By Ernie Palladino
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Injuries are part of life in the NFL. But every once in a while, one comes down the pike where you really, truly, have to feel sorry for the guy.
In a cynical town where "Fireman Ed" can grab an inside headline for declining to wave that silly hat of his, we should all show a little real feeling for Giants running back Andre Brown. It wasn't just that he ended his season with a broken fibula in their tremendous 38-10 win over the Packers on Sunday night. As we said, this is the NFL. Injuries happen, players get sidelined.
But for this gritty fellow, it didn't seem just. It was definitely not fair that the gods of football looked down after his 16-yard run in the fourth quarter and said, "OK, son. Your turn."
It happened in a season where Brown was fulfilling all the promise that prompted the Giants to make him their fourth-round pick in 2009. He seemed well on his way to a roster spot that year until Aug. 14, when he leapt in practice to corral an Andre Woodson throw.
When he came down, he immediately grabbed the back of his heel.
Torn Achilles tendon. Surgery. IR. Rookie season out the window, just like that.
Brown kept plugging, though. The Giants stuck with him, and Brown recovered enough to last until the Giants waived him on the final cut day of the 2010 training camp.
Thus began an odyssey from which few players ever see the end. Denver picked him up for its practice squad, then promoted him to the active roster when they waived Lance Ball. It was there, in 2010, where he had his only two previous NFL carries, for all of minus-1 yard against the Ravens. He was active for two other games, but only played in one on special teams.
Denver waived him in October of that year, and the Colts picked him up on Oct. 18. He played one game there, but failed to hit the stats sheet. They waived him on Nov. 9.
An uneventful seven-day career with the Panthers followed before he finished the season on the Redskins' active roster. Again, he amassed zero stats and was waived yet again on July 28, 2011.
The Giants picked him up on Aug. 3, and, save for a pro-forma waiving that allowed them to put him on the practice squad, Brown stuck this time.
Well, sort of.
He spent the entire Super Bowl season on the practice squad. But given his journey among six teams in four years, it certainly came as a welcome respite to be planted in one spot for a whole season.
Of course, Brown being Brown, the stay didn't go by without a bump. The league handed him a four-game suspension for violating its policy against performance-enhancing drugs last March, but he won an appeal and had the ban lifted.
And then came his big chance. Ahmad Bradshaw was knocked out of the second game against Tampa Bay with a neck injury. Brown stepped in and rushed for 71 yards on 13 carries (5.5 yards per carry) and a touchdown.
And he was on his way.
His first pro start came against Carolina the next week, and he responded with 113 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Since then, he'd been used as a combination change of pace/short-yardage back with great success, and had amassed eight rushing touchdowns, one in each of his last five games.
The kid had become a weapon. And then…crack! On the last carry of a team-high 64-yard night.
Rightfully, he was dejected in the locker room as he looked at the end of his season and undoubtedly another battle with rehab. Bones heal, for sure, and he'll be back next year. But this season could have solidified his spot on the Giants' roster. This could have proved to be his security blanket, or whatever goodwill equity a player with his history could collect.
Now, in next year's camp, he'll have to battle David Wilson, the injured Da'Rel Scott and probably whatever veteran back the front office brings in to replace him.
Unless the Giants give up on him -- a highly unlikely prospect given his 385 yards and eight touchdowns this year -- he'll likely be there, continuing to defy the football gods who have inexplicably conspired against him.
Brown has caught breaks his entire career, just not the right kind. If there's any justice in football, they'll start falling his way for good.
Do you see Brown coming back next season and being a factor for the G-Men, or was his 2012 season just a flash in the pan? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below...
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