There’s a part of the Patriots locker room facility that is spooky. Maybe even haunted. Danny Amendola does everything he can to avoid going near it.
“I told them on Day 1 that I get a bad vibe in the training room,” said Amendola, the new dynamic slot receiver. “I love the guys in there. I said, ‘Don’t take it personally.’ I’ve been in there a lot.’’
Amendola has a label of “fragile,” because he has missed 20 games the last two seasons with the Rams, and nothing bothers him more than that.
Lord knows Amendola, 27, will do whatever it takes to avoid the training room. There was the time as a youth basketball player when he broke his pinky diving for a ball in the stands, and he didn’t leave the game. There was the time in St. Louis in 2011 when he slapped on a brace and played with a partially torn triceps tendon, lasting three weeks before tearing it for good.
And then, of course, there was the time last year when he was back on the field just five weeks after coming millimeters from dying on the turf of the Edward Jones Dome.
Ask Amendola about his clavicle injury now, and he produces a sadistic laugh, like a California skate punk laughing at a gnarly broken arm.
“I’m glad I didn’t die out there,” he said sarcastically.
The injury came on a diving 22-yard catch in Week 5 against the Cardinals.
“I just laid out for a ball on the turf and I landed on my shoulder, kind of my neck,” he said. “I picked my arm up to see if it was working, to see what was wrong, and I hurt my shoulder and was like, ‘Aw, [expletive].’ My chest just collapsed. It wouldn’t work. It was kind of freaky. I was like, ‘Yo, something’s wrong.’
“It wasn’t the pain, it was the fact that it wouldn’t work. That’s what [upset me] the most.”
At first, the doctors thought Amendola simply had a broken collarbone. Further testing proved it was much more serious than that.
Technically, he suffered a separation of the SC joint, which connects the collarbone to the breastplate. In most cases, the clavicle pops outward when separated. Somehow, Amendola’s clavicle caved inward, and came within millimeters of slicing open his aorta and damaging his trachea.
“Coach [Jeff] Fisher called that Monday morning and said, ‘We need to get in there for surgery right now,’ ” said Willie Amendola, Danny’s father.
The Rams doctors had never seen an injury like this. They tried to find another NFL player who had a similar injury, and couldn’t.
“Those guys were talking about it was one of those things you see in a high-impact car accident, not on a football field,” Willie Amendola said.
After consulting outside doctors, they performed surgery on Amendola that Monday and “cracked it back into place,” Amendola said.
Only after the surgery did Amendola find out how close he came to dying on the field.
“I didn’t think too much about it at the time,” Amendola said. “I just knew I couldn’t play and it hurt.”
In harm’s way
Since no NFL player in recent memory had suffered Amendola’s injury, the Rams didn’t put a timetable on his return, saying only he was out “indefinitely.” Then the timetable was updated to “six to eight weeks.”
Five weeks later, Amendola was back in the lineup. And he thought he could play even sooner.
“I tried to go in London, three weeks after, and I was running around, practicing that week, feeling good,” Amendola said. “Warmed up before the game and the trainer was like, ‘It’s too soon, doesn’t feel right.’ ”
The Rams had a bye the next week, then Amendola returned in a tie against San Francisco. He had 11 catches for 102 yards and got a game ball.
“I know my injuries are kind of crazy, but I haven’t missed a practice since I broke my collarbone,” Amendola said. “It was hard and it’s part of the game. It’s why I love playing, because it’s so physical. Sometimes you get injured, and that’s the way it is.”
Amendola didn’t look for pity when rehabbing his broken clavicle. He barely told anyone about it — not even a good friend like former first-round pick Mark Clayton, who lived with Amendola when the two were teammates in St. Louis.
Clayton, who still speaks with Amendola a couple times per month, was asked how he reacted when he heard Amendola almost died on the field.
“That is wild, man,” he said. “I had no idea it was that intense. He didn’t explain it to me like that. He was just like, ‘I broke my clavicle and I’ll be all right.’ ”
That’s why the “fragile” label bugs Amendola so much. Yes, he has played only 16 games once in four NFL seasons (he also played in all 14 games after being signed by St. Louis off Philadelphia’s practice squad in Week 3 of 2009).
It’s not as though he refuses to play on sprained ankles or with minor dings. His injuries have been freakish and painful.
In training camp of 2011, he dislocated his elbow and partially tore a triceps — a season-ending injury for most any player — yet came back in October and tore the triceps again in practice, ending his season. Last year, he missed three games with the clavicle injury and two with a foot injury.
But that’s going to happen when you’re 5 feet 11 inches, 185 pounds, and you run down the middle of the field with reckless abandon 65 times a game.
“Even when he dislocated his elbow and partially tore his triceps tendon, it was supposed to be forever and he went back out there with a hand brace on three weeks later,” Willie Amendola said.
“And when he was with the Eagles [in 2009], when they played the Raiders, he got body slammed by a linebacker, drew a 15-yard penalty, came back on the next play and caught the ball over the middle again.”
A risk taker
The only difference between Wes Welker, who has the label of “durable,” and Amendola is that Amendola suffered his injury toward the beginning of the season, while Welker tore his ACL in Week 17 in 2009, allowing him to not miss any regular-season action the next season.
“I think Danny is a tough, competitive guy, which playing the slot, I think that’s a quality that you really need to have in there, because you’re going to get hit, bounced around,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “Obviously our medical department felt good enough to clear him, so we signed him.”
Willie Amendola holds his breath every time he sees his son get slammed to the turf, but Danny has spent 27 years scaring his family.
Growing up outside of Houston, Danny liked to test his test his limits.
“He’s always very confident in his abilities,” is how Willie Amendola puts it. “Yeah, he used to worry me, jumping off of bridges and doing tricks on bikes. He’s always been that way.”
But somehow, he always avoided injury. Amendola never missed a game at The Woodlands High, and never missed a game in four years at Texas Tech.
“The only thing that he ever did was in middle school diving into the bleachers for a loose ball — he had a small fracture on his pinky finger but he played in his baseball game that night,” Willie Amendola said.
Amendola played at Texas Tech from 2004-07, and getting him to use the team’s medical facilities was a constant struggle. Mike Leach, who was head coach at Texas Tech for both Amendola and Welker, called them “easily two of the toughest guys I’ve been involved with.”
Welker, Leach said, wore a protective boot on his foot his entire senior season while dealing with a bad case of turf toe. He wore it to class, around his apartment, even to and from games — but never missed a game. Amendola, he said, was equally tough, and more stubborn.
“Danny hated the training room, and Danny would outright refuse to go in there,” Leach said. “I remember one time his ankle was real bad, and he would just refuse to go in there. Even after it was bad, he didn’t trust [the trainers]. He was afraid they would pull him out of the lineup.
“In his mind, the training room was bad karma. It was defying the football gods that allowed you to go out there and play successful. It was almost superstitious.”
That superstition has, of course, continued into the NFL. Amendola likes to joke that he has “skin like an armadillo,” a little saying he picked up from Clayton, who learned it in Baltimore.
“There’s nothing short of something really catastrophic that would stop him from being out there, even in pain,” Clayton said. “He has a mental toughness about him, and it’s pretty cool to see somebody who can endure and have [the injuries] he’s had but mentally rise above it.”
Amendola is under a lot of pressure this year to stay healthy, play in 16 games, and replace Welker and his 100-plus catches. He relishes the chance to prove himself on all fronts.
“I want to play more than 16 games, but we’ll start with one and go from there,” he said. “But I feel good, I feel amped up, I’m excited about the season.
“I don’t really worry about injuries when I play, so I’m just going to go out there and do my thing.”