Commentary

One and done: Nine notable Week 1 season-ending injuries

Updated: September 9, 2008, 3:06 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Bad luck happens in fantasy football. It just seems to hurt more when it hits you in Week 1.

Tom Brady owners might have it rough today, but they're hardly the first people to lose a significant fantasy contributor in Week 1 of a season. History is littered with high picks and Pro Bowlers who were knocked out minutes into the new season.

So, Brady owners, this column's for you. We've got your sob stories, painful memories from our own ESPN Fantasy staff, and the details and accounts of nine of the most significant Week 1 injuries in fantasy football history.

It's not too late! Leagues are forming and drafting until Sep. 20, with scoring retroactive to Week 1.
Sign Up Today!
What's my sob story? Well, it's Brady, this season. He was my first-round pick in my most prominent league that starts two quarterbacks; I like to call it my "2-QB Jinx" league. Seriously, in more than a decade of playing in this particular league I've never won the championship -- the only one in which I can claim that -- and maybe, just maybe, that streak will now continue. Not that I'm not making my best efforts to snap the string, having acquired Matt Schaub and Ray Rice in exchange for Matt Forte, then adding Matt Ryan as a free agent, on Monday. Like we always say, never give up!

Now, on to the nine:

1. Tim Brown, Raiders, 1989: The No. 6 pick overall in the 1988 NFL Draft, Brown was a burgeoning star by 1989, bringing elite skills as both a receiver and on special teams. Coming off a so-so rookie campaign, he was regarded much like Calvin Johnson was entering this season, so let's hope Johnson doesn't suffer Brown's bad luck as a sophomore. Brown tore the medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee, and ripped the MCL off the bone, when he was tackled by Chargers linebacker Ken Woodard in Week 1. It would take him until 1993 before he'd log his first 1,000-yard receiving campaign, though he'd manage nine of them in a row once he got there.

Randall Cunningham
US PresswireRandall Cunningham seemed to sink more than just Eagles fans and fantasy owners when he went down in the 1991 season opener.
2. Randall Cunningham, Eagles, 1991: Brady's keeper-league owners can only hope that their quarterback's career won't be derailed by knee surgery like Cunningham's was in 1991. Cunningham tore both the medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee when he was hit by Packers linebacker Bryce Paup as he threw a pass early in the second quarter of the Eagles' opener. Cunningham would return in 1992, flashing the same quick legs he possessed before getting hurt, but he was never quite as reliable as before the surgery. He wouldn't manage a 16-game season in his final nine years in the league, and his only truly reliable fantasy campaigns came in 1992, when he threw for 19 touchdowns and ran for five more, and 1998, when he passed for 3,704 yards and 34 scores.

"I remember where I was when Randall Cunningham blew out his knee," said Eric Karabell. "Me and at least 20 other Eagles fans were watching on this little black-and-white TV with antenna ears at my cousin's wedding. He was watching, too. We were out with the valet parking guys on a Sunday afternoon. Our wives and girlfriends weren't pleased, because we were watching football and not dancing. We weren't pleased because the Eagles' season went down the tubes on opening day. One of us owned Randall. It wasn't the groom, though. I think the poor Randall owner ended up with Tom Tupa or something, so he wasn't pleased. Of course, the bride really wasn't pleased.

"Predictably, I guess, the once-happy couple got divorced a few years later, right around the time Cunningham was ending his time in Philly. Talk about going full circle!"

Fantasy: By the Numbers

Tom Brady's injury had a profound effect on Week 1 of the fantasy football season. Fans who started Brady lost 72 percent of Week 1 matchups. Meanwhile, Brady owners were scrambling for help on Monday. Of all trades completed on ESPN.com, 23 percent involved teams who owned Brady. More Fantasy Football

3 .Olandis Gary, Broncos, 2000: He was one of the most surprising performers of 1999, running for 1,159 yards and seven scores after Terrell Davis went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Week 4. Both backs would begin the 2000 season healthy, but it was Davis' starting job once again, come Week 1.That left Gary to serve as a backup, albeit one with a decent workload. He ran 13 times in the season opener but tore his ACL in the process, actually logging three of those carries after getting hurt. Gary would never amount to much in the Denver backfield following surgery, totaling 207 rushing attempts from 2001-03. However, thanks to his injury, along with Davis also getting hurt a few weeks later, Mike Anderson emerged as the Broncos' out-of-nowhere standout of 2000.

4. Ed McCaffrey, Broncos, 2001: A remarkably healthy fella for much of his career, the good fortune seemed to run out in Week 1 of 2001, as a hard hit by Giants safety Shaun Williams broke both bones in McCaffrey's lower left leg. That wasn't the only significant loss for the Broncos; a few days later they announced that Terrell Davis, their starting running back, would miss four to six weeks with surgery to repair a small cartilage tear in his right knee. Davis would make it back in Week 8, but by then it'd be too late, as the Broncos were destined to go 8-8, in one of their more forgettable years of the Mike Shanahan era. McCaffrey, then 33, would make it back for one more healthy season in 2002, catching 69 passes for 903 yards and two scores, but was never again a fantasy force.

Jerry Rice
Todd Warshaw /GettyJerry Rice on crutches was not what fantasy owners wanted to see in Week 1 of the 1997 season.
5. Jerry Rice, 49ers, 1997: The only one of our nine Week 1 injuries that wasn't technically season-ending, Rice suffered a torn lateral meniscus and torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee when he was dragged down from behind by Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp on a reverse in the second quarter of the 49ers' season opener. Incredibly, the future Hall of Famer returned to the field in Week 16, but was lost for the season (again) only 11 plays into his miracle comeback after sustaining a transverse fracture of the patella in his left knee -- the same one he had surgically repaired 15 weeks earlier -- when he was hit hard and driven to the ground by Broncos safety Steve Atwater on a touchdown reception.

"Oh, I remember the Jerry Rice knee injury, but not for fantasy," said Brendan Roberts. "I was in a 'Lock of the Week' pool -- our modern-day Eliminator -- with a bunch of people from work, and I picked the mighty 49ers, 12-4 the previous season, to beat the lowly Tampa Bay Bucs, 6-10 in 1996. When I saw Rice go down with a major knee injury, I knew I was toast. 'Oh well,' I thought. 'Bet a lot of people got knocked out on that one.' Not true. I was the only one, and the only guy in all of Week 1. D'oh!"

Then 35, Rice would make a full recovery in 1998, but he'd never manage another double-digit touchdown season. Three times, including in 1998, he'd top 1,000 yards receiving, the other two instances coming in 2001 (when he was 39) and 2002 (40).

6. Steve Smith, Panthers, 2004: Smith's owners might be bummed about missing two games from him to start this season, but four years ago he'd have given you one game all season. He suffered a broken fibula in his left leg late in the fourth quarter of the 2004 opener, when he rolled his ankle as he was being tackled after a catch. That thrust Muhsin Muhammad into the spotlight, and boy was he up to the task; he led all receivers with 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns, more than filling the void.

"If memory serves, I was playing against Steve Smith in my 16-teamer when he broke his leg in 2004," said Christopher Harris. "Smith had been an oh-so-clever keeper in a league with somewhat convoluted keeper rules, and was harshly rendered valueless after an entire draft day of trash-talking by his owner."

Smith would return at full strength in 2005, and led the league in receptions (103), receiving yards (1,563) and touchdowns (12). Even today, he remains one of our game's best.

Vinny Testaverde
Henny Ray Abrams/Getty ImagesVinny Testaverde doomed the Jets' hopes but not necessarily fantasy owners' when he tore his Achilles in the 1999 season opener.
7. Vinny Testaverde, Jets, 1999: It took less than eight minutes -- eight -- for Testaverde's season to reach its end; his left Achilles' tendon ruptured when he began running to recover a loose football fumbled by Curtis Martin. Bill Belichick might have experienced déjà vu of this event when Brady went down; Belichick was an assistant coach for the Jets at the time. After Testaverde threw for 29 touchdowns to help the Jets advance to the AFC championship game the season before, "Gang Green" would begin the 1999 season 1-6, and finish a forgettable 8-8.

But while doom and gloom hovered over Giants Stadium for much of that season, at least for Jets fans, some fantasy owners were fortunate to find a substitute savior. If you're a Brady owner, perhaps James Quintong's story will offer encouragement:

"My old office league rules stated that a guy who lost a player for the season got first dibs at free agents for an injury replacement," Quintong said. "So when the guy lost Testaverde, his no-brainer choice was Kurt Warner, who threw for 316 yards in Week 1. Needless to say, he made the playoffs pretty much because Vinny got hurt."

As for Testaverde, he never quite recovered the magic of his 1996 and 1998 seasons; he led the league in pass attempts at age 37 in 2000, but also led in interceptions (25), four more than he had passing touchdowns. From 2000 until his retirement following the 2007 season, Testaverde would throw for 70 touchdowns, but also 76 interceptions.

8. Javon Walker, Packers, 2005: Suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee was painful enough for Walker; that the 55-yard reception on which he got hurt was negated by penalty -- an offensive pass interference call on him -- was like rubbing salt in the wound. Had that play counted, Walker would have put the Packers three yards from the end zone in a game they trailed at the time, 10-3. Instead, they'd lose 17-3 and finish the season 4-12, their worst record since 1991. Brett Favre would finish the season with 20 touchdowns and a career-worst 29 interceptions, leading many to declare him "done." (We all know how that one played out.) For Walker, he has had a hard time staying healthy since, missing eight games in 2007 as well as Week 1 this year.

9. Curt Warner, Seahawks, 1984: After riding Warner's legs all the way to the AFC championship game in 1983, the Seahawks entered 1984 with high hopes. Those hopes were seemingly dashed, though, when the defending AFC Rookie of the Year suffered a knee injury in the second quarter of their first game, on his 10th carry of the season. Surgery would reveal ligament damage that would cost him the rest of the year, and send the Seahawks scrambling for a replacement; Hall of Famer Franco Harris would be signed to help fill the void. Impressively, the Seahawks would finish with a better record (12-4) than the year before (9-7), and they did it without the virtue of a single running back on the roster with better than 327 yards or four touchdowns rushing.

"I was eight at the time, but I remember I hated David Hughes," said Kevin Rounce. "I was very unhappy that he was gonna take over for the Rookie of the Year."

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy football, baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

ALSO SEE