Mike Harden, a former Denver Broncos defensive back for nine years, sat in his home office and laughed as he reflected on his playing career.
“I had to be a little bit crazy to play football in the first place,” he chuckled.
He’s now paying a steep price for his no-holds-barred style of hitting and physical play.
The once fleet defensive back who had 38 career interceptions over 11 years in the NFL now walks with two crutches — even for short distances — as a result of neck and back injuries from his playing days.
“I’m not going to complain. There’s people who have more stress and pain than I do,” said Harden, as he relaxed at his home in southeast Aurora. “There are times when you feel like I have given so much to the game, was it worth it? Sure, I would do it again, absolutely.”
But he says knowing what he knows now, he would do some things differently. He says while he would take the same career path, he would get second opinions on his injuries and take more time to heal before jumping back into the lineup.
Harden says the game took a significant toll on his body. He says he underwent seven surgeries following his playing career to address back and neck issues that impacted his mobility.
“I have my good days and my bad days,” said Harden.
His playing career ended nearly 25 years ago, but he can still feel the hits, especially the ones that he believes contributed to his permanent injuries. He remembers playing the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1980s and suffering after a devastating collision.
“It was a goal-line play. The fullback went into the hole and I met him head-on. The hit felt like a compression. I felt like I was on fire,” said Harden. “I was laying there and couldn’t move for a few seconds.”
He said he went back in the game for the next defensive series.
Given a “do-over,” he would do that differently, seeking more consultation on his injuries before jumping back into the fray, and allowing his body more time to heal. That just didn’t happen during his playing days, which ended in 1990.
He says at 64 years old, his short-term memory is lacking and he believes he suffered nine or 10 undiagnosed concussions since players and teams didn’t pay much attention to them back then.
“There are times I walk into a room and can’t remember why I went in the room,” he said. “I’ve gotten to a place I can’t remember numbers at times.”
He says there are times when he will see someone who he sees on a regular basis, but he can’t immediately remember their name.
“I refuse to be that person that’s going to sit around and feel sorry for myself. I stay active… and get out there and go for it,” he said.
Harden says he still works out regularly, riding a stationary bike at a gym and lifting weights.
He plays golf on occasion and regularly sees old teammates like Dennis Smith, whom he visited recently in California. He works three days a week as an addiction counselor and says despite his physical issues.
“I refuse to be a victim. I refuse to sit around and feel sorry for myself. I’m going to keep on getting up every day doing what I do until the end comes … like I said I feel blessed. I have no complaints, I feel blessed.”
Source: Rocky Mountain News
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