'It was horribly grotesque': Teddy Bridgewater's doctor discusses severity of knee injury

There’s been a lot of talk about the severity of the left knee injury Teddy Bridgewater suffered in the waning days of the 2016 preseason; we’ve heard that there was a brief fear that Bridgewater faced amputation.

Bridgewater suffered a dislocated knee and torn ACL, and needed multiple surgeries and an extensive rehabilitation.

The doctor who operated on Bridgewater, Dr. Dan Cooper, spoke to ESPN’s Ian O’Connor, with Bridgewater’s permission, and gave a glimpse of how truly bad the injury was, and how impressive it is that Bridgewater is back on the field.

‘It was just horribly grotestque’

Cooper, a Dallas-based orthopedic surgeon who is also the Cowboys’ team physician, cut open Bridgewater’s leg on Sept. 8, 2016, nine days after the non-contact injury occurred during a Minnesota Vikings practice drill, immediately ending the practice.

“It was just a horribly grotesque injury,” Cooper said. “It’s mangled. You make the skin incision, and there’s nothing there. It’s almost like a war wound. Everything is blown.”

Bridgewater was in Cooper’s hands thanks to Bill Parcells. Parcells, a mentor of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and former Cowboys coach, told Cooper that Bridgewater was one of the greatest kids he’d ever met.

Bridgewater had been taken off the practice field that awful day in the back of an ambulance. Thankfully, he hadn’t suffered arterial or nerve damage, which could have led to amputation.

But that didn’t mean it wasn’t significant, as Cooper attests.

“It’s certainly the worst knee dislocation in sports I’ve seen without having a nerve or vessel injury. It’s an injury that about 20-25 percent of NFL players are able to come back from,” Cooper said. “It’s a horrific injury. You’ve torn every single thing in your knee and it’s hanging on by one ligament on one side like a hinge.”

The first surgery took four-and-a-half hours. Cooper reconstructed the anterior cruciate ligament, then on the lateral, or outside, of the knee, he had to repair five ligaments. Bridgewater’s own hamstring tendon was used in the lateral reconstruction.

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Teddy Bridgewater through his career
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Teddy Bridgewater through his career
May 8, 2014; New York, NY, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell introduces quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville) as the thirty second overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings during the 2014 NFL draft at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 8, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) passes before the game against the Oakland Raiders at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 28, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) celebrates a touchdown with wide receiver Greg Jennings (15) during the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 19, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) throws a pass during the first half against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 21, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) is tackled by Miami Dolphins middle linebacker Jason Trusnik (93) during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins won 37-35. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 29, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) calls a play in the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports / Reuters Picture Supplied by Action Images (TAGS: Sport American Football NFL) *** Local Caption *** 2015-08-29T233625Z_600304888_NOCID_RTRMADP_3_NFL-PRESEASON-MINNESOTA-VIKINGS-AT-DALLAS-COWBOYS.JPG
Nov 1, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) throws the ball against the Chicago Bears during the first quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 20, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) rushes for a touchdown in the first half against the Detroit Lions at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 10, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (left) greets running back Adrian Peterson prior to the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 29, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) rolls out of the pocket against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half at the Georgia Dome. The Vikings defeated the Falcons 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports / Reuters Picture Supplied by Action Images (TAGS: Sport American Football NFL) *** Local Caption *** 2015-11-29T223236Z_998194092_NOCID_RTRMADP_3_NFL-MINNESOTA-VIKINGS-AT-ATLANTA-FALCONS.JPG
Jan 10, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) throws a pass against the Seattle Seahawks in the first quarter in a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 10, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) warms up before a NFC Wild Card playoff football game against the Seattle Seahawks at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 10, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) stands next to a heater in the first half of a NFC Wild Card playoff football game against the Seattle Seahawks at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 23: Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the Minnesota Vikings leaves the field following a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on December 23, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Vikings won the gme 16-0. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
FLORHAM PARK, NJ - JUNE 12: Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the New York Jets addresses the media before the start of mandatory minicamp on June 12, 2018 at The Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park, New Jersey. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 16: Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the New York Jets in action against the Washington Redskins during a preseason game at FedExField on August 16, 2018 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
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‘I never saw it break Teddy down’

But Cooper’s work was effectively done after that first surgery (there was a second surgery eight weeks later, needed to treat stiffness, that lasted about an hour); then it was on Bridgewater to take on the gargantuan task of rehabbing.

“This surgery was an absolute gut test, a test of what you’re made of, and I’ve seen it break people down,” Cooper said. “I never saw it break Teddy down. … Most people have no idea the volume of the workload this kid had to put in. He had a toothpick of a leg he had to rebuild.”

In a statement not long after his injury, Bridgewater said he comes from “amazing DNA,” noting that his mother, Rose Murphy, had fought and beat breast cancer, and that he intended to attack his rehab “with the same vigor and energy.”

Over the following months, updates came in drips – a grainy video Bridgewater posted about seven months after his injury, throwing to a faceless receiver, the familiar bulky black brace worn by all ACL patients visible; Zimmer and Vikings’ general manager Rick Spielman offering positive words about Bridgewater’s frame of mind.

He began training camp in 2017 on the physically unable to perform list, and remained there once the regular season began. Then, on October 16 of last year, Cooper gave him the green light to return to practice. On November 12, he was in uniform, overwhelmed with emotion, even though he didn’t get to play.

Bridgewater played in one game, on December 17 against the Bears.

Because of his injury, the Vikings didn’t pick up the fifth-year option on Bridgewater’s rookie contract, and he became a free agent earlier this year. The Jets signed him to a one-year, $5 million contract.

May not be with the Jets for long

Bridgewater has played so well that New York will very likely trade him to a quarterback-needy team; the Jets have first-round pick Sam Darnold as their future, and Josh McCown as a $10 million backup/teacher.

“He’s never shown me that he was injured,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. Bridgewater hasn’t been held out of any drills, and is just grateful he’s playing football again.

In the Jets’ second preseason game, against Washington, Bridgewater was 10-for-15 for 127 yards and a touchdown; he also said he took some hits, for his own benefit.

“It just showed me that, ‘Hey, you’re good’,” he said.

The rumor mill is fired up, with questions about which teams could or should try to get Bridgewater. Given what one of the country’s most experienced knee specialists saw when he cut into Bridgewater a little less than two years ago, it’s incredible the quarterback isn’t just back, but thriving.

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