It's happened before…Sept. 7, 2008. Opening day in Foxboro, Mass. A brand-new banner hung from the third deck of Gillette Stadium honoring the Patriots' perfect 16-0 regular season from the previous year. After coming up just short against the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, New England was primed to start another run for the Lombardi Trophy.
On the Patriots' 15th snap of the game, Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard was driven to the ground on a blitz and lunged at New England quarterback Tom Brady's legs. Brady's left knee buckled; he would miss the rest of the season because of a torn ACL and MCL.
March 15, 1998. A win over Michigan would send No. 6 seed UCLA to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year. Nine minutes into the first half, freshman guard Baron Davis, the assists and steals leader for the Bruins, came down awkwardly after a dunk and felt something pop in his knee. He returned to the game late in the second half but was clearly hobbled, playing just five minutes and going scoreless for the remainder of the Bruins' victory.
UCLA lost in the Elite Eight to Kentucky. Davis missed the game because of a torn ACL.
Sept. 26, 2009. Baylor quarterback and former Big 12 freshman of the year Robert Griffin III was making the third start of his sophomore season. During the game's opening drive, Griffin was tackled by Northwestern State's Gary Riggs, sending him limping to the sideline.
Griffin got his right leg wrapped and returned on the Bears' next offensive drive. He threw for 226 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, then watched the second half from the sideline as his team coasted to a blowout win.
An MRI after the game revealed Griffin had torn his ACL; he missed the rest of the 2009 season.
April 28, 2012. For the second straight season, the Chicago Bulls, led by reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose, earned the league's best regular-season record. After falling to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals last year, expectations were high heading into the postseason.
With the Bulls up 99-87 on the Sixers with less than two minutes play, Rose jump-stopped and rose up. Then he grabbed his left knee in agony and fell to the floor. A torn ACL will keep Rose out for the rest of the playoffs, the London Summer Olympics and the beginning of next season.
The dreaded ACL tear, an injury that can be crushing if only because of the length of time it takes to heal -- from 6 to 8 months. Just hours after Rose went down in Chicago, Knicks rookie Iman Shumpert fell victim to the same injury.
After several days of mourning, Chicago fans are starting to get over the shock of losing Rose for this season and have begun worrying about the long-term ramifications of the injury. Headlines scream "Will Derrick Rose Ever Be the Same?" and radio talking heads (myself included) are left to debate whether the world has seen the last of the explosive drives and violent dunks that made Rose so special.
As rocky as the waters may seem now, let's not give up on docking the boat just yet. Modern surgical methods have turned a formerly career-ending injury into one from which athletes can make a full recovery.
Brady returned for the 2009 season and has since led the Patriots to three straight AFC East titles. He was named Comeback Player of the Year in 2009, NFL Offensive Player of the Year and NFL MVP in 2010, and just last season he led the Pats to the Super Bowl.
During his sophomore season at UCLA, Davis averaged 15.9 points, 5.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 2.5 steals a game and was named an AP third-team All-American. He was selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the third overall pick in the draft and is currently playing in his 13th season in the NBA.
Griffin returned to the field for the 2010 season as a redshirt sophomore, racking up 4,145 total yards and 22 touchdowns. He led Baylor to its first bowl game since 1994 and was a semifinalist for both the Maxwell Award and the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. A Heisman Trophy-winning junior season led to Griffin being selected No. 2 overall in the NFL draft last week.
Now it's up to Derrick Rose to write his own happy ending.
The 23-year-old superstar is expected to return sometime next fall, after surgery and rehab. The time off should do his whole body good; he missed 27 of 66 games this season with various injuries including back, groin and ankle problems. The extra rest may actually leave him better equipped to succeed long-term than an offseason spent with Team USA. If there's a tiny sliver of a silver lining to this hulking dark cloud, that might be it.
The Bulls, the league and hoops fans everywhere have been robbed of the chance to see one of the game's up-and-coming stars play on the sport's biggest stage. The Bulls still have a chance to make a run this postseason, but only the most delusional of fans sees them winning it all without Rose.
As for their chances to win a title (or two, or three) down the road, Chicago fans have no choice but to be patient and hope for the best.
And if the success stories of Brady, Davis and Griffin aren't enough to at least temporarily lift some spirits, how about a few more? How about Jamal Lewis, Jerry Rice, Edgerrin James, Jamal Crawford, Willis McGahee, Braylon Edwards, Wes Welker, Frank Gore, Al Jefferson and Tony Allen, just to name a few?