marcus-lattimore 1There is perhaps no better story in sports than that of Marcus Lattimore. And, of course, we’re submersing ourselves in it. Or, more to the point, we’re drowning in it — holding ourselves asunder, drinking in the against-all-odds-ness of it all.

But, lest we forget that it is Lattimore who’s laboring to rehab yet another major knee reconstruction. It must, for him, feel like a Sisyphean task. That is, he works tirelessly to reach the pinnacle of his athletic ability only to sip glory, while we get punch drunk with hope. It strikes me as odd, as well as kind of sad.

Our expectations for Lattimore have spilled over the flood plane, so to speak. We’re calling him the “steal” of the draft. And, he might be. We’re pointing to Willis McGahee, noting the similarities. We’re so attached to this “McGahee did it, so you can too!” narrative that some among us have started a petition to get McGahee to visit Lattimore (McGahee told Yahoo’s Jason Cole that he has no sympathy for Lattimore).

There is a key difference in the respective surgeries of McGahee and Lattimore, namely that Lattimore’s was a complete reconstruction. McGahee’s was not, which was likely a key reason for his full recovery.

According to Ed Garabedian, director of physical therapy at Miami’s Health South Doctors Hospital, McGahee’s PCL and MCL tears were located towards the end of the ligaments, which means they could be sutured back into normal position on the bone. You see, middle of the ligament tears, which Lattimore suffered, require grafting from foreign sites. These types of reconstructions are prone to problems, experts told the State University of New York at Buffalo. 

Still, for every McGahee, there is a KiJana Carter, a Terrell Davis, and of course a Robert Edwards. Once a promising running back, Edwards suffered torn ACL, MCL and PCLs, a partially torn LCL, a severed artery and a stretched nerve in a Pro Bowl flag football exhibition game in 1999.

Luckily for Lattimore, he suffered no artery or nerve damage. Still, Lattimore required the same reconstructive surgery as Edwards. It took Edwards three years before he fully recovered from his injury.

Yes, I realize that reports out of Lattimore’s camp are promising. But did you expect them to be otherwise?

Edwards never had much of career after his injury (unless you count the 20 carries he had for the Dolphins in 2002). Still, during his rehab, his doctors shared the same optimism as Lattimore’s. “Five or six months ago, I would have said he’d never come back. Then you see where he is now and there might be a realistic chance he could come back,” Ron Courson, director of sports medicine at Georgia, noted. “That’s the kind of person who can come back from such a significant injury.”

I’m not saying that Lattimore won’t return to football, to his former glory. I’m not even saying he won’t be lining up in the backfield sometime this year or next. I know the success rates for return on ACL, MCL, PCL, and LCL reconstruction are nearly 100%. What I am saying is we should scale the back the rhetoric. All this giddiness has us seeing double. Which is to say, we don’t see Lattimore; we see McGahee and Adrian Peterson instead.

In reality, it is too soon to know what problems may persist with Lattimore. Such problems as stiffness and laxity are not that uncommon, and they would rob Lattimore of explosiveness and ability to change direction quickly — two requisite abilities for running backs. What’s worse, they are effectively out of Lattimore’s control. No amount of rehab would fix the issues.

So, perhaps we ought to follow Jim Harbaugh’s advice for Lattimore and slow things down ourselves. Instead of focusing on what Lattimore might produce, marvel at the process he undertakes without hesistation. Which is to say, if Lattimore is a steal, let it be because of the character he’ll bring to the locker room, not the contribution he can bring on the field. Though he may someday be the next Frank Gore or Willis McGahee, appreciate that today he’s Marcus Lattimore.