The Big Lesson I Learned from Getting Injured

Or, The Tale of How I Got Injured Playing Flag Football for the First Time in 10 Years

Dan McQuade spiking the ball, kind of

Photo by Mark Stehle, Invision

I accelerated to keep up, and then I felt it pull.

Though I hadn’t done much in the game, I was feeling pretty good. I never played real, organized football, but I had a long “career” of touch football in the street, tackle football at the playground and flag football in intramural leagues. But I hadn’t played any type of football in 10 years. And here I was, playing in a charity flag football game at Lincoln Financial Field.

The game was set up by NRG Energy, the energy company headquartered in West Windsor, New Jersey. NRG was nice enough to invite me to play in the game and donate a thousand dollars to a charity of my choice (One Step Away, Philadelphia’s homeless newspaper). Dave Spadaro announced. Swoop cheered us on.

Obviously, I was a little nervous, in the same way I get nervous before I run a race or have to speak in public: I just didn’t want to embarrass myself. And now, late in the first half, I had a pulled hamstring. I had been feeling pretty good before—a football was easier to catch than I’d remembered!—but now I was setting myself up for embarrassment.

As it so happens, the play where I pulled my hamstring was one of the few plays that showed up on Good Day Philadelphia. I got burnt by KYW 1060’s Dan Wing, but fortunately the pass was out of the back of the end zone and he didn’t haul it in anyway. You can see me hobble behind him as the play ends.

My injuries did not end with just one pulled hamstring. On the first play of the second half, I managed to pull the other hamstring as I ran down on defense. (I also got an interception on this play, if you simply must know.) Later, while attempting to dive for an opponent’s flag—I missed, obviously—I landed hard on my elbow.

Now this is embarrassment: I’m no standout athlete, but I’m a pretty active guy. I run almost every day. I lift once or twice a week. I shoot hoops when it’s nice out. I do yoga occasionally. I should be able to play a (friendly, relatively non-competitive) game of flag football without suffering three injuries. Midway through the second half I started to see my own mortality flash before my eyes: Is this what the rest of life is going to be like?

{Related: Expert Tips: How to Train to Prevent Injury}

I think the game showed me the importance of mixing up my exercise. I do the same runs all the time. I do the same lifts and take the same yoga classes and even walk the same routes around town. Even my pick-up basketball game is pretty lazy: Sit back and bomb threes, play loose D so you don’t get blown by. I need to do more types of exercise. I need to challenge myself more. Who knew I could learn so much about my own body from a simple game of flag football?

There is a happy ending to this story. I hadn’t done much in the game. My route-running was atrocious. My hamstrings were toast. My coverage was awful. But with the score tied at four touchdowns in the final minute, I went deep on post pattern and caught a pass for the winning touchdown. The fun lasted for about a second: I tried to spin the ball on the turf like an NFL player, but it just landed on the ground. I’d blown the celebration!

I ended up chest bumping my quarterback,’s Zack Seward, to save the TD celebration a bit. Seward did a good job quarterbacking our team, but I haven’t mentioned him until now because I’m a me-first prima donna like most of my favorite wide receivers in Eagles history (Terrell Owens, DeSean Jackson). My other teammates on our winning squad were Good Day’s Alex Holley and NBC 10’s Katy Zachry, who caught a majority of our team’s passes and as a deserved MVP.

I woke up the day after the game with two tight hamstrings and a throbbing elbow. It was worth it—I got to play a sport I love on an actual NFL field, and I learned a lesson about switching up my workouts. Now I just need to figure out what sport to try next.

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