For the better part of a decade, Keith Bulluck had something to say.
Reporters couldn’t wait to write it down. Television cameras rushed to roll on it. Fans hung on almost every word.
Whether it had to do with the most specific moment of a game, a big-picture trend in the National Football League or the sports world in general, Bulluck had thoughts on the subject and was willing to share. He never feared honesty. He never worried what the reaction might be.
The one exception was injuries.
Ask him at any point over the past decade about a Tennessee Titans teammate who was on the mend and about the struggles that teammate faced — physically and/or mentally — and Bulluck suddenly tripped over his words, if he even attempted any.
It wasn’t that he was unsympathetic. It was that he had no perspective.
Bulluck was a guy who never got hurt. Not with the Titans (he missed one game in his first nine seasons in the NFL). Not with Syracuse University. Not in high school.
Injuries were something about which he never had to think. And it was clear he chose not to think about such things.
Then, late last season, it happened. A play ended and Bulluck didn’t get up. He needed to be helped from the field and eventually made his way onto a surgeon’s table for a
reconstructive procedure on his knee.
Because his contract with the Titans expired at the end of the season, he is left to deal with this most unexpected development in relative solitude. No team will sign him when he’s damaged goods, and the length of rehabilitation from serious knee surgery means Bulluck must wait and work.
For some reason, the whole thing creates an image of a Rocky movie — Bulluck alone in a dark, rustic basement willing himself to get better the way he once willed himself through the trying circumstances of his childhood.
For Titans fans, this sort of thing is becoming all too familiar. Perhaps it’s just the nature of the sport, maybe it’s bad luck or something in between, but the most popular and productive players all seem to limp into memory.
Eddie George hobbled off to Dallas briefly and then was gone.
Jevon Kearse came back to Tennessee missing a couple of the gears that once separated him from the rest. Just like that, he wasn’t even good enough to be in the lineup; now he’s off the roster.
Bruce Matthews was the only one who got a proper sendoff. He knew when his time was up. So did his teammates and the fans. Everyone took the opportunity to appreciate his final days and weeks on the field.
The opportunity exists for the Titans to do the same with Bulluck.
The harsh reality is that he likely never will be the player he was, but that doesn’t mean he can’t play for the same team.
In this season without a salary cap, a franchise has the luxury of being able to do something for its fans. In this case, Tennessee can afford to bring back Bulluck as a role player or a backup, even though someone of his age and experience ought to command slightly more in the way of a salary.
It won’t mean someone else has to be cut. It won’t eliminate the possibility of future moves. All it will do is provide Bulluck with the opportunity to say “thank you” to those who have cheered him.