Who shall it be now?
For all its flaws, this season's NFL is rife with inspiring and unprecedented comeback stories. Who, though, will earn “Comeback Player of the Year” honors?
If there was such an honor for a team, it would go to the Colts and head coach Chuck Pagano, back on the sidelines this week after being sidelined in early October with acute myeloid leukemia.
Back then, it was obvious his season was over – and possibly his life. Yet, here he is coaching a playoff bound, 11-5 team that was 2-14 a year ago.
That league-worst squad labored through 2011 without its future-Hall-of-Fame starting quarterback. What's as remarkable as the head coach's comeback is the fact that the Colts' turnaround has not been with Peyton Manning but with rookie signal caller Andrew Luck.
More remarkable, however, has been the performance by Manning with a new team. After missing last season while he recovered from a neck injury -- and four subsequent surgeries -- which should have ended his career, Manning has had a 12th Pro Bowl season. In the process, he has led the Broncos to an ongoing 11-game winning streak and the top play-off seed in the AFC.
In any other season, he would be a hands-down choice for Comeback Player of the Year.
But this has not been any other season.
Another Pro Bowl selection plays running back for a team which would be runner-up for Comeback Team of the Year. A year ago, the Minnesota Vikings finished 3-13. On Christmas Eve 2011, their star running back, Adrian Peterson, tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee. Yet 37 weeks later, there he was on opening day in the starting line-up.
Over the course of his first six games, his performance was pretty pedestrian, exceeding 100 yards once. What he has done since then has defied description. Over the course of the nine games prior to Sunday's, he exceeded 100 yards every time but once. Going into Sunday, he was only 102 yards from becoming just the seventh player in league history to rush for 2,000 yards. He achieved that early in the third quarter against Green Bay but came up nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson's 28-year-old, single-season rushing recording.
Even so, recovering from his injury quicker and subject to more of a weekly beating than Manning, Peterson should get the comeback award. I'm sure winning a fifth MVP award will be consolation enough for the Bronco.
Meanwhile, the Bulls and and Derrick Rose should be very encouraged. If they had followed the Vikings' and Peterson's timetable, he would be coming back right now. Instead, they are wisely tracing a more conservative course – partly because they have time that the Vikings and Peterson didn't.
In the last week or so, Rose has started participation in the non-contact portions of practice.
Having reached that milestone, playing in games is attainable in the next 4-6 weeks. While less than half of ACL victims ever return to their previous level of performance, that statistic doesn't seem to apply to superstars like Peterson – which Rose is.
John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.