Hard Knocks for Anthony Lucas

By MICKEY SPAGNOLA
DallasCowboys.com Columnist
August 11, 2002

SAN ANTONIO - There is a reason NFL Films and HBO came up with the name
"Hard Knocks" for their reality TV six-week documentary of NFL training
camps.

Sunday, in the most innocent of one-on-one drills here in the Alamodome,
without any contact whatsoever, the "hardest" of knocks you'll ever
witness - and hear - during training camp struck down Cowboys wide
receiver Anthony Lucas.

He fractured his right patella. Again. He's done for the season. Again.

Most certainly, he's done for his career.

The only thing harder to take than watching a good young man like Lucas go down again when simply planting his right foot to make a cut and being
close enough to hear that kneecap crack, was watching the 25-year-old receiver burying his tears and audible sobs in his hands as he was carted
off the field head down as most of the 8,000 people in the Alamodome did their best to lift his crestfallen spirits.

"It's real, real tough," said Lucas after returning from being X-rayed and comprehending his career is over. "Just not meant for me. The Lord has a better plan for me.

"Things happen. You can't question them."

Such cruel, real life interrupting a young man's dream of playing
football, one which began way back in tiny Tallulah, La., and grew
immeasurably at the University of Arkansas when he turned out to be Clint
Stoerner's favorite receiver. One that was first interrupted at Green Bay
his rookie year with anterior cruciate ligament surgery, yet revitalized
last fall with the Cowboys when he nearly was promoted to the 53-man
roster at mid-season only to have that dream shattered again right along
with his kneecap.

"He's had some of the hardest luck of anybody we've ever had," Cowboys
owner Jerry Jones said after a practice that went lifeless the minute word
spread of Lucas' injury. "For players, probably the toughest thing they
have to deal with is the mental disappointment of being injured. They have
strived, they have hopes. You couldn't play this game if you hadn't just
dreamed at night of getting on the field and making the play.

"And then when an injury comes, it's without a doubt the toughest mental
game that you see players have to go through."

And for Lucas, make that go through again.

That is what choked up this team. Lucas worked so hard in the off-season
to recover from last year's fractured patella. The guys on the team knew.
He was there every day working to get back this season. And he never
outwardly let anyone know of his pain, still the polite cordial kid he had
been since he found out last fall after Green Bay had cut him and was
driving with his parents back to Louisiana that the Cowboys had picked up
his rights.

Remember the story of his mother so innocently telling him on the drive
back from Wisconsin to get on the phone and call Stoerner so his former
University of Arkansas quarterback could hook him up with the Cowboys, or
at least throw some passes to him in hopes of the Cowboys watching,
without even knowing they already had claimed his rights.

He nearly had made it, too, until coming down on his right foot in a
midweek practice, having his kneecap give way.

"I'll be back," he would say bravely when you saw him in the locker room
at Valley Ranch, always a smile beaming on his face.

And he was nearly back, trainers and doctors releasing him for practice
when the Cowboys began training camp here more than two weeks ago. Now he
was a long shot to make this team, especially after the Cowboys drafted
Antonio Bryant in the second round and with the recent play of Reggie
Swinton, Ken-Yon Rambo and Randal Williams.

But that didn't matter to Lucas. He was still trying, despite still having
two screws and a wire retainer in his knee that had facilitated the
healing. And that didn't matter to his teammates either. He still was one
of them.

The very magnitude of this injury stopped practice dead in its tracks.
Head coach Dave Campo came running over as trainers and doctors helped him
into a cart. Jones, with a hand behind the young man's head, pulled Lucas'
teary face against his, offering some encouraging words and genuine
affection in a sport that usually offers none.

And when the rest of the offense found out of what took place, veteran
running back Emmitt Smith, right in the middle of practice, halted the
activity, calling a team meeting in the middle of the field to offer up a
prayer to the young man. Guys were down on one knee, heads bowed.

"Emmitt did it on his own," Campo said.

For the cynics out there, this wasn't about "Hard Knocks" cameras rolling.
This was not fake emotion. When catching Campo as he walked off the field
following practice, with not a camera rolling, he struggled to even
comment on the injury.

"It's too bad - hard to even talk about it," said Campo, for one of the
few times leery of making eye contact with tears in the starting blocks.
"He's such a great kid."

You could feel his pain.

It was as if anything he has said earlier in the day, giving his
evaluation of Friday night's 20-6 victory over the Raiders, had been
rendered insignificant. All the talk of his young receivers, offensive
tackle Char-ron Dorsey, center Andre Gurode, cornerback Jason Bell, the
offense and converting on third downs.

Who cared?

"Luke's been through a lot of things in the last couple of years, and he
probably has worked harder than anybody in the off-season," veteran safety
Darren Woodson said. "It's just sad to see him go through that again."

Unfortunately for Lucas, originally a fourth-round draft choice of Green
Bay in 2000, there will be no more "again." Judging from early comments
and what doctors have said, this will be the end of his football career.
He will need to rehab his knee now just for himself, to make sure he can
have normal use of that right leg the rest of his life.

Lucas will soon be moved to injured reserve, clearing a roster spot. But
as cold as this seems, he still will cost the Cowboys $145,000 of cap
money, the bottom end of the split contract for a second-year player
landing on IR.

But at the time, even Jones could not be bothered with the finances of the
game.

"So much of the pain, to see all he had gone through to get back on the
field," Jones said, "and then see it evaporate in a minute. Everybody was
just sick. Shaking their heads.

"Everyone knew initially it was over for his career."

Lucas suffering his last "hard knock" in this game of football.