Last Sunday, when Jordy Nelson landed awkwardly on the turf at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh during a preseason game, Green Bay Packers fans were heartrendingly reminded that season ending knee injuries are a part of football. Later that day I was reminded of another Green Bay Packers player who sustained not one, but two knee injuries. His name? Eddie Lee Ivery.
Former Green Bay Packers running back #40 Eddie Lee Ivery “thought his legs were weapons.” His running style was compared to Chuck Foreman of the Minnesota Vikings and Gale Sayers of the Chicago Bears.
Ivery played college football at the Georgia Institute of Technology from 1975-’78. He was inducted into the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Football Hall of Fame in 1983 after accumulating 3,517 rushing yards; 3rd most in Yellow Jackets history. In a snow socked game against Air Force, Ivery rushed for 356 yards.
A feat, which I’m sure, impressed the Packers when they decided to select the Heisman Trophy nominee 15th overall in the 1st round of the 1979 NFL Draft. After this pick, Packers fans seemed upbeat, given Ivery’s tremendous college career.
However, in his first NFL season game (1979), after just a mere 3 carries, Eddie Lee Ivery tore up his left knee in the season opener against the Bears at Chicago. Many Green Bay fans who watched the game recall the play, because expectations for the young speedster with great athletic cuts and moves were so high. What seemed like a promising NFL start was now going to have to wait for a year.
After his knee surgery he worked harder than he ever did before and it paid off. The following season Eddie Lee Ivery returned to his original Georgia Tech form. During his 2nd season with the Packers he started all 16 games, rushing for 831 yards and 4 TD’s while catching 50 passes out of the backfield.
Unfortunately, his third NFL season (1981) would begin with a near match repeat of his rookie season.
In the season opener, paradoxically at Chicago, Ivery rushed 14 times and then suffered another left knee injury. People blamed Soldier Field, which was nothing more than a thin piece of carpet glued to a concrete slab.
Unbelievable luck, three years removed from college and two devastating NFL knee injuries against the same team on the same field in the season opening game. In order to return to his old form, Ivery worked even harder than he did before, but he also turned to alcohol and drugs to extinguish the anguish and pain.
Even though he was using and the ‘82 season was shortened due to the NFL players strike, he did bounce back after his second knee injury. During his fourth season Eddie Lee Ivery played in all 9 games and scored 1 passing and 9 rushing TD’s, third highest in the NFL that year, and the Packers finished the season at 5-3-1. This was the only time he would be on a winning Packers team and the only time he would experience the thrill of a playoff victory against the St. Louis Cardinals at Lambeau Field.
Yet, he was still in denial when it came to dealing with his other demons: Drugs and Alcohol. These and the knee injuries finally caught up with him, forcing him to retire after 8 years in the NFL, all with the Green Bay Packers. Eddie Lee Ivery started 50 out of a possible 128 games. Unfortunately due to his knee injuries he was only able to play in 19 games during 4 of those years. But when he did play, his 4.4 yard rush average and 2, 933 total rushing yards for the Packers was quite remarkable, given his circumstances.
Eddie Lee Ivery returned to Georgia Tech after his NFL football career and earned a degree in Industrial Management in 1992. He was also strong enough to get help for his addictions and dependencies. Ivery claims he has been clean and sober since 1998 and credits the Green Bay Packers with getting his life back in order.
Since 2000 he has served as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at his Alma mater Georgia Tech. Before that he was an assistant football and track coach at Thompson High School, also his Alma mater. His objective is to teach kids the proper fundamentals of the game, but more importantly his mission is to pass on to the youth of America the valuable life lessons he learned while playing the game and not to repeat the same mistakes he made.
When Eddie Lee Ivery did play, he shined. If you do the math, some Packers fans believe that if he had stayed healthy his entire career, his 4.4 yard career rushing average would have made him one of the top 5 Green Bay Packers running backs in team history.
However, such is not the case and the word “IF” is an awfully big word. Just ask any NFL player who’s had their season or career come to an end due to injury.