Two Browns knocked out by Harrison
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Steelers linebacker James Harrison knocked two Cleveland Browns players out of Sunday's game with crunching hits to their helmets.
First came Josh Cribbs, his Kent State University teammate and friend playing wildcat-formation quarterback, who was injured when the crown of Mr. Harrison's helmet smacked into the left side of his helmet. Then came receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, who, after a catch over the middle, was felled by forearms to the face. "I kind of laid off on him," Mr. Harrison said.
Both came within seven minutes in the second quarter.
Both Browns players promptly left the game groggy and later bused back to Cleveland with their team for what could well become dual diagnoses of concussions -- the precise ailment the National Football League has worked more diligently to curtail since late last season.
"That's going to happen when you run into a brick wall," said safety Ryan Clark, a Steelers teammate who has faced NFL fines for helmet-to-helmet collisions "a few times."
At a time when the NFL has increased efforts to shed its image about headhunting and head injuring, when league officials hold photo ops about sponsoring posters for high school locker rooms outlining risks of concussions, and when Commissioner Roger Goodell vowed a week ago in Seattle to get 10 more states to pass concussion legislation, Mr. Harrison on Sunday shook his head.
He wasn't concerned about a potential fine for the helmet-to-helmet blow to Mr. Cribbs. He wasn't concerned about his own head. And this on a club where autopsies of former players -- Mike Webster, Justin Strzelczyk and Terry Long -- showed that their brains had signs of an advanced disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), found in people decades older.
"Nah, I'm not worried about it," Mr. Harrison said of the future of his brain, with scores of players present and past already agreeing to donate theirs for future scientific research. "That's part of the risk that you take."
"You ever seen his head? It's huge. Guys like that don't get concussions," Mr. Clark continued teasingly. "When you look at him a lot of times ... he doesn't lead with his head. It's just part of football, the contact. He's a guy who hits with his shoulder, hits with explosiveness."
Indeed, Mr. Harrison -- the NFL's most valuable defensive player in 2008 and a Pro Bowl selection the past three seasons -- has been fined multiple times for such explosiveness. Just this preseason, he drew the ire of some of the Denver Broncos with a thudding tackle of quarterback Kyle Orton. "I don't know, it didn't look right," Broncos coach Josh McDaniel said then.
A couple of Cleveland players Sunday considered Mr. Harrison's hit on Mr. Massaquoi to be worthy of a penalty for hitting a defenseless receiver. No penalty was called on the tackle because Mr. Massaquoi caught the ball and, by rule, wasn't considered defenseless. The rule, passed in 2008, was expressly devised to prevent hits to the head and neck areas of receivers.
"I thought it was a clean hit on Cribbs," Browns running back Peyton Hillis said. "but I thought the one on Mohamed, there should have been a flag on that one."
"Those were head-to-head hits," Browns linebacker Marcus Benard added of both, "and if [NFL administrators] are going to enforce it, then enforce it. You can't protect some guys and not the others. If you're going to call penalties and fine people, then call it all the time on everyone."
One of the Steelers' most fined players, Mr. Harrison wasn't fretting over the possibility of writing checks this week.
"I'm not worried about getting fined on that. Not at all," he said. "If I get fined on that, it's got to be a travesty. They didn't call [penalties on] that. There's no way I can be fined."
"I think sometimes people react to the highlights of the hit instead of the actual way the hit was applied," Mr. Clark said. "They look at the after-effects, 'Oh, this guy's knocked out, it must be dirty.' That's not necessarily true. We'll see."
There was some debate about whether Mr. Cribbs lost consciousness on the field. One lineman looked down at him the moment after impact and waved to his sideline for medical personnel. Within seconds, Mr. Cribbs moved his hands.
"I knew he was out," Mr. Harrison said.
He added that he felt for Mr. Cribbs: "Actually, I know Josh from college. We're cool. When it's us vs. them, everything's out the window, all friendships are off until the game is over with. I'll probably get a chance to talk to him sooner or later."
In the end, the Browns announced only that the two players had "head injuries" and wouldn't return to Sunday's game. One of the team's sponsors is the Cleveland Clinic, which is a subscriber to the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT) founded by UPMC Sports Medicine's Mark Lovell and Michael "Micky" Collins. The way ImPACT works, they'll be tested perhaps as soon as today, with a potential concussion diagnosis being determined from both their current scores judged against their baselines and any lingering symptoms -- such as headache, nausea, memory loss -- found in a medical examination.
"With any type of head injury, [there's a] process they have to go through, and that's what we're going to follow regardless of how the player feels after," Browns coach Eric Mangini said. "We make sure he's safe to go back in. We followed that process and decided he wasn't OK to go back in."
NFL teams have taken concussions and brain injuries more seriously in recent years, particularly when such injuries forced the retirements of Hall of Famers as Troy Aikman and Steve Young, among others. However, a standardized, policy about returning to play didn't exist until last season, amid congressional hearings.
"I think the NFL is doing a better job of dealing with it, because if it's up to the player, he's going back in," Cleveland center Alex Mack said. "The league wants to protect the players [by keeping them out until they are healthy]. After all, you need your brain."
First Published October 18, 2010 12:11 am