Leonard Weaver was coming off a Pro Bowl season and had just signed a three-year deal with Philadelphia, one of the richest contracts handed out to a fullback. It was his very first carry of the 2010 NFL season, and the play called for Weaver to go right. He went left instead, and his planted leg collided with a helmet, and his momentum carried him over, and his NFL career was over in less than a second.
"It plays back so vivid, man, it's crazy," he says. "If I go right I might hit my head on the goal post, but for some reason, I went backside.
"I remember Clay Matthews trying to get guys off of me, Jason Peters and those guys trying to help me up. I remember crying, just loud, man, asking God why. Why am I here?"
He was 28, in his prime, and his ACL was shredded. His posterolateral corner was torn. The muscle surrounding his knee was destroyed and his nerves irrevocably damaged. Three surgeries followed, and six months rehabbing with Dr. James Andrews, and it became clear Weaver wouldn't return for 2011. The Eagles cut him, though he only found out when a reporter asked him for comment.
After nearly two full seasons out of football, the Philadelphia Daily News catches up with Weaver going to a contractually mandated physical exam with Eagles doctors. The test is simple: flex your foot, bending the toes up toward the knee. Weaver can't do it. "I failed," he says. "My foot didn't work."
Weaver says there's no chance he'll be back for 2012, and after that he'll be 31 and won't have played in three years, so by any realistic projection, his NFL days are done. He comes across as at peace with this, and there's a silver lining: Weaver met his fiancée near his home in Florida, during what should have been football season.
There aren't supposed to be career-ending injuries, not literally, not with all the advances made in medicine, and not happening to one of the best players at his position. But they happen, and that's why the sticking point in any NFL contract negotiation is money up front. Weaver's one of the lucky ones: his contract for three years and $11 million included $6.5 million guaranteed. It's a welcome piece of news in a league that doesn't provide job security or health care for disabled players. Meanwhile, you can watch Weaver's gruesome injury in slow motion, over and over again, in the "game highlights" (presented by McDonald's) section of NFL.com.
Leonard Weaver's long shot to return to football [Philadelphia Daily News]