Faded Love

Warner's biggest fans turn on their hero, feeling betrayed

C'mon, Bernie -- you could light charcoal with that flame. And your broadcast comments would be perfect for a little country weeper backdropped by some pedal steel and twin fiddles -- faded love and St. Kurt done us wrong.

Bernie did get it right when he pointed a finger at Martz and his tendency to trust his star players too much -- saying Warner was still the Man despite the hot hand shown by Marc Bulger during the team's 5-0 run when Warner was out with an earlier pinkie fracture, believing Warner when he said he was fine despite strong evidence to the contrary. The same might be said of team doctors who didn't step in after the Washington game despite significant swelling in Warner's throwing hand.

There are some who say there's an implicit conspiracy among the player who wants to be on the field, the coach who wants him there and the doctor who has to patch up the walking wounded as best he can to get the players back in the game.

Sometimes a player's desire overcomes dire physical obstacles, such as when Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb played on a broken ankle a few weeks ago, leading his team to victory. Sometimes it's just the fear of losing one's job or the coach's confidence that causes a player to downplay an injury.

It boils down to this unspoken conversation between a coach and a star player: "If you don't tell me, I don't want to know." This sentiment ought to be given voice by the team doctor, right?

But New York Jets team physician Elliot Pellman, past president of the NFL Physicians Society, says sports medicine is as much art as it is science. Pellman says a team physician relies on three things: what the player says about an injury, what the doc observes on the playing field and the results of any test or physical exam.

"Your exams can fool you, and players are sometimes less than honest," says Pellman. "Sometimes it's the lack of the player telling you what's going on that causes you to miss something.... Honesty has a big thing to do with it. It's my job to realize that what they say isn't going to be absolutely forthright."

In other words, a good bullshit detector is just as important as a splint or a stethoscope. Important, but not foolproof.

"I'm not sure I'm that smart," says Pellman. "If someone who has pneumonia just says they have a cough and a runny nose, I may just say, 'Get some rest and plenty of Kleenex.' So where does the fault lie? Some of it's the nature of the game itself. These guys are football players. This is what they do."

Since all this thunder and lightning broke over Warner and his hurt hand, Martz has said there will be a quarterback competition next year, indicating that St. Kurt will have to prove himself and won't automatically be the anointed starter. Bulger strengthened his claim on Sunday night, leading the Rams to a comeback victory over the Arizona Cardinals and running his record to 6-0 as a starter.

For a moment, that eased the pain of the team and its fans. It also took the spotlight off St. Kurt, who walked the sidelines in street clothes, no longer the Man, watching the heroics of his teammates, among them Bulger, the guy who may replace him.

They're the players.

Everyone else is on the sidelines, singing cheatin' songs about the Rams' dismal season and the failure of St. Kurt to be anything more than what he truly is -- a football player who wants to be on the field, injured or not.

Every Sunday.

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