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Everett injury a sobering reality for Steelers

| Saturday, Sept. 15, 2007

When offensive tackle Marvel Smith returned home last week following an easy Steelers win in Cleveland, he was greeted by his wife, Kellie, who offered her congratulations along with a sobering message.

Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett suffered a fracture and dislocation of his cervical spine after making a tackle against Denver that doctors characterized as "life-threatening.''

"When my wife saw that, she said you can retire whenever you want to," the 6-5, 321-pound Smith said.

"I'm not the only one in this locker room that heard something similar when their loved ones or family members see something like that. (Kellie) used to have a tough time watching the games. She was real nervous. She's a lot better with it now.''

Everett, whose Bills face the Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field, appears to be out of the woods, in a manner of speaking. Although he'll never play football again, he has shown significant movement in his arms and legs, leading doctors to speculate that he may eventually be able to walk again.

The NFL has had two paralysis cases over the last 30 years, Mike Utley in 1991 and Darryl Stingley in 1978. Stingley's death last April was attributed to heart disease and pneumonia complications from being a quadriplegic.

It's during reality-check times like these when football players, no matter how big and strong, or how many luxury cars they own, become real flesh and blood people who hurt and cry like the rest of us.

"For anybody to say we're overpaid, they obviously don't know what they're talking about,'' said Smith, who offers a prayer of thanks for being able to walk off the field under his own power after each game. "Every play is like Russian Roulette. Really, any play it could happen.

"Just to go out there, to put your body on the line every single play, it ain't necessarily just for the period of time that you play the game. Even now, with everything that's going on with former players (some who can't afford the medical costs to treat old football-related injuries), you can see how it affects you in the long run.''

Defensive backs are an endangered species in the NFL. According to a January 2005 story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, league data showed the highest injury rates belong to cornerbacks and safeties.

Over a four-year period, 102 defensive backs suffered concussions or neck or spinal injuries.

"It's a tough game, a brutal game. It's almost like organized destruction. We're constantly running into each other, trying to make plays,'' Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden said. "The life span (for NFL players) is four years for a reason.''

When told that NFL players and movie actors are highly-paid entertainers, Smith smiled grimly.

"Anytime they do something dangerous, they get a stunt man to go in,'' said Smith, who didn't state the obvious.

There are no stunt men in the NFL.

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