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The Hurt Eases on Sundays : Injury Report Doesn't Tell the Whole Story

November 14, 1987|BILL PLASCHKE | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Terry Unrein, hand.

It really is his little finger. What happened was, the bone broke apart and broke the skin.

It takes 15 minutes to tape the finger. It takes about four plays for it to pop back out of joint again.

"Every fourth play," Unrein said. "It's always moving somewhere else."

It takes all night to forget about the pain. Immediately after a game, Unrein packs the finger in ice and keeps it there until the next morning.

"On Monday, I wake up in a puddle of water," he said.

But the Chargers are 7-1, and Sunday night against the Raiders, defensive end Terry Unrein plans to play.

Wes Chandler, shoulder and ankle.

It's really a separation of his right shoulder and an inflammation of the Achilles' tendon in his right foot.

The foot, he can take. Grit those teeth enough and you don't even walk funny.

The shoulder is different. It takes him five minutes to put on his shirt. It takes him 30 minutes to fall asleep.

He could be wearing a sofa on his right shoulder, but if his 188-pound body is hit by a 240-pound linebacker, it still feels like a traffic accident.

"A great deal of pain," he said quietly.

For a couple of days, he wore a sling, but he doesn't anymore. If your neighbor does this to his shoulder, he's wearing a sling until Christmas.

"But a sling is a wimp sign," he said.

The Chargers are headed for their first playoff spot in five seasons, and Sunday night, wide receiver Wes Chandler plans to play.

Is first place the miracle drug?

Center Don Macek will play Sunday on a knee that, when properly wrapped, might be confused for the football.

Linebacker Chip Banks will play with a shoulder that, in the outside world, would buy a week of sick time.

Nose tackle Mike Charles will play on an ankle that barely fits inside his high tops.

OK, so it has long been a basic tenet of the football profession, no different from tenets of other professions. Gas station attendants work on Christmas. Traffic cops work in the rain. Football players play hurt.

"After the first week of the season, nobody on any team is ever healthy again," said Mike Davis, Charger veteran safety. "No big deal."

But something unusual is going on with the Chargers. A peek inside all this midseason rah-rah reveals that they are playing with the big hurts. In trainer's room parlance, they are setting a team record for sucking it up.

In the Chargers' three straight victories since the strike, just one player has missed one game because of injury. It was Unrein, it was last week, and it was only because he had already played one game leaning on his broken hand and could no longer move it.

This week, the 3-5 Raiders have listed seven players on their league injury report. The 7-1 Chargers have listed one, Chandler, who is listed as probable and most likely will start.

Yet glance around the locker room. It is filled with as much ice and bandages and pain as ever.

Is it that body part known as guts? Chandler and Macek, for example, have played hurt for last-place teams, too.

Or is it winning? A good season traditionally clears out the trainer's room faster than somebody looking for a knee to drain.

Or is it both? And if so, which came first?

"There's a big psychological factor," safety Martin Bayless said. "On teams that are 2-6, those injured guys are packing it in, figuring, why go out and kill yourself?

"But the situation we're in. . . . We know how important every game is. It brings out the best in players."

Coach Al Saunders agrees.

"No question about it. You have success, guys play through injuries. Guys want to be part of a winning team."

Countered receiver coach Charlie Joiner, who played 18 years in some sort of pain: "It can also be more of an individual thing. Guys who play hurt will always play hurt."

Which brings up another question: What is hurt ?

"Nothing against the fans but their pain is not measured the same as our pain," Davis said.

Cornerback Gill Byrd's hands are so swollen that he cannot painlessly make a fist and will be unable to do so until sometime in early February. But that is not hurt.

"That is not anything," Byrd said. "Everybody has that."

Unrein does not consider his snapped finger hurt.

"It's nothing compared to, like, playing on a blown-out knee," said Unrein, who suffered through all of last season like that.

Banks does not even think his slightly separated shoulder is hurt.

"Sure, sometimes it hurts like hell," he said. "But you play, you don't feel it. Sunday, I'll be there."

That appears to be the only reasonable answer, the only miracle cure: Sunday.

"You feel nothing on Sunday," said Davis, who for the Raiders once played with a bruised thigh and three cracked ribs and a bad shoulder. "Everything else becomes so important, you don't feel the pain. During the middle of the week it hurts, it hurts until March. But not on Sunday."

Said Chandler: "Winning means to be able to (go all) out at all costs. You don't show the pain. You tell younger guys, 'I can get it done, so can you.' "

The younger guys have seen.

"Every game is so important, football season is not just football season to us," said James FitzPatrick, a second-year guard. "You got 16 shots at it, and you can't miss any of those shots, no matter what."

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