Paul Domowitch: Healthy McBriar vies for Eagles' punting job
August 29, 2012
THE ONLY thing worse than having a career-threatening injury is having a career-threatening injury and not knowing what it is or how to fix it.
That was the scary situation Eagles punter Mat McBriar found himself in last October. Through the first six games of the 2011 season, McBriar, a two-time Pro Bowler who was in his eighth year with the Cowboys, was one of the league's leading punters, averaging 49.8 yards per attempt. Then, as he prepared for a Week 8 game against the Eagles, he began experiencing intense pain in his left, non-kicking, leg.
He punted three times in the first half against the Eagles, and each time he planted his left foot for the kick, he felt a shooting pain.
He sat out the second half of that game, and sat out the next game as well when the leg didn't get any better. The Cowboys' medical staff ran a battery of tests on the leg, including X-rays and an MRI, but couldn't find anything.
"Last year was tough," said the 33-year-old Australian. "We didn't know what it was. They sort of missed it on the first diagnosis. They were scratching their heads. They'd say, 'Well, let's see if it improves by itself.' But it didn't. Actually, it got worse."
McBriar developed a condition known as drop foot, which prevented him from lifting his foot. But the doctors had no idea what was causing it.
Even though he had trouble just walking, he continued to play, punting in eight more games before the team finally put him on injured reserve in late December.
Right after the season ended, McBriar decided to seek another opinion.
He and his wife Erin went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
"We went to Mayo just looking for a different treatment or treatments," said McBriar, who was released by the Cowboys in March and is competing against Chas Henry for the Eagles' punting job. "We were hoping maybe somebody up there would have something that could help. That's sort of what we were hoping for when we went up there."
Their trip went far better than they ever could have hoped. The doctor he saw at the Mayo Clinic, Robert Spinner, didn't offer him a treatment option. He gave him a diagnosis. And a way to fix it.
Turns out McBriar had an intraneural ganglion cyst inside the nerve behind his left knee.
"Dr. Spinner saw it on the [CT] scan," McBriar said. "He said, 'Oh, that's my specialty. I know exactly what to do.'