Ron Morris

Morris: Game scars will endure with Rogers

George Rogers runs in the Gator Bowl in December 1980.
George Rogers runs in the Gator Bowl in December 1980.

GEORGE ROGERS IS hurting these days. All over.

During an 11-year period covering his careers at South Carolina and in the NFL, Rogers carried the football 2,646 times. His body was beaten to a pulp with injuries ranging from a thumb that once was bent behind his pinky finger to a dislocated shoulder that prevents him from effectively swinging a golf club.

Today, Rogers is a 50-year-old operating in a 65- to 70-year-old body. He is Exhibit A for what ultimately happens to a bruising running back that used his body with a total lack of restraint. He represents the brutal aftereffects of the sport.

"Some days I hate to wake up," Rogers says, "because I know I can't stand on my feet. I have trouble walking some days."

Rogers remains employed by the USC athletics department, serving as a goodwill ambassador for the school where he won the Heisman Trophy in 1980. A year later he was the NFL rookie of the year with the New Orleans Saints. His professional career lasted seven bruising seasons.

"Those are the battle scars you take with you when you leave that league," Rogers says of the injuries, most of which he suffered in the pro game. "When they say 'NFL,' they mean it: 'Not For Long.' "

Rogers has numerous trophies, plaques and rings to help him recall some of his greatest plays and moments while playing at USC and in the NFL. But it is the damaged shins, surgically repaired knee and shoulder, and arthritic toes and thumb that serve as a daily reminder of what he endured as a player.

Rogers admits he probably should have stepped out of bounds more often. That was not his style. Instead, he ran over and through opponents. He gained an extra yard or two by lowering his shoulder and slamming into a defensive back.

Now, and for the remainder of his life, he will pay a heavy price. Where he once played 27 holes of golf a day, Rogers now is lucky to make it through a front nine. The thumb injury prevents him from gripping a club properly. He has difficulty lifting his right arm above his head because of a shoulder injury, so swinging a club is an iffy proposition.

The shoulder was the first body part to fall prey to the viciousness of the game. He injured it during his sophomore season at USC and had it surgically repaired during the offseason. Then, in a 1985 game for Washington against Philadelphia, the shoulder was dislocated and a second surgery followed.

Rogers saw himself as an outstanding athlete during his pro career, but the second shoulder surgery prevented him from playing tennis or pick-up basketball. While playing for New Orleans, he taught himself to throw a football left-handed because of the damage to his right shoulder.

Playing on artificial surface at both USC and in New Orleans resulted in severe shin splits that plague Rogers today. Following the 1983 season with the Saints, doctors performed surgery to widen his shins with the idea of diminishing the swelling in his legs. The surgery was successful to some extent, but the swelling still occurs whenever Rogers walks any distance.

Rogers played most of that same season with an injured left knee that required off-season surgery. Surgeons drilled holes in his knee to relieve the swelling. The knee is so arthritic today, Rogers cannot climb the 17 steps in his two-story home without the use of the rail.

As a rookie with New Orleans, Rogers dislocated his right thumb, which was bent back so far it appeared to be on the wrong side of his hand. Then, with Washington in 1985, he suffered from turf toe as a result of a tackle by teammate Dexter Manley in practice. Like the thumb, Rogers' toe was bent backward and dislocated.

The long-lasting result of those injuries is a severe case of gout, which flares when Rogers does not eat properly. "I eat bad a lot, so I can count on getting gout," Rogers says. When gout hits, Rogers is unable to walk.

Finally, there are the concussions Rogers played through. The first one occurred following a helmet-to-helmet tackle administered by Seattle strong safety Kenny Easley, a hit that sent Rogers flying feet-high on his back. Both players were knocked unconscious.

"The older you get, the more you can't remember anyway," Rogers says. "I think (the concussions) affect your memory. Hey, you're a running back. You're probably taking more hits than anybody on the field, as far as taking licks, getting hit."

It does not help matters that Rogers takes medication daily to deal with high blood pressure, the result of weighing 280 pounds. He played at 220 pounds for USC and between 235 and 240 in the NFL.

Rogers attempts to stay in shape. Some days he rides eight miles on a stationary bike. He lifts weights to strengthen his shoulder, and he does sit-ups to work on his waist.

But no amount of exercise is going to make all his aches and pains go away.

"I don't remember a game I played in that, after the game, I wasn't sore," Rogers says. "Something was always hurting. That's the nature of the game. When you're playing, you realize you're fortunate to play in the NFL. You don't think about the consequences afterward."

Yet even with the constant limping and sharp pains that shoot through his body, from his toes to his hands to his shoulder, Rogers said he would do it all again. He says he would do it twice with the kind of money running backs are making in the NFL today.

He speaks knowing that the 5,204 yards he ran for at USC and the 7,176 yards he rushed for in the NFL are long since forgotten and are mere numbers in the record books. What lives with him today are the 954 carries at USC and the 1,692 times he ran the ball in the NFL.

The carries - and the hits that came with them - will remain with Rogers forever.