Will Shields, not Favre, is the one whose durability should be celebrated

Discussion in 'NFL Zone' started by WoodysGirl, Dec 17, 2004.

  1. WoodysGirl

    WoodysGirl U.N.I.T.Y Staff Member

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    Just thought this was interesting. Nice tribute to a lineman.
    By Trent Modglin (
    Dec. 16, 2004

    Forget Brett Favre. There, I said it. Yep. Forget him.
    Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate everything he represents, respect him as much as any player. OK, don’t forget him. That was a little much. Forget his streak. Yeah, that’s it. Forget his streak of starting 202 straight games.

    It’s nice, yes. Quite a feat, I concur. But it’s not even close to the most impressive such streak in the league. Can’t hold a candle to Will Shields, who has played his offensive guard position for one team, the Chiefs, for 188 consecutive games.

    Brett Favre crosses the 200-game plateau on “Monday Night Football” on Nov. 29, and you would’ve thought No. 4 could make blind men see, the crippled walk and Michael Irvin and Terry Bradshaw grow silent the way people gush over his durability.

    And yet how much limelight, how much gusto, do you think Will Shields has gotten while battling and grinding in the trenches nearly every game for the past 12 years? Try four sentences in the Chiefs’ weekly press release, a little something in his media guide bio and not much else. His incredible accomplishment is virtually shrouded in darkness. Most linemen prefer it that way. But I’m here to give the nine-time Pro Bowler his pub. He’s deserving, I think.

    “Well, there’s no question there’s a difference (between Favre and Shields), and that’s just the nature of the two different positions,” said ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth, himself a guard for the Redskins and Broncos for 12 years. “Brett Favre is a guy that you see and who handles the ball on every play, whether he’s handing it off or whether he’s chucking it. Quarterbacks get a lot of recognition, and deservedly so. I mean, those guys sell a lot of tickets in this league, and the grunts likes us that play up front don’t.”

    If Favre’s thumb is sore, it’s a front-page story in every newspaper from Oshkosh to Oahu. Schlereth can’t even wear his three Super Bowl rings, because they were fitted during his playing days, when his hands were swollen and bruised 12 months a year and off-limits to his kids when they wanted dad to play. Schlereth says he has lost around 70 pounds since he retired in 2000, and, perhaps only half-joking, estimates 20 of it was in his hands.

    When I talk to linemen after a game, I hesitate even shaking their hands upon introduction because I know they’re wincing inside. I see how long it takes Hall of Fame Bears DL Dan Hampton to get up off the couch and can’t help but notice the mangled digits on his hands.

    There are times where Favre has gone through a game with nary a grass stain on his jersey. Many times he barely gets hit. Green Bay has given up 11 sacks in 13 games this year. Shields, an athletic marvel at 6-3 and 315 pounds, hits at least one person, usually of similar size, with every ounce of energy that he can muster, on every play. The “big uglies” grab, they clutch, they collide, they catch an elbow in the neck, they get their ankles rolled up on, they get piled up on, and it’s painful to watch them pick themselves up off the turf and do it all over again. Injuries are the norm. Schlereth’s left knee, by itself, was operated on 15 times. His right knee failed to pick up the slack. It was cut open only a handful of times.

    Schlereth dubbed something he calls the “dueling pain theory.” Kinda like dueling pianos, but a bit more uncomfortable. Basically, you’d go into a game with an ailing knee, one that certainly needs surgery, but that would mean missing time in the stretch run. Then, during the course of that game, you wrench your back. Next thing you know, you’re in rehab on Tuesday and Wednesday trying to get the back to a point where you can get out to practice with your teammates to prepare for the next game. The good news is you tend to forget how bad your knee hurts because the throbbing in your back now takes precedence in the dueling pain theory.

    Shields laughs at Schlereth’s deduction, knows exactly where he’s coming from. You don’t have to be healthy on Sunday, just functional. It’s common for most ailments to not even be mentioned. As Shields says, you basically pick the worst of the poison for a trainer to work on for a given week.

    You have those days where you feel better than others during the week. It all depends on what you did in the game. Usually, the adrenaline left over from Sunday begins to wear off by late Monday, and Tuesday and Wednesday mornings can be pure hell. But you have to get up, get moving, get the blood flowing, work the kinks out. Shields prefers a workout in the morning, then a splash in the hot tub, a little treatment from the trainers if necessary before meetings and then probably back in the hot tub before practice to warm up again. A massage is a must once a week. The whole body maintenance thing takes a lot of time. Your Mondays and Tuesdays are usually spent trying to get well for Wednesday’s practice. As the season wears on, Shields finds himself heading off to bed a little earlier with each passing week. His three kids don’t always make that an easy task.

    Schlereth wants to clear up one more misconception. People don’t give credit where credit is due when it comes to the offensive line. There’s more to it than meets the eye. “You look at a guy like Will Shields, and you see a big lumbering yeti from the mountains who just stands in front of people and hits them,” said Schlereth, who operates an instructional Web site called “But the guy is a supreme athlete. I’ll put him, man for man, as good as any athlete in the NFL at 300 pounds. … When you play that position, you have a bad knee, you have a busted-up ankle, you have an elbow that hurts so much you can barely stick your hand on the ground in a stance. It takes an incredible amount of skill to play that position with footwork, with hand placement and all the things you have to do. And to be able to continue to work those skills and continue to have success when parts of your body you use to hone that craft aren’t functioning right is phenomenal.”

    I ask Shields whenever this streak ends, whether it’s five games or five years, what it is that’s going to stick out most in his mind when he looks back at all of it. He doesn’t ponder the question long. It’s those weeks when you’re not sure if you’re going to make it out there on Sunday but you do anyway, because you can’t imagine the empty feeling of not doing it.

    “You know, those weeks where you basically have the choice of whether you’re going to try to play through it or not,” Shields said. “And more or less, the guys that you play with and all the other guys, you’re trying not to let (them) down. You want to be accountable for your job and what you’re supposed to do. Those things sort of push you to do things that maybe you wouldn’t have done if you were doing something on your own.”

    So what’s hurting now, I wonder, for a future Hall of Famer who scouts say is still playing at a very high level. Entering Week 15 of a season of bumps and bruises on top of scrapes and cuts, after 188 straight starts, a streak that has his young linemates kidding him about being in middle school when it started, where does it hurt?

    “Oh, everything hurts,” he says laughing. “It’s one of those continuous things. But it’s what you do, and it’s what you love.”

    Like I said. Forget Favre’s streak. Here’s your guy to celebrate.

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