Jeff Tarpinian wasn't a notable name when he got to the NFL. Signed as an undrafted rookie by the Patriots in 2011, he primarily played on special teams until he went to the Texans this season. With Brian Cushing's season-ending injury, Tarpinian's seen a little bit of time at inside linebacker, but his journey to this season is more fascinating than his snap counts.
During Tarpinian's rookie season with New England, he was placed on injured reserve in late November when he blacked out after practice for roughly 30 seconds. The diagnosis was a cavernous malformation in his brain. The Patriots listed it as a "head injury." (Of course.)
Few knew about Tarpinian's brain surgery until now. New England wasn't talkative about it. The Texans were aware when they signed him, but took that chance. Tarpinian understandably thought it would be an employment-killer if it leaked, but with his production as a backup, it's less concerning now.
Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle talked to Tarpinian about the procedure, and also described those daunting first days of recovery:
The initial three days after the operation were worthless. Tarpinian was hollow, as his body attempted to figure out what had happened. For a month, he did nothing. No exercise, no rehab, just silent recovery. But the real gut punch was delivered when he looked in the mirror.
"I had long hair and ended up having to cut it all off, so that was devastating," he said two year later, finding a little humor in the time when he lost control over his body.
As for the cut?
"It was bigger than I thought it was going to be. … There's a huge scar on the back of my head," Tarpinian said.
Tarpinian isn't the first NFL player to come back from major brain surgery—although that doesn't make it any less impressive. Then-Eagles defensive tackle Mike Patterson went under the knife to remove a arteriovenous malformation in January of 2012, and returned in time for training camp. He currently plays for the Giants.
Modern medicine is excellent, but bouncing back from brain surgery to play a game with regular blows to the head is still nothing to sniff at. It's remarkable and crazy at the same time.