Owens dislocated the thumb on his left hand, on the first kick return he had against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, back on October 8th. He finished that game and kept right on going, with the damaged thumb and torn ligament placed in a cast, or series of diminishing ones, as the weeks progressed.
Needless to say, that kind of an injury can severely hamper the productivity of a man charged with fielding punts and kicks. To say nothing of the obstacle it would be for a pass receiver.
Remarkable, then, that the Flyin’ Hawaiian continued to pile up both return yards and receiving yards, on his way to leading the league in pass catching yardage and setting a pro football record for combined yards.
Owens earned his Most Outstanding Player Award in spite of playing four of his final regular season games and most of a fifth with a healing dislocated thumb.
He played with it in a cast again on Sunday night, in the Argos’ 35 – 22 Grey Cup win over the Calgary Stampeders, a game in which he hauled in a 5 yard touchdown catch and returned 6 kicks for 89 yards.
“There was a ligament tear,” he explained, looking back on the Saskatchewan game. “It (the thumb) kept displacing, so, that was a sign that it was torn, that’s why I had it in a hard cast.”
His left hand stayed in that cast “up until the last couple of weeks (when) I was able to take it out (to exercise it), but before then I was in a hard cast all day every day.”
As the weeks went on, the injury got a little better, but Owens says it still affected him on Sunday night.
“Every time I got hit I could feel it,” he said, of the early days of the injury. “But, it kinda got better and better, you know. There were times when, even tonight, I hit it just a little bit and it just stung for a little bit but you know, you shake it off and you keep going.”
The rehab is coming along, but Owens cannot yet say that he will elude a date with a surgeon to repair it fully.
“We’ll have to assess it. I’m hoping not,” he said of surgery. “It hasn’t displaced, or come out since I casted it, so, I think it looks pretty good,” he said, hopefully.
Owens is determined, that is well known. If there was any question as to whether he’d be forced to the sidelines, that question was answered with an unequivocal “no.”
“I wasn’t going to let this hold me back,” he insisted. “I’ve been through too much. I’ve been through a knee injury. Anything else, above the waist, I can deal with. I wasn’t going to let a thumb hold me back from being there for my teammates and to be able to accomplish this right here.”
It would not have been Owens’ decision only, and for the backing of head coach Scott Milanovich and his teammates, he is thankful.
“I’ve definitely been blessed. I’m so thankful that I was able to play through it and persevere through it and the coaches trusted me, basically, with one hand.”
Catching a zipping football, thrown over the middle, was obviously made more difficult with the injury and the various casts Owens had to have on that hand. That was not the only thing that became more of a painful chore.
“At first, receiving kicks, because I couldn’t really open my hand all the way. Obviously blocking, and running after the catch, not being able to use the stiff arm,” he said when asked what became problematic.
The injury may have even caused a few of the fumbles Owens put on the turf around that time. And not necessarily because he had the ball in that left hand.
“It’s hard to run left with the ball in your right hand. It’s right out there for people to swat at. Sometimes it kind of affected certain things, but we persevered through it. That’s why you’ve got teammates. That’s why it’s a team game. Everybody came through.”
Owens was asked if his accomplishments this season – the yards gained, the awards won and a Grey Cup championship to boot – feel even more satisfying considering the fact that for a portion of the season (a good third of it, actually) he was playing with just one healthy hand.
“I’ll let the critics decide that. I’m just so proud of my teammates. They were there to have my back and I didn’t want to let this become an issue. The coaches trusted in me, that I could still get the job done and I appreciate that.”
It seems pretty evident that he means that. After the Argos starting offence was introduced just prior to the game, Owens ran back to the mouth of the tunnel from which he’d just emerged. So that he could run out onto the field with the rest of his team.