Goss: Clay Harbor plays with fractures in lower back
By Dick Goss email@example.com December 29, 2012 4:36PM
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Clay Harbor celebrates after a touchdown catch in the fourth quarter of a game against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 9. | AP photo
Updated: January 31, 2013 6:34AM
The NFL is nothing if not a violent existence.
We can feel the pain merely by watching from our living rooms. Imagine being out there on the field, a central figure in some of those nasty collisions.
On this day when the NFL regular season ends, when we learn whether the NFC playoff field will include the beloved Bears, let’s take a look at how fragile an NFL career can be, as seen through the eyes of Joliet-area players around the league.
We begin with our portrait in courage, Philadelphia Eagles tight end Clay Harbor (Dwight), who was a three-time NCAA Division I-AA All-American at Missouri State.
In his third season as backup to Brent Celek, the 6-foot-3, 252-pound Harbor had seen some action this season, though not in large doses. However, Celek missed the Dec. 13 game vs. Cincinnati because of a concussion suffered the previous week.
As the Eagles’ only healthy tight end, Harbor felt he had to carry the load.
Before the game, he was quoted, “You can’t really replace Brent Celek. It’s an opportunity for me to get on the field more and get more snaps and really build confidence in the coaching staff. I’m going to take it as a good opportunity to get out there and get some good playing time.”
Late in the second quarter, as luck would have it, Harbor was tackled by a trio of Bengals after catching a pass at the Cincinnati 1-yard line. He later learned the hit had fractured three bones in his lower back.
He was hurting, all right. He said he couldn’t do anything the way he wanted after the injury, but he gutted it out and played the entire second half.
The Eagles were 4-9 entering the game and wound up losing 34-13. But that didn’t matter. Harbor was playing first and foremost because his team needed him.
“I’m proud of Clay for what he did,” Celek told reporters.
After the diagnosis, Harbor was placed on injured reserve, meaning he would miss the final two games. He finished the season with 25 receptions for 186 yards, a 7.4 average, and a touchdown.
Our discussion of Harbor sparks thought of former Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Tony Pashos (Lockport).
Pashos suffered a ruptured tendon in his foot in the final preseason game of 2011. He played all season despite the injury, which required offseason surgery. After that, the Browns cut him because he failed the physical. That saved cap space.
Meanwhile, Pashos has worked hard to rehab — I hear from his good friend Jim Hall, the former Lockport baseball and assistant football coach, that he’s in the best shape of his life.
Pashos was hoping to catch on with an NFL team at some time this season, but it didn’t happen. Still, it will be quite a story if he can sign with a team and contribute next season.
Besides Harbor, other NFL players from our area also have been stung by the injury bug in 2012.
Indianapolis Colts rookie tight end Coby Fleener (Joliet Catholic) missed four games because of a shoulder injury. He has been back for the last four games and has managed one reception in each of those games.
Overall, Fleener has played in 11 games and has 25 catches for 280 yards and one touchdown. He is No. 1 on the depth chart at tight end and is headed to the playoffs with the Colts.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kyle Williams (Plainfield Central through his sophomore year, before moving to Arizona) had his season end Nov. 25 when he suffered a torn ACL during a game against New Orleans. He finished with 14 receptions for 212 yards and one touchdown. Included was a 57-yard reception against the Bears.
Williams also rushed for 21 yards on four carries, averaged 13.0 yards on four punt returns with six fair catches, and averaged 27.2 yards on 13 kickoff returns with a 94-yarder included.
San Diego Chargers rookie center David Molk (Lemont), although not starting yet, had appeared in 12 games before suffering a season-ending thumb injury Dec. 2 in a 20-13 loss to Cincinnati.
For other area players in the NFL, the news from an injury standpoint has been better.
Rob Ninkovich (Lincoln-Way Central, Joliet Junior College) has started all 15 games at left defensive end for the New England Patriots. He leads the team with eight sacks and has 57 tackles, including 32 solo.
Ninkovich also has a bit of Peanut Tillman in his makeup. Ninkovich has five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. The Patriots have forced six fumbles as a team.
Partially because of injuries to teammates, Kelvin Hayden (Joliet Junior College) has seen significant playing time in the secondary for the Bears. He has been in all 15 games and has 35 tackles, including 24 solo, returned an interception 39 yards and has recovered four fumbles.
Byron Stingily (Romeoville, Joliet Junior College) is the No. 1 backup at both offensive tackle positions for the Tennessee Titans. He has appeared in four games and made his first start last week against Green Bay.
Adam Gettis (Lincoln-Way East) is No. 2 on the depth chart at right guard for the Washington Redskins but has yet to see action.
Finally, we began by discussing Harbor’s injury suffered against the Bengals, whose defensive coordinator is Mike Zimmer (Lockport). Zimmer’s unit is sixth in the league in total defense, allowing 317.5 yards per game, and eighth in points allowed at 20.8 per game. It is a big reason the Bengals will be in the AFC playoff field.