Twenty straight completed passes is certainly an impressive streak. Twenty straight completed passes by a quarterback with a fractured scapula on his throwing shoulder is truly stunning.
Few injuries in recent memory have generated more interest in the Palmetto State than the injured shoulder of South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, who was briefly knocked out of USC’s season opener against Vanderbilt when a defender drove his helmet into Shaw’s shoulder blade. He also suffered a second injury to that shoulder as he lunged for the end zone.
Early reports claimed that Shaw suffered a bone bruise in his throwing shoulder but no damage to the joint itself. USC coach Steve Spurrier said Shaw’s pain might keep him off the field. “It’s just painful for him,” he said. “And he has trouble lifting his arm right now so it’s pretty hard to play quarterback.”
After sitting out of his team’s win over East Carolina, Shaw returned against UAB. Once again, he left the game holding his arm at his side after he took another blow to his throwing shoulder.
After the game, Shaw himself acknowledged the true nature of his shoulder damage. Shaw suffered a “crack” in his shoulder blade in that opening win against Vanderbilt. He aggravated that injury in the UAB game. Spurrier claimed that Shaw suffered “no extra fracture” with the second injury.
Whether or not it was only a “crack,” a scapular fracture is a tough injury. Football fans rarely hear about these injuries because they rarely occur in sports. It requires a tremendous amount of force to fracture the body of the scapula (the blade portion of the shoulder bone). Orthopaedic surgeons typically only see these fractures in trauma situations, such as motor vehicle accidents.
As with Shaw, scapular body fractures almost never require surgery. Unless there are coexisting injuries in the shoulder, which he apparently didn’t have, they can be treated with time to allow the bone to heal.
In addition to severe bone pain, use of the arm is difficult because so many of the muscles that control the shoulder and arm attach to the scapula. It is remarkable that Shaww could perform so well.
And USC fans know how well Shaw performed last week. After an initial overthrow, Shaw picked apart an overmatched Missouri defense, completing his final 20 passes despite that scapula fracture.
I can’t imagine how much pain Shaw experienced with every blow to his shoulder and every time he hit the ground. Taking a helmet to that scapula might feel like an electric shock shooting through his shoulder and arm. Even Spurrier had that concern. Before the UAB game, he reportedly asked his QB, “If you get hit on that (spot), are you going to be hurting?” Shaw apparently told his coach, “No, I’m going to be all right.”
Darryl Slater asked Spurrier earlier this week if Shaw would wear extra padding to protect his shoulder blade. “Not that I know of. I didn’t seem him wearing any extra padding. It’s a small fracture that doctors say takes time to completely heal, but if he happened to get bonked on it, it may hurt a little bit right then, but he can’t hurt it any worse.”
Barring further injury, Shaw’s shoulder will become an afterthought. Fans will remember his streak and focus on the Gamecocks’ quest for the SEC title. Not me. I’ll remember him fighting through pain to play at all.
For more information about college football injuries and other sports medicine topics, please go to Dr. Geier’s blog at drdavidgeier.com.