Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Getting a Grip on Injuries

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Getting a Grip on Injuries

Article excerpt

MIAMI -- Trace Armstrong describes his hands as if he were mapping a hole at a golf course.

"This finger has a nice dogleg in it," says the Dolphins' defensive end. A decade of violent grabbing, pulling and general hand-to-hand combat in the NFL has gnarled his hands to a semi-grotesque state.

Armstrong, 33, smiles at his occupational hazard. Because players pray they'll walk away from football without a limp, a couple of ugly fingers are acceptable.

From wide receivers to linemen, many players, past and present, have them. The type of injury varies with the position, but the mangled digits generally share one thing in common: a gross and painful tale.

"Everybody has something happen to their fingers," former Dolphins tight end Joe Rose says. "Jams, sprains, something."

That's what limits the NFL players in their life after football. "Well, I guess I won't be a concert pianist," Armstrong jokes.

Billy Joel or Vladimir Horowitz, he won't be. Aside from the right forefinger with the aforementioned dogleg, Armstrong's left pinky can't extend for the bass notes. Years ago, the extensor tendon in the pinky was damaged. Armstrong can't straighten the finger.

Former Dolphins defensive end Kim Bokamper has a simpler desire: He'd just like to be able to grab his change at the store.

"The coins go right through," says Bokamper, who played for the Dolphins from 1977 to 1985. He extends his left hand and tries to put his fingers together. There is an unbridgeable gap between the middle finger and ring finger.

The ring finger shoots off at approximately a 45-degree angle, and a bulbous formation around the second knuckle of the finger helps make the gap. It looks as if Bokamper is permanently giving a Vulcan greeting sign.

"For defensive linemen, grabbing is the most important thing you can do," Bokamper says. A defensive lineman must be able to shed a blocker quickly, either by throwing the blocker out of the way or by using quick hands to prevent the offensive lineman from grabbing hold first.

Grabbing has its drop-offs, though.

"One time I was just grabbing for anything, and one of my fingers got caught in the earhole of a guy's helmet," Bokamper says. …

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