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Wade readies his knee for a big step

Published August 10, 2005

LAKE BUENA VISTA - The first few seconds were chaotic. That much, he remembers. There were tens of thousands sitting in bleachers above him, and a handful of teammates kneeling beside him.

There was excruciating pain, and there was screaming. The pain, he knew, was coming from his left knee. The screaming? Was that coming from him too?

You learn all kinds of things on a football field. You learn what a ligament sounds like when it pops. You learn to recognize the snap of a bone. And you learn that not all screams are created equal.

Ever wonder why players sometimes gesture dramatically for help when someone goes down? It's because of one of those distinctive sounds.

Which brings us back to John Wade. And the day he can barely remember, and yet never forget.

"From the time it happened until the trainers got to me, it couldn't have been more than 30 seconds," Wade said. "It seemed to last forever."

In two days, Wade will take another step toward pushing that memory a little further back in the past. When the Buccaneers play the Titans in the preseason opener Friday night, it will be Wade's first game since dislocating his knee against the Chiefs in November.

That the Bucs center was on a practice field by July is impressive enough. That he is ready to test the knee in a game is pretty remarkable.

Understand, a dislocated knee is football's version of a train wreck. You know how some players have surgery after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament? Or the medial collateral? Or the posterior cruciate?

A typical dislocation means you've torn at least three of the four stabilizing ligaments. It means, basically, there isn't a whole lot keeping your knee connected to the bottom of your leg.

"I didn't see it happen," quarterback Brian Griese said. "But when I turned around he was on the ground. And it didn't look good."

Wade knew none of this in the first minutes after his injury. Yes, the knee hurt. And yes, he had to be carted from the field.

But after the initial round of X-rays at Raymond James Stadium showed no broken bones, Wade began to feel better. He was sitting on the table and he could hear the crowd roaring just outside the door.

The adrenalin kicked in - or maybe it was a form of shock - and Wade told them to slap a brace on his knee so he could get back on the field.

"I was all jacked up. I was ready to play. The doc was like, "Nah, I don't think so,' " Wade said. "They started doing their little tests, moving the joint, and my knee was just flopping around. I was like, "Ahhhhhh, okay. Stop. I'm with you, doc. I'm not playing anymore today.' "

By the time Wade got to the locker room, his wife, Natalie, was already in there. They got his knee packed in ice and sent him home. The next day an MRI confirmed Wade had dislocated the knee and would need season-ending surgery.

No one was saying it aloud, but there were whispers that Wade might never make it back. He would turn 30 soon and the injury was anything but routine.

Even close friends and family members suggested he should at least consider the possibility that this might be the end of the line.

"It never crossed my mind," Wade said. "There were people worried about my career. But I politely said, "That's not an option. I'm playing football. I'm going to be fine.' That's the approach I took."

By all accounts, Wade was the perfect patient. He got a break early on when surgery revealed no nerve or artery damage, which is common in dislocations.

And when it came to rehab, Wade closely followed directions. When told, he pushed himself harder. When warned, he backed off and let the knee recover.

Wade was virtually confined to the house for the first month but began showing up on the sideline for games in December. He missed team workouts in the spring but was making progress in therapy.

His philosophy was that the mental approach to recovery was every bit as important as the physical rehab.

"Right after surgery, I was told 6-7 months was the minimum time for recovery. That's all I needed to hear," Wade said. "I figured a lot of people have been through knee surgeries. Maybe they weren't as extensive as mine, but I was going to treat it the same way.

"I decided nothing was going to stop me from playing football and I was going to take whatever steps necessary to come back."

He's wearing a knee brace in practice and says he'll keep it on for the preseason games, too. It's not that the knee is bothering him, but Wade figures the additional stability can't hurt.

He's come far enough that, instead of bemoaning the seriousness of his injury, Wade is talking about his good fortune in rehab. Instead of wondering what might have been in 2004, he talks of what's to come this season.

Once, it seemed as if the injury might hasten Wade's departure.

Instead, Friday night, he will be in a hurry to return.

[Last modified August 10, 2005, 00:38:10]

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