NFL rewind: Ronnie Lott amputates his finger
Once in a while on rare occasions a player will come along in the NFL and redefine the position at which he plays. Usually when this happens, fans, coaches, teammates and play-by-play voices alike echo words like unique, special, different, or on another level in description, throughout the careers of these praiseworthy competitors. Where the NFL is a league of uncertainties, these players, who march to the beat of a different drum, are often labeled as a future Hall of Famer as over time, their performance on Sundays replaces the question of if, with one of when. Such was the case of San Francisco 49ers’ cornerback and safety Ronnie Lott.
Before he became a 49er, Lott attended the University of Southern California from 1977-81 where he played safety for the Trojans. During his collegiate years, Lott’s play helped his team earn a share of the National Championship in 1978 and two Rose Bowl appearances in 79 and 80. During that 1980 season, Lott was an All-American and team captain. Although that would be his last season at USC, Lott’s best years as a football player lied ahead of him, in the NFL.
In 1981, the San Francisco 49ers selected Ronnie Lott with the 8th pick in the NFL draft. When they drafted him in the first round, the 49ers organization knew they were adding a quality player to their secondary. What they didn’t know was just how good Lott would become. In a city that is known for frequent tremors and earthquakes, Ronnie Lott sent the Bay area a jolt of his own. In his rookie season he earned the starting left cornerback position in training camp which set the tone for his 89 tackles, seven interceptions, and three defensive touchdowns in a year that saw the 49ers defense finish as the second stingiest in points allowed and the team as a whole was first in the turnover ratio at +23. For 30 years 49er fans had been waiting for a championship and the arrival of Lott was the final piece of the puzzle as San Francisco finished that season with an NFL best 13-3 record in route to the first Super Bowl title in team history.
After such an incredible start to his professional career the expectations for the encore were set incredibly high. Where some athletes would have crumbled under the pressure, Lott continued to amaze as over the course of the next 13 seasons he often played with reckless abandon disregarding his body for the sake of punishing the opposition. Over the course of his career, Lott established himself as an NFL “tough guy” with a reputation for crippling hits on receivers as they unassumingly ran free across a no man’s land. Lott would go on to capture three more Super Bowl titles with the 49ers before finishing his career with the Raiders and the Jets.
Despite his longevity, the most defining moment of Lott’s career came in 1985 during the season finale when after a collision with a Dallas player he had crushed the upper portion of his pinky finger. Lott didn’t miss a down that game and when doctors later recommended he have surgery to repair the damage, Lott simply told them to amputate it. The infamous amputation of Ronnie Lott’s fingertip is often thought to have occurred during the game. The fact of the matter is that Lott’s finger was amputated during the following off-season. Even with that, the fact that No. 42 never missed a down after crushing his finger showed exactly what type of player he was. Think that will ever happen in this day and age?
Of all the things said about Ronnie Lott his former teammate while in San Francisco, Randy Cross, may have summed him up best.
“He doesn’t care about his own body, so why should he care about yours.”
Ronnie Lott was indeed a different kind of football player. He was unique and on another level and his play redefined what it was to be a defensive back earning him enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000. If you were deprived of the opportunity to watch Ronnie Lott in action your football memories are definitely cheated because in a league that has become over protective its players at times, we will never see another hitter like him in a defensive secondary. Thanks for the memories Ronnie Lott.
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