The NFL has several awards that it hands out on a weekly, monthly and annual basis, ranging from Players of the Week to the Pro Bowl teams to the league MVP. Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin won the 2010 Ed Block Courage Award, given to a player from each team that faces adversity and overcomes the roadblocks thrown in front of him.
Griffin suffered his second torn anterior cruciate ligament in 10 months when he went down against the Jets in October. After going through a grueling process to rehabilitate in his injured left knee, in which he tore his ACL in the NFC Championship Game at New Orleans, Griffin finds himself in the same predicament again, this time rehabbing his right knee.
While Griffin admitted the Ed Block Courage Award isn’t something he wanted to win, because it means he has been injured and had to overcome adversity, he was humbled to be selected by his teammates.
“I didn't want to win it, but at the same time it's an honorable award and I'm going to accept it,” Griffin said. “I thank my teammates and all the support they've been giving me and just encouraging me. I know all the players who got nominated from other teams are going to accept this award and be gracious.”
Griffin said his latest knee injury has been harder to handle because it happened during the season – the first time in his football career dating back to high school that he ever missed any significant time due to injury. However, he said the experience he gained from going through the rehab process this spring and summer has prepared him for what he will be going through in the coming weeks and months.
“It helps a whole lot, Griffin said. “This last year was my first time (being seriously injured), so I took it a little tougher. I was a little more resentful towards some things. But this year, it went a lot smoother because I know what happened, how I have to rehab and what I need to get back. I know all of that now. That's why I'm doing a little better.”
Griffin said the process of getting to know his body’s limitations was an eye-opening experience. When asked what he learned about himself and his body during the rebuilding of strength in his knee from the injury against the Saints, Griffin said the process is just as much mental as it is physical.
“(I learned to) just stay encouraged, because everyone
wants to talk about the knee, everyone wants to talk about, 'Are you going
to be able to come back?'” Griffin said. “It's a long process and (you) don't get down on yourself. I'm just going to stay positive the whole time and I'm going run with it.”
Griffin had a much different attitude toward the first injury suffered in the NFC title game. While covering a kickoff, Griffin knew immediately what had happened to his knee and lay in agony on the field, launching his helmet about 20 yards in the moments after he went down. He said it was an emotional response – a visceral realization that his football future might be in question. However, he said that the immediate flood of emotions subsided quickly.
“I was frustrated,” Griffin said of the initial knee injury. “I had some resentment. I was mad. I was angry at people. It cleared up once I got in the locker room. I realized what I was doing and how I was acting. That's just not who I am. This one was nothing like that. When I hurt it, I knew I tore my ACL. I was like, 'Let's just get my rehab going.'”
One of the advantages Griffin had during his rehab process last winter and spring was that he had teammate E.J. Henderson alongside him. Henderson, who was the Ed Block Courage Award last year after coming back from dislocated toes and then suffering a gruesome break to his leg that had many immediately believing his career might be over, served as motivation for Griffin. With a metal rod inserted in his leg to stabilize his injury, Henderson was a monster in attacking his rehab process. Griffin said he intends to have that same sort of fire and desire when it comes to returning from his latest injury setback.
“Me and E.J. had a good time last year rehabbing and training,” Griffin said. “E.J.'s the ultimate competitor and I consider myself in that same sense. We did a lot of drills together, competed on the field and it was an honor
to see him get back on the field and play at a high level. That's what
I'm hoping to do as well.”
Griffin said he was thankful that neither injury was more serious than they were – both were straight ACL tears and didn’t involve the medial collateral ligament or the lateral collateral ligament, which could have spelled doom for his young NFL career.
One of the aspects that have made his recovery process a little easier to tolerate has been the genuine concern of so many of his teammates. Many of them have been forced to endure similar recovery processes and Griffin said they have been there consistently for him, providing motivation and support for their fallen comrade.
“This is a team and this is a family atmosphere, so it's like one of their kids or one of their brothers going down,” Griffin said. “I thank those guys for thinking of me in this way and always giving me encouragement and always staying positive. I do the same for them.”
Griffin said he is well into his rehab and, given that the injury happened almost three months earlier in the season – mid-October this year as opposed to late January last season – and that, while he isn’t setting any timetables, he expects to be at full strength when (or if) training camp opens at the end of July.
“I'm two months and three weeks out (since the surgery),” Griffin said. “I'm back in the weight room doing leg lifts and in the pool running. I'm a little ahead of schedule from last year. … The process has been going really well for me. I'm in the next stage of running on the turf with a brace. That will probably be next week.”
Griffin said he has been aggressive in trying to get to the next stage of his recovery. Having the experience of what worked and what didn’t in his last rehab stint and knowing when to push the process and when to tap the brakes and dial it back has made the last couple of months a lot smoother than it was in March and April when everything was foreign to him.
“The whole process has been easier,” Griffin said. “Everything I've been
doing has been a step ahead of where I was on my left one. The process is
easier just because I know what I can do and what I can't do. I can trust
myself more. The first time I was a little timid doing some things. This
time I'm kind of full speed ahead.”
Griffin said it hasn’t been easy to watch his teammates and not be part of the game-day experience, but said that he isn’t isolated or removed from his teammates. They still spend a lot of time together with their families and he still feels like a full-fledged member of the team despite being on injured reserve.
He also dismissed the notion that he came back too soon from the last injury, which many speculated would keep him out until November or possibly be placed on I.R. before he had a chance to get back on the field. The Vikings took precautions to address that potential, signing Lito Sheppard in free agency and using their first selection in the 2010 draft to take CB Chris Cook. While the team had a backup plan in place, Griffin said he doesn’t believe coming back too soon from his last knee injury played a role this time around.
“I don't look at it that way,” Griffin said. “I don't have a negative thought train or anything like that. I don't think like that at all. I just think that it happened. Whatever it was, it's meant to be.”
There are sure to be concerns about the return of a cornerback with two surgically repaired knees, but Griffin said he has no concerns that he might not be the same player he was pre-injury. Asked if he thinks he can return to his old form, he wasn’t shy about making lofty expectations.
“No question,” Griffin said. “It's all about how you work. That's life man.
If you get fired from a job, then you can go to another job and be successful. It's the same way as injuries. It depends on how hard you work. I'm a hard worker, I'm a competitor. I won't let anyone discourage me or tell me that I can't do something. That's how I've been my whole life.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.