Growing up in Northern Kentucky in the 1950s, I began “living and dying” with the Cincinnati Reds when I was in the third grade.
The play-by-play “Voice of the Reds” back then was Waite Hoyt, a retired Hall of Fame pitcher who had been a vital teammate of Ruth, Gehrig and the rest of Murderer’s Row and, for a decade, the Yankee dynasty’s most dominant arm.
Whenever a base runner, lest he be thrown out at the plate, thought twice about trying to score from third base on an outfield fly that wasn’t quite deep enough, or from second on a hard-hit single right at a charging fielder, Waite would tell Reds fans with a chuckle:
“Discretion was the better part of valor on that one.”
I was reminded of Waite’s words when the Broncos announced that Russell Wilson would not dress for last Sunday’s game against the equally woeful Arizona Cardinals, even though he appeared able to play.
“He looked great out there,” ESPN’s Jeff Legwold reported head coach Nathaniel Hackett saying after practice last Friday.
“He’s been great. He’s been in meetings. He’s passed all the concussion protocol.”
And, Legwold also reported, Wilson himself said he wanted to play, telling others he was feeling “great all week.”
Discretion, indeed, was the better part of valor after Wilson suffered a concussion while attempting to scramble for a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs the previous Sunday, an ugly welt on the side of his forehead visible on TV.
“We decided to give him another week . . .” Hackett was quoted by Legwold, who covered the Broncos for the Rocky Mountain News before the paper closed in 2009.
“ . . .We, as an organization, after talking and discussing for this entire week, have decided it’s best for our organization, best for Russell.”
That makes it sound as if Wilson’s health, now and years from now, was the foremost concern. And well it may have been, as Hackett insisted it was.
Beyond the concern for his long-term well-being, though, there were other practical considerations that should be noted.
Protecting the club’s investment no doubt was a factor.
The Broncos signed Wilson to a five-year, $245 million contract extension after acquiring him from Seattle in what appears more and more to have been a lopsided trade in the Seahawks’ favor.
It’s even worse if repeated concussions force him to retire anytime soon.
But the bigger issue transcends Denver’s beloved football team.
Remember Junior Seau? Dave Duerson? Or, most recently, Tua Tagovailoa?
Seau and Duerson, both stars, are among the former NFL players who were determined to have suffered chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the result of concussions during their playing days, after they committed suicide.
Tagovailoa, currently the starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, became a cause celebre earlier this season when he was knocked silly during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals and the mishandling of his obvious difficulties led to in-season revisions of the league concussion protocol.
Concussions are the National Football League’s biggest headache. They have been for decades.
The NFL is facing thousands of lawsuits filed by former players concerning the inadequacy of concussion treatment and prevention. And member clubs could be on the hook, too.
Naturally, going forward, teams are taking an uber-cautious approach with players who leave games with concussions. Discretion IS the better part of valor.
It’s also a fact that the Broncos’ season is already lost. So, why risk the future as if the playoffs were hanging in the balance?
With a fit-looking Wilson watching from the sideline last Sunday, the Broncos won their fourth game of the season, 24-15, and thus tied Arizona record-wise at 4-10.
Latavius Murray, who was on the New Orleans Saints practice squad earlier this year, became the first Denver running back to rush for more than 100 yards in a game in 2022 (130 to be exact), and Wilson’s understudy, Brett Rypien, completed 21 of 26 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown.
Jeff Legwold quoted Rypien, in his news story last week.
“Obviously, we want to take care of him,” Rypien said. “That’s your franchise quarterback. That’s a guy everybody cares about in this building.
“I know Russ probably doesn’t like it; he wants to be out there whenever he can. But you’ve got to think safety first.”
Not to mention the possibility of future litigation.
Waite Hoyt had it right.
Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 14 books, eight of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at firstname.lastname@example.org.