And that’s that. A snap of the ball, a drop back to pass, a poor block, a good tackle, and a (re-)torn anterior cruciate ligament. What started off as a routine action ended with devastating consequences as Rams quarterback Sam Bradford’s comeback ended after only twenty-one pre-season pass attempts. His surgically repaired left knee buckled before it had a chance to prove its health, and, in all likelihood, Bradford’s career as a Ram is over. As is his career in general.
The St Louis Rams drafted the 2008 Heisman-winning Bradford from Oklahoma as the first overall pick of the 2010 Draft. He was quickly named the starter and won Offensive Rookie of the Year, while also (as is sometimes forgotten) setting rookie records for most completions and most consecutive passes without an interception. The Rams went 7-9 that season, with Bradford starting all sixteen games and posting solid, albeit unspectacular, numbers for a rookie. This failed to continue into his sophomore season, however, as Bradford struggled with injury and played only ten games, with the franchise limping to a dismal 2-14 record. 2012 was far more positive. Bradford avoided the injury bug and threw career highs in all the major passing categories, with the team getting agonizingly close to a non-losing season with seven wins, eight losses and one tie, including an impressive record against the NFC West. Number 8 looked like he would be exceeding those numbers in 2013 before tearing his ACL against Carolina. Backup Kellen Clemens did a sound job leading the team for the final nine games of the season.
Hopes were high for 2014. The team had shown progress over the offseason and fans were impatient for Bradford to form part of the equation. He performed well in his two pre-season appearances, showing a poise that seemed to indicate that his recovery had gone well. Unfortunately, those hopes ended when Bradford hit the Cleveland turf and the terrible news was confirmed less than twenty-four hours later.
Bradford had been a polarizing figure since arriving at St Louis. Many felt that he was just a mediocre quarterback who never lived up to his billing as a first overall pick. The latter was probably true, but Bradford showed that he was a good quarterback, and, possibly, one of the better first-round players at his position over the past few years (yes, he is no Andrew Luck, but he is also no Blaine Gabbert). At times, Bradford showed that he could be a very good quarterback, although, sadly, these occasions were few and far between. The figures do not lie: 59 touchdowns to 38 interceptions is not a bad ratio, but his completion percentage was perhaps unsatisfactory, while his low yards-per-pass illustrate his tendency to go for short, safer passes. Many excuses were made on his behalf: a poor offensive line, even poorer receivers, a high turnover of offensive coordinators. Bradford could have been a starter on many other teams, but he was simply unlucky. Frustrating, undaring, at times panicky, yes; but also so, so unlucky.
Naturally, the news of Bradford’s injury was met with the predictable woe-is-me reaction from Rams fans. Many deemed their season hopeless. Others called for Mark Sanchez, Ryan Mallett, or even Tim Tebow. But, the truth is that this season’s success did not hinge on Bradford. With a suffocating defense and an effective running game, the Rams just need a capable quarterback who can manage the game, make the difficult throws when he needs to, and lead the team with confidence. In Shaun Hill, one of the League’s better backups, the Rams have such a player, and Rams Nation must avoid the “I-told-you-so’s”, the hindsight calls for drafting RG3 or Johnny Manziel, and the dismay before the season has even started. Instead, we need to get behind the team and head into the season with pride and confidence.
After all, we must put all this into perspective. This is not about Our Team. It is about a young man. A young man who worked hard, who remained down-to-earth, and who genuinely tried to be the quarterback for this franchise. A young man whose childhood dreams are now shattered. And while his ACL will eventually heal, his career never will.
All the best, Sam.