Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms addressed the media on Thursday for the first time since undergoing emergency surgery to remove his spleen on Sept. 24 following the Bucs’ home game against the Carolina Panthers.
The 26-year-old Simms appeared in good spirits and went out of his way to thank his teammates, the team’s coaching staff and Buccaneer fans for their well wishes and support in what he referred to as an “unbelievable chain of events.”
Simms continually went out of his way to praise the efforts of team physician, Dr. Joe Diaco, whose early diagnosis of a spleen injury may have saved his life. It was Diaco’s call to have the ailing quarterback rushed by ambulance to St. Joseph’s Hospital following a post-game examination in the Bucs training room.
According to Simms, other physicians at St. Joseph’s Hospital were uncertain of the initial diagnosis, citing the fact that he had just played an entire football game, but a CAT scan confirmed internal bleeding, and surgery to remove the organ was ordered immediately.
“All [the doctors] said it was a great thing that Dr. Diaco caught it when he did because it was getting very close to being an extremely dangerous situation,” Simms said. “After the CAT scan, and I heard the urgency in the doctors’ voices. I knew there was something pretty wrong. I knew I was beat up at that point.”
It was the first time Simms had ever undergone surgery, and he said he was glad to go under the knife at that point because he was in extreme discomfort.
“Honestly, I couldn’t breathe and I was just excited for them to fix the problem,” Simms said.
In addition to the removal of his spleen, Simms had six bags of blood pumped into him to replace three pints of blood that he had lost. He didn’t fully regain consciousness until around 3:30 a.m. Monday.
Although the fourth-year quarterback couldn’t exactly pinpoint when or how the injury occurred, Simms felt the initial pain when he took a hit while throwing a pass away on the second series of the first quarter. Simms was hit from behind by Panthers tackle Kris Jenkins and from the front, underneath part the rib pads, by a linebacker he couldn’t identify. The pass sailed out of bounds toward the Carolina sideline, and although there’s no way to prove it, the hit Simms took on that play might have been the one that landed him in the emergency room and possibly on injured reserve.
The 2003 third-round draft pick from Texas described the feeling after the hit as being “unlike anything I’d ever felt before” and said he was in significant pain from that point on. Initially, he thought he may have just cracked a rib.
Simms was well enough to fire an 8-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Joey Galloway just before the end of the first half to cut the Panthers’ lead to 17-7. He also led two third-quarter touchdown drives, including a 2-yard run in which he took a vicious hit in the back. Some speculated that that hit was the one that caused Simms’ spleen to rupture, but the quarterback suggested he felt well enough to play, even after taking that shot in the end zone.
“Nothing at that point was alarming to me,” said Simms. “Nothing more than your usual soreness from a football game or a nice shot you took.”
On the Buccaneers’ final series of the third quarter, left guard Dan Buenning jumped offsides as wide receiver Mark Clayton went in motion. As the referee blew the whistle to stop play, Simms backed away from center and took a knee in obvious discomfort.
It was at that point that Simms started to feel “really, really bad” and knew something “wasn’t quite right.”
“As Clayton was going in motion I was blacking out,” Simms recalled. “We had a run play called to Cadillac [Williams] and I don’t know what would have happened if [Buenning] didn’t jump offsides and they blow the whistle.”
By taking a knee on the field, Simms was forced to leave the game for at least one play. He was replaced by rookie Bruce Gradkowski and escorted to the team locker room. After going through a brief examination by team doctors, Simms laid down for a few minutes and received an IV.
He returned to the field on the Bucs’ next series and later in the fourth quarter guided the offense down the field on an eight-play, 51-yard scoring drive, which culminated with Matt Bryant’s 28-yard field goal and a 24-23 Tampa Bay lead.
The lead was short lived as the Panthers responded with a final drive that ended with John Kasay’s 47-yard game-winning kick.
Simms said Thursday that it was during that final minute of the game, with Carolina driving, when he thought there might be some internal bleeding. His eyes felt hazy as he greeted Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme on field at the end of the game. He bypassed the Buccaneers locker room and went directly to the training room where he said he had difficult time breathing.
It was then Dr. Diaco called for the ambulance. Simms was conscious on the way to St. Joseph’s Hospital, but says everything was very “foggy.”
While some questioned and even criticized Dr. Diaco and Tampa Bay’s training staff for not diagnosing Simms’ spleen injury earlier, Simms was quick to credit the trainers for getting him the medical help he needed when they did.
“I think everything possible was done in my best interest,” Simms said. “Throughout the whole procedure I never felt like I was in danger.
“It was a tough position for Dr. Diaco because I kept telling him I was okay and I could play. It’s hard for an athlete to ever say we’re in danger because we think we can play through anything.”
With his future uncertain, Simms will take the next week or so to see how his body responds to surgery. He visited One Buc Place on Wednesday, but said he felt extremely tired after standing for a couple of hours. Chris also said his father Phil, a 15-year NFL veteran and CBS Football analyst, told him he was proud of him, and even called him a “tough S.O.B.”
Simms couldn’t eat solid food last week and was fed intravenously, which has caused him to lose approximately 10 pounds. Without his spleen, Simms will be more susceptible to infection and will have to receive vaccinations and a tetanus shot as a precaution.
As for his future with the Buccaneers and the NFL, that’s uncertain for now. Simms, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2007, said his desire to make a comeback remains high and his commitment to the organization is still strong. He even kept his sense of humor about the situation, saying, “at least I can’t hurt my spleen again, I’m glad about that”.
Simms praised his replacement, rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who will be making his first start on Sunday against New Orleans, as an intelligent quarterback who is loaded with talent. Simms has received help in a variety of different ways since rupturing his spleen. Now that he’s on the mend, Simms said Thursday he would do everything in his power to help Gradkowski lead the Bucs offense in his place.
In other injury-related news, Bucs tight end/long snapper Dave Moore (rib) was held out of Thursday’s practice. He is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Guard Davin Joseph (knee), cornerback Brian Kelly (toe) and linebacker Ryan Nece (knee) all practiced, but remain questionable.
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