Generally speaking, the long-snapper on a football only speaks to the media after something has gone terrible wrong, usually a mis-fire in the commission of his otherwise anonymous job. But in the case of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Aaron Crawford, an exception must be made: his remarkable story of recovery and perseverance is just too good.
He’s also got really high pain tolerance.
Crawford tore his ACL in a game against the Ottawa Reblacks on Oct. 27 last season, going down with just over five minutes remaining in the second quarter. But the muscles in his leg seized up to an extent that trainers were unable to tell the ligament was damaged.
So Crawford finished the game. On a torn ACL.
“I kept telling myself that I sprained that, that it wasn’t that serious. But yes, it hurt,” Crawford said. “At the time, I was annoyed that I looked like a hobbit running down field but I was happy that I wasn’t costing the team. I even got a tackle, too.”
There’s never a good time to suffer a serious injury but with Crawford set to become a free agent, getting hurt in the second-last game of the year, the playoffs already out of reach, was doubly devastating.
“I had moments of doubt in the early days. They were telling me I was ahead of schedule but walking around a room doesn’t really give you a sense of accomplishment,” he said. “I definitely had doubts that anyone would want me.”
Instead of going home to Medicine Hat, Alberta for the off-season, Crawford stayed in Hamilton to have reconstructive surgery – his meniscus was also torn – and did his rehab under the guidance of Ticats head athletic therapist Claire Toffelmire. His father came to help in the days and weeks after the surgery because he was the only member of the family strong enough to lift Crawford if things went wrong. Which, of course, they did.
“They tell you to let yourself fall instead of trying to steady yourself because you can put pressure on the joint,” Crawford said. “And I did have one fall – I was lying on my back like a turtle until my Dad came back into the room.”
Crawford also had some long distance support and inspiration from kicker Sergio Castillo who tore his ACL three weeks before Crawford. With Castillo back home in Texas, two kept in touch via Snapchat, sending photos of their progress back and forth – and Crawford did not want to lose to a kicker.
“He’d be sending me stuff three or four weeks in advance of where I was at, so I was always trying to do it faster than he was,” Crawford. “That helped, having somebody I was close to going through it at the same time.”
Still, it was tough. Crawford hit the free agent market in February and, as he feared, went unsigned despite five years of nearly flawless performance as a CFL long snapper. As soon as he was physically able, he took a job working part-time as a personal trainer in Mississauga while also keeping an arduous rehab schedule.
But despite his status as a free agent, the Ticats continued to allow Crawford access to their facility and their training staff.
“The organization showed me that my health was their No. 1 priority. They never promised me anything but they were committed to my recovery,” Crawford said. “They told me when I was healthy, they’d give me a shot and they were true to their word.”
After being signed to the practice roster on July, Crawford officially re-joined the club this week and will make his season debut on Saturday against, as karma would have it, the Redblacks. He’ll take the field nine months and two days after his injury, a remarkably quick recovery time.
“I wrote down my goals when I got hurt and being a part of the team was a big thing,” Crawford said. “But to be able to come out of the tunnel again, it’s huge.”
Now that’s something worth talking about.