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He's Holding the Line Against Football Injuries : Team Physician Is a Key Man in the Raider Lineup

October 23, 1986|URSULA VILS | Times Staff Writer

As an orthopedic surgeon and doctor to the Los Angeles Raiders, Dr. Robert Rosenfeld knows something about football injuries.

Including his own. Sustained on the sidelines.

"I was hit and broke a rib a couple of weeks ago," he said recently. "It was my fault. If you're on the sidelines it's up to you to get out of the way, but I was talking to somebody. . . .

"And in Miami a few years ago, there was a play on the 20-yard line. They hit me and I went flying through the air and dislocated my shoulder."

Rosenfeld sat in the office he has maintained in the heart of Beverly Hills since 1948. As in most doctors' offices, medical diplomas and professional commendations hang on one wall and the appropriate medical books fill shelves.

Football Mementos

But dominating the office, sizable desk and all, are football mementos in a glass case. Game balls and trophies cram its shelves, each award a story in itself. The most riveting is the pinnacle itself, a gleaming silver piece unmistakable to any true football fan: the Lombardi trophy signifying the national professional football championship, this one (a replica) for the 1983 season, which the Raiders capped with a 38-to-9 rout of the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII.

The wall back of Rosenfeld's desk--the one most likely to capture a visitor's attention--displays large photos of Raider action and a sidelines shot that is Rosenfeld's favorite. It shows Rosenfeld, by no means a small man, dwarfed between awesome Raider linemen Otis Sistrunk and Monte Johnson, both now retired. (It reminded Rosenfeld of a story: "I remember that in one roster, 'N.C.' was listed after Sistrunk's name," he said. "Everybody thought it stood for 'North Carolina.' What it meant was 'no college.' ")

Rosenfeld eyed the game balls and chose to mention two, both the gifts of USC players who went on to outstanding pro careers. (The doctor has maintained close ties to USC over the years, including serving as orthopedic consultant to the Trojan football team from 1976 to 1979.)

"One was given me by Willie Wood, who had hurt his shoulder," Rosenfeld said. "His chances of going to the pros depended on his performance in his last few USC games. I said he could play. All I did, really, was (decide) that I felt his shoulder wasn't that bad, that he could play."

Wood went on to an illustrious pro career with the Green Bay Packers. The second game ball was a gift from Clarence Davis, a Trojan who became a Raider rushing star.

"I had operated on Clarence's knee that season (1974) and my Christmas present, I told him, was that he could play in the AFC playoff against Miami," Rosenfeld said. "He beat the Dolphins when he caught a last-minute desperation pass from Kenny Stabler."

Despite his nearly 20 years with the Raiders, Rosenfeld insists he doesn't know football, which he compares to a game of chess.

He considers Al Davis, principal owner and chief executive officer of the Raiders, as well as the team's first coach, "a master chessman at this game."

He and Rosenfeld first met when Davis was an assistant coach with the Trojans in the 1950s.

"When he went to Oakland (as Raider coach), he started asking me to look at a couple of players from time to time," Rosenfeld said. "Before I knew it I was commuting up there almost every week for games."

Senior Orthopedic Surgeon

So, in 1968, Rosenfeld became orthopedic surgeon-team physician to the Raiders. Similarly his relationship with USC became a formal one in 1976 after John Robinson, a Raiders assistant coach (now Rams head coach), became head football coach of the Trojans.

Rosenfeld has headed the department of orthopedic surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he has been a senior orthopedic surgeon since 1948 and remains on the staff of several Los Angeles hospitals. Born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, he earned his MD degree from the University of Iowa, Iowa City, in 1938 and did post-graduate work at hospitals in Cleveland and Chicago.

If Al Davis knows football, Robert Rosenfeld knows what it can do to the human body. Yet even he often cannot tell if a play has resulted in an injury. Sometimes a seemingly normal hit can result in serious injury; at other times, the player gets up and goes back in the game after a tackle that looked like it would send him to the hospital.

"I saw it when Darryl Stingley of the New England Patriots got hit by Jack Tatum, our player," Rosenfeld said. "It was a clean hit. It looked like whiplash--and (Stingley) is a complete quadriplegic.

"We had a boy here, a rookie from Memphis State. He was hurt through spearing (thrusting a helmet into an opponent's body)--I hope high school coaches teach their players not to spear; it's so dangerous. We had the paramedics right on the field. He recovered almost completely, but it took three operations.

" . . . The irony was that he was due to be cut from the team the next day (after he was hurt) and he didn't know it."

Dreads the Phrase

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