LA JOLLA, Calif. —
“On days where I couldn’t run,” he says, “they’d put me in a whirlpool.”
A few years ago, he was in a crosswalk with his wife and tried to run as the light changed.
“I couldn’t move my legs,” he says.
The back surgery that resulted leaves four rods and eight screws in his back and a hopeful diagnosis that, with time and nerve-healing, the drop foot will improve.
Still, Zeman is among the lucky ones. His brain still works. He doesn’t forget any more than anybody who is 75. He has no tremors, no signs of depression that many think triggered recent high-profile suicides of NFL players Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling and Junior Seau. All played defense; like Zeman, all were hitters rather than hittees.
Did he have concussions? Not officially.
“I got dinged a lot,” he says. “Lots of ‘Oh, wow, that was a bad one.’ Once, I got knocked out in a game but played the next week. I didn’t remember what had happened the previous two weeks. But it all came back, little by little. “
Even Dr. Phil could get that one right. Concussion.
Zeman is like most from his generation. He played a tough game, maintained a stiff upper lip and kept going. He knew there would be injuries. What he didn’t know, nor was anybody telling him, was that they would bring life-altering years of pain.
He says he’d probably do it again, then shrugs as if understanding that is the typical male-ego response. He nods at the recent statement by President Barack Obama that, if he had sons, he’d pause before letting them play football. Zeman has three sons and a daughter and says he never objected to his sons playing — one played four games with the Rams. But he adds that knowing what he knows now, he’d probably say no.