A YEAR AGO yesterday, Leonard Weaver was rejoicing after getting to play in the Pro Bowl for the first time. They held the Pro Bowl again yesterday, in Hawaii, but Weaver was in Birmingham, Ala., rejoicing over his three sons joining him for a visit, as Weaver continues his rehab under the auspices of Dr. James Andrews.
This has been a tough season for the big fullback who might have been the Eagles' top veteran addition of 2009, on and off the field.
"The question has lingered in my mind - why now?" Weaver, 28, said recently, between rehab sessions for his seriously injured left knee. "I'd just gotten the new [3-year, $11 million] contract. There are things in life that are meant to be messages."
When Weaver looks at the replay of the sequence from the Eagles' season opener last Sept. 12, when his left leg bent backward and his career changed, what bothers him isn't so much the grotesque bowing of his leg - the element that has made the clip an Internet sensation - but knowing that he cut back, away from the original design of the play, running straight into Packers linebacker Nick Barnett.
"If I hadn't cut back, I would have hit my head on the goal post," Weaver said. "There was nobody there . . . I remember the pain. I remember the moment. But I'm not squeamish. I looked at it the day after it happened, several times, to get back over that fear."
One irony is that Weaver's tackler, Barnett, played only 3 more weeks before suffering a season-ending wrist injury. Barnett was in the news this weekend, clashing with quarterback Aaron Rodgers over Rodgers' comments about injured players choosing not to rehab in Green Bay, then wanting to be in the team photo, for the NFC's Super Bowl representative.
Like Barnett, Weaver has been feeling a little left out lately. A couple of reports about his injury have stressed the improbability of Weaver being able to come back to play again, let alone at a Pro Bowl level. In numerous tweets and in two interviews for this story, Weaver questioned why the long odds he faces would be the focus, instead of his determination to beat them.
Yes, this is uncharted territory, Weaver acknowledged. There is no record of an NFL player coming back from a torn ACL, a torn posterior lateral corner, and nerve damage. Recently, Weaver underwent his third surgery since suffering the injury, this to his left foot, a tendon-transfer procedure aimed at allowing him to once again raise the foot.
"Football is uncharted territory," Weaver said.
Weaver, who said the tendon transfer was a success, said there are instances of high-school-aged players returning from such injuries, aided by their youth. He feels he is young enough that "I'm still in that range; chances are pretty high."
Attempts to speak with Andrews, who has performed Weaver's surgeries, were unsuccessful. Andrews' office cited patient confidentiality standards and the wishes of the Eagles in denying an interview.
"I will be back," Weaver said. "There's a first for everything."
He especially took offense at an implication that Owen Schmitt, Weaver's injury replacement, played so well this season that the Eagles don't really need Weaver.
"When you go to training camp, you have to compete," said Weaver, who provided the 2009 Birds with a much better inside running option (70 carries, 323 yards) than Schmitt (no rushing attempts) did this past season. "I love Owen, but they're anointing him as the starter . . . If I don't come back well, then he will be the starter."
People speculating that he won't be back or he can't unseat Schmitt are trying to "shove a knife in my back," Weaver said. "I think that's a little crazy."
He finds those reports much more offensive than the fact that if you Google "Leonard Weaver injury," you get nearly 45,000 results, many of them with video, people oohing and aahing over the carnage.
"That doesn't bother me," Weaver said.
Weaver won't countenance that he might not make it back, but he does concede he has been given no time frame by his doctors, Andrews and Eagles orthopedist Dr. Peter DeLuca. "They don't want me being down," he said.
Weaver is pointing toward this year's training camp, but he also notes that the current labor unrest could work in his favor, perhaps postponing camp a month or 2, giving him more time. Right now, Weaver said, he rehabs twice a day, and has been able to get his knee to bend 130 degrees. He needs 160.
Weaver figures to spend a lot more time in Birmingham, particularly if the labor situation results in players being locked out of team training facilities.
"My first priority right now is to get healthy," Weaver said. "This is something I'll be able to look back on and say I'm proud I overcame it. I want to be an example to the kids."
For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.
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