FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — One look at Teddy Bridgewater’s knee told the story. His life had irrevocably changed.
It was August 30, 2016 and Bridgewater, the starting quarterback for the Vikings, had crumpled to the ground at the start of practice without being touched. Around him, teammates were recoiling and screaming in horror at what they’d seen. Bridgewater remembers feeling scared. But he also remembers feeling something else entirely.
“As gruesome as it may have seemed, I feel like I did a great job of remaining poised,” Bridgewater said Tuesday before the Jets’ first minicamp practice. “There were guys throwing helmets, guys on knees, and I didn’t cry, I didn’t worry, I just knew that it was in God’s hands. So I think I was impressed with the way I kept my faith.”
That faith has carried Bridgewater back to the highest level of professional football. Tuesday, nearly 22 months after that devastating day, Bridgewater continued to build on his impressive spring. He looked comfortable scrambling in the pocket. He zipped passes into tight windows. He encouraged his teammates. And when training camp starts next month, he’ll have a legitimate shot to win the Jets’ starting quarterback job.
Faith can be a powerful thing.
Bridgewater’s left knee bent so unnaturally, at such a grotesque angle, that months later his teammates cringed when they thought about it. They refused to talk about what they saw.
One moment, Bridgewater was a 23-year-old with a promising future. And then he dropped back, tripped awkwardly and damaged his leg so extensively that doctors later worried about amputation.
“That’s probably one of the worst injuries I’ve seen since the LT-Theismann injury,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said Tuesday, to the iconic 1985 Monday Night Football injury that became an iconic example of how brutal football can be.
“I can’t even imagine,” Bowles said. “Having not been injured like that, I can’t even relate to someone having [been] injured like that. But just knowing Teddy’s personality and the drive he has, [his comeback] doesn’t surprise me.”
Bridgewater, 25, takes pride in his fighting spirit. And he has no doubt where he got it from: his mother, Rose Murphy, who beat breast cancer when Bridgewater was a teenager.
“It’s in my DNA,” Bridgewater said. “My mom, with her situation, battling breast cancer and defeating that. I just feel like that’s something she instilled in me and I’m glad that I have that trait.”
When Bridgwater’s mother was battling cancer, she remained relentlessly upbeat.
“She would always say, ‘There’s someone out there who’s situation is way worse than mine,” Bridgewater said. “So I cant be down. And plus, the cancer feeds off negativity, so I have to be positive.’”
The moments after his injury were chaotic and terrifying. But Bridgewater was able to stay calm, and put things into perspective, because he thought of his mother.
“It was scary, but at the end of the day, I was still breathing,” Bridgewater said. “So that was my biggest takeaway from it. … That was the first thing that came to my mind. Like, ‘Man, I don’t know what just happened, but I know there’s someone out there maybe going through something worse than I am, so I just have to keep my faith and believe that everything is going to be alright.’”
Bridgewater continued to impress Tuesday, as he practices with a brace over the knee and a sleeve over his leg. But there are still many checkpoints to pass before he can return to the level he once occupied. Until Bridgewater starts taking hits, no one can know for sure how his surgically repaired knee will hold up.
Surely Bridgewater welcomes the challenges in front of him. But he won’t publicly project what the future may hold. And he refuses to talk about the status of of his leg.
But after all Bridgewater has overcome to get back to this point, it would be silly to count him out.
Last November, Bridgewater offered a hint of how difficult and remarkable his journey back has been. It was just before kickoff for his first game after he’d been medically cleared to play for the Vikings, and Bridgewater sat on the sideline, buried his head in a towel, and started to cry.
“This game means a lot to me,” Bridgewater said. “I’ve been playing football since I was five years old and it brought tears to my eyes because it showed me that you’re never out of it. You’re never out of the fight. And there were dark days throughout my rehab process. When you’re rehabbing, the light seems so far at the end of the tunnel. But to be able to see that light and make it to the light, which is being active and standing on that sideline with my gear on, it kind of hit me a little.
“And I joked around with my agent, my advisor, I told them, ‘Man, I’m a tough guy, I won’t cry.’ But reality set in and it was truly a blessing, to be back out there and continue to live your dream. … Usually, when you have a dream and you wake up, and you go back to sleep, you don’t pick up that same dream. And for me, I was fortunate enough to go to sleep, wake up and go back to sleep and pick up my dream right where it left off. So I’m just blessed to be in this position. Those tears were tears of joy.”