Napoleon McCallum and the NFL’s Worst-Ever Knee Injury

Knee injuries are common in football. Typically, there are several players in the league each year that teams lose due to torn ACL or MCLs. It’s a difficult recovery, but it’s an injury that players can commonly come back from. Not so in the case of Napoleon McCallum. The former Navy and Los Angeles Raiders running back suffered what many believe to be the worst knee injury ever in a Monday Night Football game against the 49ers.

Before the Injury

McCallum was a star for the Navy Midshipmen, and still holds several school records including Navy’s all-time rushing mark. He seemed primed to have a solid NFL career, and was drafted by the L.A. Raiders in the fourth round of the 1986 draft. Although military commitments interfere with an athlete’s ability to play pro sports (Like in the case of NBA Hall-of-Famer David Robinson, also a Navy grad) McCallum was assigned to a home port near L.A., which allowed him to play the 1986 season. He was not so fortunate the next year though- the Navy reassigned him to a ship in the Indian Ocean, preventing him from playing until 1990.

The Injury

McCallum finally seemed poised for a breakout in 1994, after scoring three touchdowns in a Wild Card playoff victory over Denver the year before. However, when being tackled, Ken Norton’s entire body weight fell against the front of McCallum’s knee- folding his leg at a right angle in a way that is very hard to watch or even describe. He suffered tears of all his major knee ligaments, his calf and hamstring muscles were torn off the bone, and his nerves and arteries were damaged. At first, he thought it could be an injury he might one day recover from- until the doctor told him that his leg may have to be amputated.

His Recovery

Although he got to keep his leg, McCallum never played football again. Six surgeries and extensive physical therapy have allowed him to live a normal life- reportedly, he swims, runs, and plays sports, although he admits that he does so carefully. He now serves as a director of community development for a Las Vegas-area company.

This injury made it onto our worst sports injuries video database! Check out the rest of the entries here, and see how many you can get through without cringing!

Baxter and Walsh Physical Therapy has helped dozens of athletes recover from injuries of all kinds. Visit our contact page or call one of our two locations on Long Island to schedule an appointment with our physical therapists today.

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