college and in the NFL, Podolak never succumbed to a knee injury. There also were all the times when Podolak caught passes and ran after the catch and his knees survived.

His knees even were spared when he suffered serious injuries after being struck by a car Feb. 22, 2011, while crossing a street in Scottsdale, Ariz. He broke both legs and ribs and suffered injuries to a lung, but somehow his knees made it through unscathed.

“It’s pretty unusual; most running backs usually have something,” Podolak said Tuesday after attending Kirk Ferentz’s weekly news conference. “But through, gosh, over I think 2,000 carries in the NFL, I never had any.

“I’ve got a lot of teammates that are suffering heavily because of knee injuries and I was just lucky. I think part of it is the way you’re built. And I think a big part of it is luck.”

If knee injuries are caused mostly by luck, then Podolak’s college alma mater for which he has served as a radio color analyst since 1982 is perhaps the unluckiest team in the Big Ten.

The Iowa football team will be without running backs Jordan Canzeri and Barkley Hill when it opens the season Saturday against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago. They’re the latest in what has become a long and disturbing list of Iowa running backs whose careers were derailed by knee injuries.

Canzeri suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in late March and Hill suffered the same injury near the end of an open practice Aug. 18 at Kinnick Stadium. Canzeri could return this season, unlike Hill, who just had surgery.

Former Iowa running back Jewel Hampton also had two ACL tears during his brief time as a Hawkeye. And let’s not forget about Albert Young and Jermelle Lewis because they, too, were bit by the knee-injury bug while at Iowa.

This prolonged stretch of misfortune has caused some fans to wonder if the Iowa running backs are cursed. It apparently is their way of coping with a bizarre and sad situation.

It’s also been suggested to me that there could be something unique about Iowa running backs that make them more vulnerable to knee injuries or perhaps it’s the way they train or the surface on which they train that makes them vulnerable.

Podolak doesn’t endorse any of those theories, nor should he because there is no evidence to support anything other than it being an ugly coincidence.

Podolak brought up the case of Fred Russell ,who avoided any serious knee injuries at Iowa despite combining for 502 rushing attempts as a junior and senior and despite being undersized.

Former Hawkeye Shonn Greene also carried the football 307 times in 2008 without suffering a serious knee injury, and Marcus Coker, who has since transferred to Stony Brook, carried 281 times last season without either of his knees being injured.

“I think it’s a coincidence,” Podolak said. “If you look back at Fred Russell, he was a little guy. You just run into some bad luck every once in a while. It just seems ours has lasted a couple years.”

Now that being said, Podolak thinks running backs in general are more susceptible to knee injuries now compared to when he played 40 years ago.

“I just think part of the knee injury side of it, the ACL just comes from athletes being bigger than they used to be, but the joint is the same size,” said Podolak, who played at Iowa from 1966-68 and for nine seasons in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs from 1969-77. “And to me, it seems to be an injury that has occurred now more and more.”

Iowa has had three players suffer ACL injuries since late March, including true freshman defensive back Ruben Lile.

Ferentz was asked for an explanation Tuesday and his was almost identical to Podolak’s.

“I think a lot of it is just luck and fate,” Ferentz said. “That’s my conclusion. I really believe that.”

There really is nothing else to believe without sounding a little nutty.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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