OWINGS MILLS, Md.
The doctors repeated it in somber tones every time they pulled Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain from an MRI machine after that tackle last Dec. (USA TODAY Sports)
On Wednesday afternoon, McClain smiled as he sat in a chair near the Ravens' practice fields. Less than two weeks ago he played his first game since the injury, coincidentally the same day Green Bay's Jermichael Finley was carted off the field with a similar injury. And while Finley lay in a hospital wondering what was wrong, McClain started in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He also played special teams.
He had six total tackles.
"Amazing," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees told reporters after the game.
"If the cord contusion is true, I would say this is on the verge of miraculous," said Argyrios Stampas, the director of Burke Rehabilitation Hospital's spinal cord injury program, which did not treat McClain but has followed the story of his injury. "
McClain's aunt, Gloria Smith, is not one for miracles. She and her husband, Gregory, rescued McClain, his two brothers and a sister from a Salvation Army shelter when McClain was in junior high school.
Her nephew's story is one of a perseverance she can hardly imagine.
So no, she doesn't look at McClain and see something that makes no medical sense.
"He is very bright and he learns from every situation," Smith said.
Initially, on Dec.
They shook their heads.
He pushed against their no.
They shook their heads again.
At first, the doctors used the phrase "spinal concussion" to describe his condition.
McClain saw so many doctors they became a blur. The doctor in Dallas told McClain a story about fleas and ticks, as in the possibility of issues the spot on his cord presented were like a dog that not only had fleas but ticks as well.
That's when the doctor told him he had played his last game.
"I get an injury and they tell me, 'This is it, you might as well start thinking about your next career.'
He wanted to go back to the Ravens' practice facility and lift extra weights, run more sprints and watch more film the things he had always done in the past when presented with road blocks. No lifting or running was going to make the spot disappear.
From what Stampas has read of McClain's injury, he is stunned the player didn't have any lingering effects.
"I have patients who are walking but still without some functions," Stampas said.
And yet McClain had lost no neurological function.
The Super Bowl came and the Ravens brought him to the game, letting him stand on the field with his teammates and hold the great silver trophy when it was handed to him as glittering confetti fluttered around them.
The doctors kept telling him to be patient.
Then came the next-to-last MRI, the one where there was no spot.
As he stood on the field in Baltimore that first game back, McClain couldn't wait to make a tackle.
Rather than a big booming tackle, the first hit was on the Ravens' first punt.
And it felt great.
But as he sat on the edge of the practice field on Wednesday, he talked less about the first game as he did about the past and the Salvation Army shelter near Norristown, Pa., where his mother had moved them from their previous home in North Philadelphia.
He talked about people he knew who were going to jail for $10 drug sales and wondered how someone could throw their life away over something so trivial.
"It is complete pride for me," he said of the now-broken streak." We told him even before the injury, we told him the moment he walked on the football field it wasn't for him. I guess there are a million other examples in the world, don't get me wrong, but the more I'm out there playing, the more they know I can do."
As Gloria Smith said: "Life is the best teacher."
And as he sat beside the practice fields he is allowed to roam again, Jameel McClain smiled on Wednesday afternoon.
Arizona Cardinals The Tyrann Mathieu gamble is paying off.
Atlanta Falcons Harry Douglas did all he could in another Falcon disaster.
Baltimore Ravens Bye.
Buffalo Bills Thad Lewis just for the beating he endured from the Saints D.
Carolina Panthers Very quietly Cam Newton is having a nice year.
Chicago Bears Bye.
Cincinnati Bengals Andy Dalton with a huge five-TD game.
Cleveland Browns Jason Campbell was victimized by drops in a game the Browns could have won.
Dallas Cowboys Lost in nightmare of loss was Tony Romo's excellent day.
Denver Broncos Peyton Manning dominates, even with two sprained ankles.
Detroit Lions Calvin Johnson had the game of the year for anybody, anywhere.
Green Bay Packers As receivers fall, Aaron Rodgers keeps pulling the team together.
Houston Texans Bye.
Indianapolis Colts Bye.
Jacksonville Jaguars Cecil Shorts had a productive game on a dreary evening.
Kansas City Chiefs Alex Smith with yet another effective, efficient day.
Miami Dolphins Lamar Miller with a solid rushing day.
Minnesota Vikings Erin Henderson tried to hold the Vikings defense in the game.
New England Patriots Logan Ryan made plays when the Pats needed him.
New Orleans Saints With 5 TDs it has to be Drew Brees.
New York Giants The Peyton Hillis revival gets better and better.
New York Jets Nick Folk had 3 field goals, including a 50-yarder.
Oakland Raiders Terrelle Pryor had a lousy passing day but his 93-yard TD run was something.
Philadelphia Eagles Mychal Kendricks with 11 solo tackles on another day the offense disappeared.
Pittsburgh Steelers Ryan Clark had a few hits on another rough afternoon for Pittsburgh.
San Diego Chargers Bye.
San Francisco 49ers Frank Gore, though you could have chosen almost any Niner.
Seattle Seahawks Taunting or not, Golden Tate was the difference.
Tennessee Titans Bye.
Washington Redskins Alfred Morris with more of an Alfred Morris day.