The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

June 8, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Bulger: Use of pain medication common in NFL

MORGANTOWN — Former West Virginia University quarterback Marc Bulger put up some truly amazing numbers in an eight-year career in the NFL.

• He threw for 22,814 yards.

• He threw 122 touchdown passes.

• He broke approximately 20 bones.

• He suffered from four to nine concussions.

• He took more pain medicine than he would care to mention.

And, he said Friday as he returned to the WVU campus for coach Bob Huggins’ Basketball Fantasy Camp that he’d do it all again and would direct his boys – if he had any, being the father of two girls – toward playing football.

In the midst of a furor arising out of lawsuits over concussions and the widespread use of pain medicine to mask serious injuries in the NFL over the years, Bulger admits that the distribution of pain medicine was widespread and to playing with any number of what could be termed serious injuries, yet he finds no fault the NFL, the doctors or trainers.

“Everything that is going on right now is a little exaggerated, and if it isn’t exaggerated guys knew for the most part what they were getting into,” he said.

It was true, Bulger said, that pain pills were as much a part of the pre-game ritual as stretching, so much so that it could be said they replaced Wheaties as “The Breakfast of Champions.”

“We were just fed pain pills. You had to get them,” he said. “A lot of doctors didn’t want to prescribe them, but Toradol … the more you played in the league, the more you took it. I’d say a quarter, half the team took Toradol injections before games.”

That’s 20 to 30 players a game.

Why did they take the pills or injections.

“It got me through games,” he said.

Bulger admits he knows that it wasn’t good for him the long run and could leave him with a price to pay down the road.

“Yeah, I face consequences,” he said. “Hopefully, we learn from it.”

But a lawsuit, Bulger feels, isn’t the right approach to the problem.

“I don’t think retroactively going back and blaming team physicians and doctors is helpful. Let’s just learn from doctors,” he said.

Then he made something of a startling admission.

“I’d go back and do it again. It is what it is,” he said.

In fact, he thanks the NFL.

“For what the NFL did for me, I can’t thank them enough rather than accuse them of anything,” he said, explaining why he would go so far as to encourage is boys to play the game.

“The discipline, the work ethic … there is pain tolerance, but I think that’s a good thing. I think it prepares you for life more than any sport,” Bulger said. “Coach (Don) Nehlen used to talk about how team oriented it is.

“There’s risk with anything. There’s more hospital visits per year times four from cycling than there is from football, and I think women’s soccer is right up there. It’s going to happen if you play any sport long enough. It’s not for everyone; let’s say that.”

Looking back, it is amazing that Bulger could have had the career he had, first setting 20 passing records while throwing for 8,153 yards as Mountaineer.

He came to Morgantown as a string-bean 165-pound quarterback with back problems, yet held himself together at the school and through his pro career.

“I was fortunate. I broke probably over 20 bones … but not too many ligaments or surgeries. We’ll see in 10 years with my head. My wife tells me it’s already gone,” he jokes.

He says he had three or four diagnosed concussions, but they were as much a part of football as fumbles and interceptions.

“You probably really have 15 or 20 (concussions) over the years. I think it just affects everyone different. Some guys are more susceptible. I’ve seen guys get them on minor hits, and I’ve seen guys not get them on big hits,” he said. “Some guys come back quicker than others. I don’t think it’s a black-and-white issue on that.”

But overall, it was fulfilling career.

“It was a great experience. It gives my kids a better life. It was worth it,” he said. “I came in here thrilled to death I had a scholarship, 165 pounds, and I got 11 years in the NFL, went to a couple of Pro Bowls.”

He was, it appears, one of the lucky ones.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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