Harvin may not be soft, but brittle history is eerily familiar

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.comJuly 31, 2013 

Upon hearing the news Tuesday that Percy Harvin will undergo surgery to repair his injured hip, it occurred to me how the Seahawks receiver/slot back shares much in common with another Seattle pro athlete.

Remember Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez? Remember the graceful ball hawker Dave Niehaus nicknamed “Death to Flying Things,” a Gold Glove defender who complemented his skill set with a decent bat capable of surprising power?

Remember that guy? The Mariners thought so much of Gutierrez three years ago, they signed him to a contract extension worth almost $20 million in guaranteed money.

Gutierrez has been limited to 18 games in 2013, his third consecutive injury-plagued season. Over the 430 games the Mariners have played since the start of the 2011 season, Gutierrez has missed 279 of them.

The litany of the aches and pains Gutierrez has suffered is longer (and more depressing) than “Atlas Shrugged.”

The short list: a strained oblique, a partially torn pectoral, a concussion and a strained hamstring, along with a seriously persistent digestive disorder.

Gutierrez never has been accused of using any of these ailments as a crutch to malinger. Then again, why would he invent a crutch when two of them are usually in his hands?

While Harvin’s recent injury history is not as extensive, it should be pointed out that, at 25, he’s younger than the 30-year old Gutierrez, and participates in a

sport where collisions are quite more frequent than an occasional encounter with a padded wall.

Harvin wasn’t a particularly happy camper with the Vikings, but nobody questioned his work ethic. If he sat out, it wasn’t because he was a pain in the neck. It was because he had a pain in the neck.

NFL injury reports listed Harvin as “questionable” for seven games during his rookie season of 2009, when he dealt with migraine headaches and a sore shoulder.

In 2010, he was a “questionable” four times and a “probable” another three. Ailments involved a hip, a hamstring, an ankle, and the headaches.

The trend continued in 2011: Four “questionable” and three “probable” for the headaches, ribs and a finger.

Harvin’s health issues last season were limited to a slightly tweaked hamstring and a severely sprained ankle, which sidelined him for the final seven games.

Despite the banged-up body, Harvin started 43 of a possible 64 games for the Vikings, sustaining a trend of playing hurt that dated back to high school and a stellar career at the University of Florida.

Harvin’s last hurrah with the Gators quelled any questions about his heart. With the national championship for the 2008 season at stake in the BCS title game against Oklahoma, the junior rushed nine times for 122 yards, and caught five passes for an additional 49 yards, accumulating those gaudy numbers on a bad ankle later revealed as a hairline fracture of the lower right leg.

Harvin’s 2008 season turned once he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his heel – an injury, doctors determined, responsible for a variety of other injuries he’d suffered since high school. Among them: Achilles tendinitis, knee tendinitis, a hip flexor, and hamstring and quad pulls.

Pete Carroll and John Schneider were familiar with Harvin’s medical file – more accurately, his medical file volumes, likely delivered to Seahawks headquarters in a truck – and they still signed the dynamic play-maker to a contract assuring him a minimum of $25.5 million.

They did this because, as football insiders, they concluded Harvin is a gamer. (Definition of gamer: A dude who leads his team to the national championship by rolling up 171 total yards on a broken leg.)

There’s no reason to believe Harvin’s $25.5 million jackpot turned him soft. He’ll give the Seahawks everything he’s got, once he’s able to give the Seahawks whatever he can.

That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that Percy Harvin, like Franklin Gutierrez, appears prone to the tough breaks (and strains, sprains, pulls and tears) that stifles the potential of superior athletes.

Harvin has a hip problem that wasn’t curable by a faith healer, or praying to St. Jude. Surgery was one option, playing through the 2013 season in a state of perpetual trepidation is another. Harvin chose surgery, which means he won’t take the field until December, if he takes it at all.

Schneider was braced for the decision.

“We’re prepared either way,” the Seahawks general manager told Sirius XM Radio on Monday. “We’re going to put our arms around him and help him out.”

That the Seahawks are behind Harvin is encouraging. Instead of stewing about the possibility a $25.5 million investment has gone wrong, the organization is embracing its star-crossed star.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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