Moment of Glory: Packers' John Michels now treats others who suffered the way he did
John Michels knows that he's the answer to a quiz question and one that doesn't shine a light on his NFL career.
In the 1996 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers were shocked to find that a University of Miami linebacker they loved was a few picks from their 27th pick. When the Philadelphia Eagles picked offensive lineman Jermane Mayberry 25 from Texas A&M Kingsville, Packers GM Ron Wolf picked up the phone.
Wolf called Ray Lewis, the apple of his design eye. A dream situation developed for Green Bay.
The Packers had Lewis as the top-rated linebacker in the draft, even ahead of Kevin Hardy, number 2 overall. Lewis had character issues that came from Miami, but the Packers thought Lewis was a rare talent whose problems would not pose a problem for a Green Bay veteran defense led by Reggie White and LeRoy Butler.
But the Packers were down when the Baltimore Ravens snapped up a choice in their first year of existence. Green Bay had to turn - quickly. Wolf chose Michels, the USC offensive player who replaced Tony Boselli with a strong senior season instead.
Wolf's disappointment at Lewis' loss was hard to hide. But he and the Packers thought Michels was a good prospect, one who would replace 12-year-old veteran Ken Ruettgers in the left duel.
Injuries derailed John Michels' NFL career, but he helped the Green Bay Packers win a Super Bowl in the 1996 season. (Paul Rosales / Yahoo Sports)
The plan fell apart. Injuries have derailed Michels' NFL career despite a promising start during her Super Bowl run as a rookie.
"That was Ron Wolf's biggest regret," Michels recently said to Yahoo Sports with a laugh. Michels has retained his sense of humor, although his career as a player was much shorter than expected, along with the cruel label "Bust", which fans use almost everywhere.
Since then, Michel has gone through rounds of operations and severe, painful rehabs that have outlasted his football career. He even attempted service before starting a medical career 20 years later.
In many ways, Michels, who became a pain medic, not only led him to heal many others who suffered from physical pain - as he did for many years - but also helped to reduce his own shortened NFL Look at careers from the right perspective.
"There are people who suffer from pain that prevent them from doing the things they want to do," said Michels. "That was the case with me and I didn't want anyone else to suffer this way."
From Trojan backup to selection in the first round
Michels came to USC as a defensive end and supported Willie McGinest for two years. When Tony Boselli, the outstanding left attacker of the Trojans, was injured in 1994, Michels' coaches switched to the offensive line. McGinest was ranked fourth overall in the 1994 draft, and Boselli was number 2 overall the following year.
Michels said his time as a second cast for two legends had served him well.
"These two guys taught me how to compete," said Michels. "[They said] you can't just do your job. You have to go outside and dominate your opponent. Block your guy 10 meters down on the field. Don't let go. Demoralize your opponent."
When Michels Arizonas Tedy Bruschi, who later became Pac-10 defensive player of the year and NCAA co-leader of all time at 52, the NFL scouts watched intently. At almost 6-foot-7, Michel's textbook length - even though it was light at 280 pounds - had excellent athleticism.
"Tedy was so highly regarded and a great player," said Michels. "So that I could go to Arizona and keep him at bay, people asked," Who is this guy who replaced Boselli? "
After strong performances at the Senior Bowl and the NFL scouting combine, Michels switched from a "maybe second or third round player" to a potential prospect for the late first round.
"Then it sank," he said. "I was a little shocked, how ... could that actually happen?"
After former teammates Pat Harlow (1991) and Boselli (1995), Michels was the last in a long line of USC offensive lines in the first round. The man Michels was ultimately supposed to replace, Ruettgers, was a top-class Trojan 11 years earlier.
"The plan was to learn from this great veteran because I knew I had only one year of starting experience," said Michels. "But it didn't really go that way ... for Ken or me."
John Michels did not start Super Bowl XXXI, but was able to celebrate victory with his Packers teammates. (Reuters)
Thrown into the starting grid of the Super Bowl team
Ruettgers 'degenerative knee worked in the training camp and the Packers' best plans fell apart. They had an offensive led by Brett Favre, which finished sixth in the league in 1995 and looked even better in 1996. But when Ruettgers couldn't play in the pre-season, Michels was thrown into the fire for a Super Bowl contender.
Michels started the pre-season from Green Bay and was on the right track to tackle the first week. But ankle and back injuries in the third pre-season game brought him back and he gave the vet Gary Brown space in the third year. After Favre was sacked seven times against the Minnesota Vikings in week four, head coach Mike Holmgren replaced a now healthy Michels for him.
His first start was in Seattle against a Seahawks defense that has had eleven sacks in the last three games. At the end of the season, the Seahawks would take second place in bag percentage, led by Mike McCrary (13.5 bags) and Michael Sinclair (13).
Michels pulled McCrary in this game and held him to two duels and no sacks. Looking back, Michels thought it was his best game as a packer.
"It also happened to be my mother's birthday, which made it particularly memorable," he said. “I was able to fulfill a childhood promise to buy her a car. I surprised her with the key after the game.
"It was one of the greatest experiences you can imagine."
Favre made one of his signature games in the game - an ad-libbed TD flip pass. You can see Michels blocking for him on the improvisation throw.
Brett Favre threw his characteristic flip-pass TD against the Seahawks in 1996.
The knee that just couldn't stay healthy
Michels started the next game against the Chicago Bears, but was eliminated early after a defender fell on his leg. Despite a broken band, Michels returned to the lineup two weeks later and started six of the last eight games, with Ruettgers and Bruce Wilkerson making room for one each.
"You were expected to play injured," Michels said. "I remember Holmgren asking us, 'Are you hurt? Or are you hurt? "You just struggled through."
But at the playoffs, Holmgren made a call that injured Michels. Since Ruettgers wasn't healthy enough to play, Holmgren turned to Wilkerson on the left. In Chuck Carlson's book "Tales From The Packers Sidelines", Holmgren said: "I had to be safe in this position, and I wasn't."
Amazingly, the Packers started four different duels on their way to winning the Super Bowl this season. The respectful newcomer Michels did not want to share the locker room by expressing his disappointment that he had not started.
"When they watched Brett and Reggie White, our guides, they really never let their ego stand in the way," said Michels. “Why this team was great, apart from the incredible talent, was that we were very close as a team. This is what made this team so special. "
Michels started the first five games in 1997 with a left attack. However, he suffered a knee sprain in week 4 and another tear in week 5 - both in the same right knee that he had previously injured - and missed the Packers' Super Bowl run this season.
Still, he felt he could fight through the pain.
In the 1998 training camp, Michel's broken knee fell apart. After a previous season's loss in Oakland, an angry Holmgren ordered his charges to practice in full pads on wet fields. In a pass-rush drill against Vonnie Holliday, Michels was torn down in a terribly unpleasant way.
"I tore all my tapes. The entire cartilage was crushed. And I had taken a quarter-sized piece out of my thigh bone just above my patella, ”Michels recalled. "It pretty much ended my career."
Michels has never been able to walk since that day more than 20 years ago.
"Not even for a few blocks," he said. "It hurts too much."
Michels returned in 1999, but was still not right. Michels could not practice consecutive days in the training camp and was sold to the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I just hoped that the knee would last for a season," said Michels, "and that it might have been a fresh start."
After a preseason game in Philly, Michels said he could hardly get up in the shower because of the pain. It was cut a few weeks later.
Shortly afterwards, Michels was operated on again at the USC and went back into rehab. Although the pain didn't go away, he got a few more tries that year.
Michels worked out Jack Elway, John's father and then a scout for the Denver Broncos. After taking a 40-yard gimpy shot, the older Elway turned to Michels and said, "You have a problem with your vertigo."
Michels tried to blow it away. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also brought him to training before the playoffs. Nothing has changed; Michels still couldn't run.
In the following off-season, Michels underwent microfracture surgery - a brand new procedure at the time. When this did not promote the hoped-for cartilage growth, Michels repeated the procedure twice with the former Broncos team doctor, Dr. Richard Steadman. He would eventually undergo six operations on the right knee.
"Fortunately, at that point, I realized that it just wasn't going to happen," he said.
A new career - and a new perspective on pain
Michels took stock of his life and tried to make a plan. Inspired by Reggie White, his former teammate and neighbor in Green Bay, Michels was Minister of Youth in Mission Viejo, California for two years during his last two rehab visits.
But he felt inadequate as a pastor because he had seen some really inspiring things in his life and didn't feel like he could ever be great at it. Michels also received his pilot's license and even contested the idea of getting into sports broadcasting.
After a shortened NFL career, Packers' former offensive player John Michels decided to take a path in medicine.
In the end, however, the desire to help people overcome the pain he had endured for years drew Michels to a career in medicine.
"I didn't want people to suffer the way I did," he said. "I wanted to pour everything I had into it and be the best doctor I could."
Michels studied religious science at college and had to complete several core science courses before he could even apply to medical school. He completed both at the USC, initially completed a pre-med program after graduating from high school, and graduated from medical school there.
Michels was bound to a future orthopedist. He liked the idea, but during his first orthopedic rotation - a 4.5-hour hip replacement - Michels could hardly stand. Again the painful knee kept him from his professional dreams.
During a research project on interventional radiology, however, Michels was inspired by the rapid progress in this area through more minimally invasive procedures. His Thinking: If this approach could be applied to stent insertion in brain aneurisms and liver biopsies, why couldn't it be applied to injuries like the one he had suffered from?
Michels completed his radiology training and became a specialist in interventional pain therapy, which treats patients with chronic pain. All Michels needed for inspiration to support less invasive methods was the massive scars on his own body.
"I have a big zipper over my right knee," he said. "I have a zipper on my left shoulder, a couple of zips that repaired a sports hernia. I've had eight surgeries in my life, all pretty extensive, and I have eight memories right on my flesh."
Michels now works in Dallas at Interventional Spine and Pain. From 2002 to 2014 it took him over 12 years to complete his education. At the beginning of this process, Michels called Ruettgers, who is still one of his closest friends, and complained about how long his training would take.
"I said," Ken, I'll be over 40 when I'm done with it, "said Michels." He said, "John, you're going to be 40 anyway, so you might as well be a doctor."
And now, almost 25 years after designing a Super Bowl winning team, Michels has reached a climax he could never have imagined at the time.
"My original plan was to play football for 15, 20 years, win a few Super Bowls, and retire before I went to the Ministry," he said. "It's funny how life takes you to places you've never dreamed of. A great sense of achievement came from how long it took to get here.
"But the biggest reward now is that I see some people in my practice who are in tremendous pain, perhaps the worst of their lives, and are able to look at them and say, 'I understand,' and they know that I understand, especially when I tell them what I've been through, ”he said.
Michels sees everyone in the clinic, from athletes to average Joe's. For the people he treats, Michels is not seen as an NFL bust. He is often seen as a miracle worker.
"It was an incredible journey to get to this point," said Michels. "I have no regrets about it."
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