Decker earns game ball from sidelines

The senior wide receiver also announced that he will need surgery.

by Austin Cumblad

This wasnâÄôt how it was supposed to end for Eric Decker. An hour before kickoff Saturday, the standout wide receiver should have been on the field, preparing to help the Gophers move within a game of bowl eligibility. Already MinnesotaâÄôs career leader in receptions and receiving yards , the final four games of 2009 ought to have been a victory lap for the best wide receiver in Gophers history, a player already regarded as the best to don the No. 7 jersey at Minnesota. Instead, Decker was crutching his way into the press room at TCF Bank Stadium to talk about the abrupt end to his college career, his upcoming surgery and his now slightly more uncertain future in the NFL. A few minutes into the press conference, he was asked to recall that fateful cut during the first quarter of the GophersâÄô Oct. 24 game against Ohio State when he tore a ligament in the Lisfranc joint of his left foot between the big toe and second toe. Decker picked up just after catching a short pass from junior quarterback Adam Weber near the sideline. âÄúI thought I had more room than I did, and I looked down and saw I was hugging the sideline so I tried to plant quick with my left foot. I think I put a little too much pressure on the wrong place. What it felt like was my cleat collapsed. My first reaction was to look down at my cleat and see if it was broke and it wasnâÄôt; I was like, âÄòthatâÄôs kind of funny.âÄô I put some more pressure on my foot and right from there, I knew something was wrong.âÄù The extent of the injury wasnâÄôt initially clear. Non weight-bearing X-Rays, MRIs and CAT scans suggested the tear would not require surgery. Decker could perhaps return for one final hurrah in a bowl game. But a weight-bearing X-Ray revealed more serious damage. Surgery? No question. It will be six months, instead of six weeks, before he can even think about running again. Decker consulted with team and local physicians and was directed to Dr. Robert Anderson of Charlotte, N.C., a foot and ankle specialist who Decker said is highly regarded in the NFL. âÄúIâÄôve never been away from participation in competitive sports for that long, and itâÄôs going to be a good test of character for [me],âÄù Decker said. âÄúI know IâÄôve got a lot of support and family and friends that will rally around me.âÄù What remains beyond that support, however, are lots of questions. Decker will miss the Senior Bowl, any All Star games he might have been invited to, including the NFL scouting combine and pro day âÄî essentially every opportunity to woo potential NFL suitors. Where will that leave him come draft day? âÄúHopefully, my film shows enough for the teams and I have someone who is able to represent me well enough,âÄù Decker said. âÄúHopefully I can represent myself to the teams with the combine, with team meetings and just with the character stuff. âÄúHopefully that will get me to where [I want to be].âÄù Decker used the word âÄúhopeâÄù a lot Saturday. Until heâÄôs healthy, thatâÄôs really all he can do. âÄúIf it hurts me, so-be-it,âÄù Decker said of his injuryâÄôs effect on his draft position. âÄúItâÄôs not the end of my career. ItâÄôs not where you begin; itâÄôs where you end. ThatâÄôs what I tell myself.âÄù The next question: What will the Gophers do without Decker? Specifically, how will Minnesota move the ball through the air minus the receiver who, prior to Saturday, accounted for more than half of the teamâÄôs receiving yards? The burden of replacing his presence now falls primarily upon a handful of underclassmen. âÄúWeâÄôre going to see them grow,âÄù Decker said of the young receivers before the game. âÄúI want to be a part of it. ThereâÄôs a lot of great athletes on this team in the receiver position and âĦ whatever I can do to help them, IâÄôm going to be there with them all the way through.âÄù And what did the young guns do on Saturday night? They put on a show. Sophomores lit up the stat sheet; wide receivers DaâÄôJon McKnight (four catches, 98 yards), Brandon Green (two for 60 yards and a touchdown) and Troy Stoudermire (one for 48 yards) hauled in big catches; running back Duane Bennett caught touchdown passes of 62 and 59 yards. Weber threw for a career-high 416 yards and tied a career high with five touchdowns against Michigan State. In DeckerâÄôs stead, another senior âÄî tight end Nick Tow-Arnett âÄî had eight catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, the Gophers snapped a two-game losing streak with the 42-34 victory. In the locker room after the game, head coach Tim Brewster handed the game ball to his hobbled receiver. Minnesota erupted momentarily, then knelt in prayer, then bellowed out the Rouser âÄî twice. âÄúThis game was about Eric Decker,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúWe beat a really good Michigan State football team without our best player, and I think it says so much about our football team, our players. To be able to dedicate the game to somebody who I feel like is going to go down in history as one of the all-time great Minnesota Golden Gophers âĦ was a very special moment.âÄù Senior linebacker Lee Campbell echoed the sentiment. âÄúTo dedicate the game ball to him and just see the joy that he had knowing that we were playing for him tonight, it really feels special. And hopefully itâÄôs something he can carry for the rest of his life.âÄù