News Could Have Been Much Worse

When Jason Campbell, left, went down, backup Mark Brunell, center, and Coach Joe Gibbs had to be worried.
When Jason Campbell, left, went down, backup Mark Brunell, center, and Coach Joe Gibbs had to be worried. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By Thomas Boswell
Sunday, August 19, 2007

The stadium holds more than 90,000 people. The team that plays there is valued at about $1.4 billion. The coach is in the Hall of Fame. The fireworks, explosions and scoreboard cacophony could drown out a revolution.

However, with 4 minutes 45 second left in the first quarter last night at FedEx Field, all of that pomp and violence, grace and glamour, seemed to dematerialize, to disappear in an instant, and all that mattered was Jason Campbell's left knee.

Sometimes, in the blink of a blindside roughing-the-passer attack, you realize that a player's career, a team's season, even Joe Gibbs's legacy in his second tour of duty in town all can hinge on the ligaments in the joint of one 25-year-old quarterback.

This time, the knee held together. Campbell rolled on the ground in pain as teammates and trainers gathered around in a tight circle of concern. The silence in the huge stadium was louder than the noise that preceded it. Throughout the Washington area, TV replays showed a huge hit -- a 285-pound, human missile named Brett Keisel aimed at the back of Campbell's knee -- that seemed at first glance to portend the words "out for the season."

"That's your dreaded fear," said Gibbs, who was especially worried because the Redskins' coaches upstairs relayed word that Campbell had taken "a real good shot." That's coachspeak for "brace yourself for the worst."

"It was scary. We were all holding our breath on the sideline, saying, 'Please get up,' " defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "That's our year lying there. We've got to have him. Then we let out one big sigh of relief."

This time, Campbell was spared the kind of injury that often erases a year and can alter a career. After a few minutes on the ground, he slowly limped off the field, implacably listening to the vigorous apologies of Keisel, who walked beside him, trying to convince everyone that his play, though penalized, wasn't dirty.

The defensive end sprung off the ground from all fours and dived full length, driving his shoulder and full weight into the side of Campbell's knee, crumpling it at a gruesome angle as the quarterback toppled backward, his foot and knee trapped under him. As Keisel begged forgiveness, he might as well have held up a sign: "Please don't put out a hit on No. 99."

"Low blow, man," Daniels said. "He's going to get fined for sure. I want to see it again [on tape], but it looked like it could have been avoided. He knows it's [only] preseason."

After being examined early in the second quarter, Campbell was able to walk gingerly to the locker room, waving a towel to the crowd to let them know he was all right. Later, he returned to the sideline wearing a large ice pack on his left knee. The diagnosis, a mere bruised knee, sounded almost bizarrely mild. Either he's made of titanium or he's mighty lucky.

Some very small chance remains that Campbell's injury could be worse than is now assumed. But doctors have said, according to Gibbs: "Everything is fine. Everything [in his knee] is tight."

"I was fortunate enough that my foot was able to move a little bit and that kept it from being stiff-planted in the grass. It probably saved me from getting an ACL or MCL tear," Campbell said. "I didn't know for sure until I put all my weight on it."

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