FRISCO — Cowboys defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford heard a cracking noise just before pain shot down his back as he rushed the quarterback 10 days ago against Tampa Bay.
Crawford fell to the ground and didn’t get up, worried if he could. He began to feel better once he realized he could move his fingers and toes.
It’s one of the greatest fears of football players, suffering a neck or back injury that could possibly end their career or leave them in some state of paralysis.
Cowboys doctors and athletic trainers rushed to his side after he was injured on the second play of the Dec. 23 game against the Buccaneers. His teammates walked onto the field — with 92,000-plus fans in almost dead silence — and watched as they carefully placed Crawford on a backboard and lifted him onto a cart. Soon afterward he was placed in an ambulance and transported to a hospital for a series of tests to determine if he had suffered any serious damage.
The tests came back negative, and doctors concluded that Crawford had suffered a stinger. He didn’t practice last week and was inactive for the first time all season Sunday in the regular-season finale at the Giants.
But Tuesday — as the Cowboys began their preparation for their playoff opener Saturday night against Seattle — Crawford returned to practice and was a limited participant. He practiced with a neck roll to help protect him more from contact and plans to play in the wild-card playoff against the Seahawks.
Crawford spoke to the media for the first time Tuesday since his scare at AT&T Stadium.
“I’ve been getting stingers for a while,” Crawford said. “That one was just painful initially, and I’d never felt anything like it and heard a little bit of a crack so they had to take precaution.
“Usually I just feel some shock down my arm into my fingers and stuff, but this one went down my back and I felt a lot of pain in my upper back, so that was the difference. And I heard a crack.”
Crawford wasn’t the only one to hear the crack. He said Tampa Bay center Ryan Jensen also heard the noise.
“The center said, ‘Are you alright?'” Crawford said. “I was like, ‘OK, he heard it, too.’ Now I’m lying on the ground and I was scared to try to move my fingers and my legs.”
Crawford said he’s still not sure what the cracking noise was that he heard.
“That was probably just my neck cracking,” Crawford said. “I’ve been adjusted before [by a chiropractor] and it felt like that times two. It sounded like that. Just my neck cracking I guess. I don’t know.”
Once Crawford realized he could move while on the field he asked longtime head athletic trainer Jim Maurer why they needed to place him on a backboard. Maurer told him it was precaution.
“They told me in the ambulance where things can happen,” Crawford said. “People don’t think they broke their neck, and as soon as they turn it a little bit, they have so much torque they can break it on the spot.”
Crawford’s family was at the game. He said once he realized he could move he told them to just stay at the game. But his wife and mother insisted on riding in the ambulance with him to the hospital.
Crawford said he tried to stay still and not move his neck out of precaution before his tests. But once he completed his MRIs and other scans and was in a hospital room he said he could hear the game on the TV.
“They’re like, ‘Oh, we’re just going to keep it on loud so you can hear it,’ and I was like, ‘No, can you turn me to the side?'” Crawford said. “They turned me to the side, and I finally got vision of the TV and [defensive tackle] Maliek [Collins] gets the sack and I was like, ‘Ahhh, let’s go!'”
The Cowboys went on to beat the Buccaneers, 27-20, and clinch the NFC East title. Afterward, they passed out championship hats and shirts in the locker room as Crawford was arriving back at his house. Crawford, however, was able to soak in some of the celebration because he made a Facetime call with his fellow defensive linemen just after the victory. He told defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence to be sure to bring him one of the championship hats.
Lawrence arrived at Crawford’s home later that night to bring him some of the things he had left in his locker, including his cell phone.
Crawford said he had 311 text messages on his phone when he checked it. He said he tried to reply to as many of them as he could, but on Tuesday still had 129 left on his cell phone.
Crawford has been an essential part of the Cowboys’ defensive line all year because of his versatility. He’s played end and tackle, willing to move wherever needed. He finished the regular season with 33 tackles and third on the team in both sacks (51/2) and quarterback pressures (25).
Crawford tested out his neck roll and his stinger injury Tuesday in practice by going up against a Cowboys offensive lineman.
“Obviously you’re going to feel it still on every hit,” Crawford said. “But it was way better than I what I thought it was going to be. I plan on it getting to feeling real good and feeling back to normal once game time comes. I’m good now.”
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