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Team Doc's Life No Bed of Roses


For those of you whose only image of the Rose Bowl is Wisconsin running back and Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne earning his third bowl game MVP, let me offer the perspective from the opposing team's physician. It may surprise you that a team doc's run for the Rose was not all glamour and prestige. Allow me to dispel some myths:

Myth #1. Teams bound for the Rose Bowl have earned a certain respect. Nice thought. ESPN's Lee Corso, with a chorus of other naysayers, opined that with Stanford's poor defense, it shouldn't even be in the Rose Bowl. "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno cautioned, "Don't you guys get cocky now! Don't start thinking you're going to be in the Rose Bowl every 28 years!" Very funny. Leno forgets that Stanford teams of years past didn't have the crack medical team they have now.

Myth #2. It's a vacation. Now, I'm not complaining—this is my job, and I love it. But between ordering MRIs, arranging tests, having a knee brace fitted and shipped in 24 hours ("Hello? Derotational Braces 'R' Us?"), attending practices, and holding daily clinic, it's not as though I spent a lot of hours cruising Rodeo Drive. Plus, I had to battle flak from my kids when team-related phone calls interfered with important TV watching. OK, maybe I am complaining.

I'll admit to a few perks. The trip to Disneyland, lunch at Universal Studios, and team dinner with a dignitary were very nice. But there is nothing to the rumor that I was seen nightclubbing with Shaquille O'Neal the night before the game.

Myth #3. The travel is exciting. Ever ride a bus through LA traffic? I could have sworn I saw Jessica Tandy overtake our bus twice. On foot. Transferring 150 players and staff to and from every practice is, in itself, a logistical joyride.

Myth #4. Southern California night life is amazing. Depends on how you define "amazing." The players had a 10:30 pm curfew. My wife didn't even let me stay out that late, and I was on call all the time anyway.

Myth #5. Team physicians deal only with musculoskeletal injuries. In the middle of an influenza epidemic, most aches and pains are systemic—and need instant intervention. Also, amazingly, team docs aren't immune. But handling that virulence is nothing compared with dealing with the questions from the press when a top player gets hurt.

Myth #6. Winning is everything. Nope. We're still here. In head coach Tyrone Willingham's words to the medical staff, "[Players'] health comes first; their future careers are more important than this single game—no matter how important the game is." The key point for the Stanford players, emphasized throughout the season, has been effort. That point will make as much sense next season as it did this.

Always, sport must be held in perspective. Sport is not life. It isn't even necessarily exercise, the type that promotes health. But it is fun—and an opportunity to strive toward a goal that was once thought to be beyond reach.

When the Cardinal and the Badgers were featured in a parade down Main Street USA at Disneyland before the big game, the Stanford students were giving high fives, laughing, and soaking up every moment.

That's really what sport is. For the team doc, it's a fun chance to participate and play a role in helping the team strive toward its goals. The Rose Bowl was no vacation, but it wasn't as tough as tackling Ron Dayne, either. It was a pleasure for me to stand in the background and enjoy the glory given the players and coaches in the "granddaddy of them all."

Gordon O. Matheson, MD, PhD

Congratulations to both teams, and to my team-physician colleagues.