Not In For Week One: A Blogger’s Journey Through ACL Surgery


Jan 6, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) is looked at by team trainers after being injured against the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth quarter of the NFC Wild Card playoff game at FedEx Field. The Seahawks won 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Michael McGraw is a writer and editor for Riggo’s Rag, a Redskins fan site. He recently underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL in his knee. He will be blogging about his recovery and talking about sports and RG3 along the way. It is actually kind of a selfish endeavor if you think about it, but just play along.

It started with a growth on the side of my right knee. I had just finished an April run and noticed that my knee was swollen, but only selectively on the side. It looked like a second knee cap was forming on the outer part of my leg. How long has that been there? The doctor was confused by the swelling as well: “It could be a cyst…or some fluid…or maybe a small tumor.” A knee tumor? He ordered an MRI to get a better visual. I waited a week to get the official diagnosis, time spent frantically calculating my chances of survival on the internet (not good was the consensus). When I returned to get the results from the doctor, he gave me the news that made me long for a knee full of tumors. I had a benign cyst but no ACL.

The news was surprising because I had torn that same ACL on two prior occasions. The first time was in 2002 playing tennis. My opponent lobbed a ball over my head after I came to the net (I was never very good at prolonged volleys). In attempting to jump for the ball, my ankle gave out and my knee shredded. The pain was so horrible I nearly blacked out. In 2006, I re-tore the same ACL playing a game of Capture the Flag in college. This fluke injury forced me to spend the next year carrying out the same conversation:

“How’d you tear your ACL? Are you a snowboarder?”

“No, I was playing Capture the Flag.”

“…You disgust me.”

However, with my current injury there was no obvious cause. No singular moment of agony. This time, my ligament just wore out over the years. In some ways, that will be harder to explain to others than the Capture the Flag fiasco.

Surgery was on Monday. It was a long and exhausting day at the hospital. Through all the reality-distorting drugs, only a few random memories have endured. My last moment of consciousness on the operating table involved nurses shaving my knees to prepare for surgery. There are few moments in my life in which I felt more vulnerable. I remember the intense bouts of nausea after waking up, and my attending nurse commenting on the pale color of my skin (but in a beautiful British accent). I recall my dad telling me the doctor had removed a large chunk of cartilage that was just floating around my knee. I hope I will forget that moment in time.

The days since the surgery have been long and painful. I’m not sure when the adidas RGIII “All-In For Week One” commercial was conceived, but it certainly did not come from Griffin laying in bed 48 hours after his operation. There is no way he was thinking anything other than “I wonder if I can use this dinner tray to saw off my leg somehow.” I know professional athletes have a different mentality than sports bloggers, but I have to think RG3 felt some vulnerability as well. He had to, right? He is rehabbing his second ACL surgery on the same knee; he had to at least consider whether he would ever fully recover. Maybe he had some of the same feverish, self-lamenting thoughts I did during my sleepless nights. How could this happen to me again? What is wrong with my body? Why didn’t I date more people in college? Is this what it feels like to be 30? Am I ever going to write the “Great American Novel” or will I give up on it like my ACL gave up on me?

Only three days out from surgery, I already feel physically and mentally exhausted. How can professional football players go through this every offseason? Not every injury is as invasive as an ACL tear, but many are far worse. How does Tim Hightower have the dedication to return to the field after almost two full seasons of rehabbing a knee injury? He’s younger than I am. My goals for recovery are not nearly as lofty: I want to be able to jog again without excruciating pain. More immediately, I want to be able to take this bandage off so I can scratch my (now) hairless knees. It’s clear I do not have a warrior mentality.