MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — How many concussions has Tua Tagovailoa had in his lifetime?
“I don’t know,” Tagovailoa said Wednesday. “I don’t know.”
Tagovailoa said that the whole strapped-on-a-gurney-transported-to-a-Cincinnati-hospital-thing wasn’t particularly scary in real time.
“I remember the entire night up to the point where I got tackled,” Tagovailoa, the Dolphins’ quarterback, recalled. “After I got tackled, I don’t remember much from there. Getting carted off, I don’t remember that.”
That’s scary. Scary for us. Scary for fans of football. Scary for fans of Tagovailoa.
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“When I did come to and realized what was going on, what was happening, I didn’t think of anything long-term or short-term,” Tagovailoa said. “I was just wondering what happened.”
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Tagovailoa is a football player. And football players play football until a coach or a doctor tells them they can’t or they’re physically removed from the field due to injury.
There was a national outcry of concern for Tagovailoa’s health. And there was a very local one, too. Tagovailoa was touched by the response from children in his South Florida neighborhood.
“Notes,” Tagovailoa said. “Candies. Things they would bake. Things they would color. I thought it was super cool. I could feel the support and my family could feel that.”
Understandably, Tagovailoa said it’s his parents who are most highly affected by having seen him transported from a football field to an ambulance twice in three years.
A devastating hip injury at Alabama was as difficult to watch as it was to rehabilitate from. But head injuries are almost an even greater concern.
That’s why Tagovailoa visited numerous head trauma specialists in various cities in the wake of the concussion. Tagovailoa has come to believe that quarterbacks are less likely to encounter long-term CTE.
“Let’s say guys get about six concussions,” Tagovailoa said. “Well, those guys that only have six concussions that are playing the position that I’m playing, where we don’t hit as much, are less susceptible to getting CTE later on in their years than someone who’s playing a position where they’re constantly taking hits or blows to the head, which would be O-line, D-line, linebackers.”
And yet, the risk remains. And yet, the long-term health concern remains.
That’s a key reason why Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel really wants Tagovailoa to focus on getting rid of the ball faster. At a certain point, even Tagovailoa just has to give up on a play.
“For me, I’ve always been a person to try to make something happen,” Tagovailoa said. “That’s always been my mindset, if you will. Throwing the ball away hasn’t been something I’ve done in the past really well, because I’m trying to make plays. Learning from that, learning if it’s not there, it’s OK to throw it away. The longevity of me being able to be the quarterback of this team and not try to make something out of nothing.”
Longevity is a key phrase here. And it’s good that Tagovailoa used it on Wednesday.
Tagovailoa has as high a winning percentage as any quarterback in the league over his past 25 games not named Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson.
But for the Dolphins to be successful, Tagovailoa has to find a way to stay on the field.
In college and the pros, Tagovailoa , who is 6-foot-1, 217 pounds, has sustained injuries that include: index finger, knee, quad, ankle, hip, thumb, ribs, back and head.
Dolphins players privately and publicly stressed how much better they feel about the offense with Tagovailoa returning after the team lost three straight games.
“Having Tua back, it’s going to be great, man,” star receiver Tyreek Hill said Wednesday. “His whole approach to the game. His mentality. His mindset. His energy.”
Wisely, Tagovailoa proclaimed Wednesday: “I’m not the savior of this team.”
It’s also true that many fans and at least some players tend to disagree.
Tagovailoa qualifies to lead the NFL in passer rating, even though he’s played fewer than 3.5 of Miami’s 6 games. For the Dolphins, games played will be as important — if not more important — than where Tagovailoa finishes in passer rating.
Concern about Tagovailoa’s general health is warranted. Concern about any long-term effects from Tagovailoa’s head injury is warranted.
And so, too, is concern about how differently Miami’s offense would perform without him.
Joe Schad is a journalist at the Palm Beach Post part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at [email protected]. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.