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ONE TEAM, 25 YEARS ON
PETER KING
December 12, 2011
In a first-ever comprehensive survey of football's long-term effects on an entire NFL roster, SI polled the former members of the 1986 Bengals, whose physical and psychological conditions a quarter century later range from near complete normalcy to near total disability. But no matter their current hardships, the vast majority say they have no regrets
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December 12, 2011

One Team, 25 Years On

In a first-ever comprehensive survey of football's long-term effects on an entire NFL roster, SI polled the former members of the 1986 Bengals, whose physical and psychological conditions a quarter century later range from near complete normalcy to near total disability. But no matter their current hardships, the vast majority say they have no regrets

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"The turf was like concrete, maybe a thin pad on concrete," says Muñoz, who played 13 seasons at Riverfront. "You jump in the shower after a big win against Pittsburgh or Cleveland, and you feel like you've been through the wringer. Not only are you sore, you feel like someone has taken sandpaper across your body and taken a few layers of skin off. You had to get over the initial shock of the water hitting your body.

"You try to describe to people what you felt like after a game, and it's hard to explain. You put your feet on the ground, you stood up, and you tried to figure out which part of your body was going to need the most attention. Now at 53 I feel it in the morning, and I'm going to feel it in the middle of the day. I'm going to feel it Monday; I'm going to feel it Wednesday; I'm going to feel it every day. I see a lot of guys who are younger who have total knee or total hip replacements. I'm just thankful I'm still up and walking and able to move around."

Guard Max Montoya, 55, played 223 NFL games. "My body is like a 70-year-old guy's now," he says. "I'm deteriorating. I can really feel it in my knees, and my neck hurts all the time. Some days you feel good, and doggone, some days you feel like you've just been in a wreck."

Linebacker Joe Kelly, a rookie on that 1986 team, went on to play 11 years in the league. "Compared to some of my teammates, I feel blessed," Kelly says. "But compared to another 46-year-old man.... If you put me in an MRI machine, you're going to read that I'm probably 65. My back went out, and my physician said, 'Do you know you have arthritis in your spine?' I was like, No. The joints, the knees, the elbows—everything is not in great shape compared to the normal 46-year-old guy."

Kiki DeAyala, 50, a linebacker and special-teamer, played just two NFL seasons but has had his left knee replaced and feels beat-up daily from six football-related surgeries. "Obviously getting a knee replacement at 49 is probably not normal," he says. "It's a real quality of life issue. That took away my ability to play tennis, water-ski, snow ski, do some of the things that I really like to do. Basketball? Forget it."

"Every morning when I get up," says offensive lineman David Douglas, a 1986 rookie who played for five NFL seasons, "I want to put oil cans in all these little places before I get going."

One of the most gruesome NFL tableaux of the '80s was when Cincinnati nosetackle Tim Krumrie suffered a triple fracture of his left leg during Super Bowl XXIII in January 1989. Krumrie, a 10th-round pick in '83, played six more seasons after the injury, for a total of 12. He sounds like he wishes he could have played 12 more. "I still have numbness on the top of my foot," says Krumrie, 51, who's been an NFL and UFL assistant coach since retiring. "I still have numbness on the outside. I can't kneel down on one knee because the way they braced the leg in the healing process put pressure on that patellar tendon. To kneel down to pick up something, I always have to kneel down on my right leg. It's stuff you live with."

And yet....

"If I could have the same career but had to break the other leg, I'd do it again today. It wouldn't make a difference. I've been out now 16 years, and I still dream football. Something psychologically in there still wants me to play."

More are hurting than not, for sure. But then there's Esiason (page 80), who never had a surgery in 14 NFL seasons and hasn't had one since. He plays hockey three times a week in a Long Island men's league. Kreider, who finished his eight-year career in '86, says, "I may have gotten more injuries playing soccer." Horton spent a decade with two artificial-turf teams, Cincinnati and Dallas, and he plays golf when he can get out of the Cardinals' coaching offices. "Every day is a beautiful day," he says. "Nothing hurts when I wake up in the morning."

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