ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — When the Buffalo Bills selected Notre Dame running back Greg Bell as their top pick in the 1984 draft, some Bill followers chuckled.
Sure, he showed great promise, but he played less than half of his senior season after breaking his right ankle in 1982, an injury that never healed.
The fans wanted an instant successor to the departed Joe Cribbs, who opted to play in the USFL, and didn't think Bell fit the bill--at least not with a cast on his right leg.
But the chuckles turned to smiles of approval during Bell's rookie season. Despite the team's dismal 2-14 record, Bell ran for 1,100 yards on 262 carries, ranking him fourth among American Conference backs and 12th overall in the NFL.
"The Bills told me from the start that there was no problem with the ankle, we'll get this cleared up in six weeks," Bell said as he prepares to report to the Bills training camp.
Bell attributes his success--and the fact his ankle didn't bother him once last season--to a non-surgical bone healing system that repairs fractures which have not responded to other treatment.
Bell underwent surgery when the injury initially occurred in 1982, and when Bills team physician Dr. Richard Weiss suggested using the EBI Bone Healing System, Bell agreed.
"At that point," Bell said, "I was willing to try anything that didn't put me on the surgeon's table again."
After a cast was placed on the ankle, Bell was required to connect the system to his cast and wear it for 10 hours a day. The system, using a pulsing electromagnetic field, conducts impulses to fracture sites through coils inbedded in the cast.
The system, painless and with an 80% success rate, promotes growth of the bone around an injury.
"The first week-and-a-half I lay around in a hotel room watching television," Bell said. "I was hooked up to the machine and praying so hard for it to work for me."
After three weeks of using the system, X-rays showed the bone in Bell's ankle was regenerating. He began an excercise program when the cast came off, and noticed he had no limp and no pain.
"I used it for six weeks and haven't used it since," Bell said of the bone healing system. "But, if something ever happened again, I'd probably use it. I sure wouldn't recommend surgery."
His ankle problems in the past, and one pro season under his belt, the 5-foot-10, 210-pound Bell looks for improvement during his second pro season.
"I could have been a little more successful last season," Bell said. "Now I get a chance to come back and improve."
Bell is also excited about the return of offensive line coach Jim Ringo, credited with building Buffalo's Electric Company offensive line in the 1970's that opened huge holes for O.J. Simpson.
"I'm excited that the 'Electric Man' is back," he said. "I know what I can do and am capable of doing.
"If I get the ball 20 times a game, I should have a 1,000-yard season."