Ron Cook: Redskins' fans angry, but football is brutal

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LANDOVER, Md. -- One day, it will happen to Ben Roethlisberger. Mark it down. Later rather than sooner, hopefully, some defensive lineman or linebacker is going to take out Big Ben's knee with a low hit in the pocket.

You'll scream bloody murder.

You know, the way they screamed bloody murder last night when Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel took out the left knee of Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell in the first quarter of the Steelers' 12-10 exhibition win at FedEx Field.

You would be wrong, just as those angry Redskins fans were wrong.

Don't forget, that's football they are playing, and it is a brutal game. Players get hurt. Sometimes, sadly, it's the stars.

That's easy to say, of course, in our little corner of the world this morning. We don't care much about Campbell or the Redskins' problems. Campbell isn't as far along in his career as Roethlisberger and doesn't have a Super Bowl ring, but he's just as much the Redskins' future as Big Ben is the Steelers'.

That's why the animosity in the big stadium toward Keisel quickly turned to worry and dismay. Campbell stayed down for a few moments, then made it to the Redskins bench with help from the medical staff. He limped into the locker room for X-rays, then came back onto the field in the second quarter with his knee wrapped in ice. Team officials announced the injury as a "bruised knee," which leaves a lot of room for interpretation as to its severity.

The moment -- one of the worst you'll see in any game -- brought back memories of the hit on Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer by Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen in the AFC playoffs after the 2005 season. There was no ambiguity about that injury. It was bad; Palmer was lucky to make it back for the start of the '06 season. It was so bad that von Oelhoffen -- dubbed "Lee Harvey von Oelhoffen" by some in Cincinnati -- cried on the field.

"I had to tell him to snap out of it," linebacker Joey Porter said that day.

Keisel had no such trouble getting his head back in the game. He made the tackle on the Redskins' next two plays after Campbell's injury, broke up a pass on the fourth and made another tackle on the fifth.

But Keisel felt badly enough that he walked the length of the field to extend his hand to Campbell as he struggled to the sideline. "I wanted to tell him myself that I hoped he wasn't hurt seriously and that I didn't try to hurt him," Keisel said. "None of us is out there trying to intentionally hurt somebody."

Campbell didn't seem so eager to accept Keisel's explanation or best wishes, but said after the game, "I don't think it was a dirty hit ... I hope it wasn't a dirty hit."

It's easy to understand if Campbell is wondering. Put yourself in his shoes. No, put Roethlisberger in those shoes and you probably would be wondering, too.

Keisel beat left tackle Stephon Heyer on the pass rush to the inside, stumbled toward the ground and righted himself enough to lunge at Campbell's left leg as he unloaded a pass to tight end Chris Cooley that went for a 29-yard gain. Keisel was penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness -- you can't lunge and hit the quarterback below the waist -- and could be fined by the NFL this week.

It's funny, the Steelers have spent much of the preseason talking about Keisel being a disruptive force, lining him up in different spots in their defense and letting him create havoc, sort of the way Baltimore Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas did last season.

Certainly, this isn't what Keisel had in mind. No player likes to make the "SportsCenter" highlights with America left to decide his reputation -- dirty player or not?

"It happens," Keisel said, shrugging.

Campbell might not have been pleased with the hit, but at least the other Redskins didn't chirp at Keisel the way the Bengals verbally assaulted von Oelhoffen. Much more was at stake in that playoff game. Palmer was an MVP candidate, not an up-and-coming quarterback like Campbell. To this day, the Bengals and their fans are convinced they would have won the game and gone on to Super Bowl XL if Palmer hadn't been injured. Mental images of von Oelhoffen celebrating after the Steelers won it all still make them sick.

The Bengals eventually got over blaming von Oelhoffen, though, coming to grips with the painful truth.

It's football.

You should remember that when it's Roethlisberger clutching his knee.

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Brett Keisel checks on Jason Campbell moments after delivering a hit that appeared to injure Campbell's knee.
Click photo for larger image.


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