Heading into a Halloween weekend of parties, parades and haunted houses, it’s likely someone will try to scare you. Just consider yourself lucky that stepping onto an NFL playing field is not part of your plans. Yes, there are few things more frightening than being the target of a jacked-up NFL defender, thirsty for blood. Whether it’s a sitting duck quarterback in the pocket, or a defenseless receiver in the open field; countless plays in pigskin history have made certain players question their line of work. The most classic example of an on-field nightmare was back on Nov. 15, 1985, when Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann was blindsided by Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor; a hit that broke Theismann’s leg in two places (compound fracture of the tibia/fibula) and ended his career at age 36. While there hasn’t been anything as memorable as “The Hit That No One Who Saw It Can Ever Forget” (blame the Washington Post for that awful dubbing), the new millennium has provided plenty of bone-crushing, neck-snapping hits. Here are seven examples of why the NFL gridiron is a very scary place, where the monsters are real and always gunning for you…
PAT WHITE V. IKE TAYLOR
Former West Virginia standout Pat White was considered too small to play the quarterback position in the NFL, and the last play of his career likely proved that theory. In the Dolphins final game of the 2009 season (his rookie year), White scrambled for a first down against the Steelers, and was met by opposing cornerback Ike Taylor’s helmet in the process. The hit knocked White unconscious, and he was carted off the field. White followed up with failed attempts at professional baseball and the United Football League (UFL).
ANQUAN BOLDIN V. ERIC SMITH
Known as one of the toughest wide receivers in the NFL, Anquan Boldin proved his mettle in Week 4 of the 2008 season. Down 21 points with 30 seconds remaining in the game, the then-Cardinal went up for a touchdown grab between two Jets defenders and ended up on the wrong end of a Kerry Rhodes–Eric Smith safety sandwich. Smith’s helmet launched right into the faceguard of Boldin, causing a concussion and facial fracture. The injury laid him out for three weeks, yet Boldin still scored six touchdowns during his final eight games of the season. TROY AIKMAN V. LAVAR ARRINGTON
The illustrious career of Hall of Fame Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman came to an end on Dec. 10, 2000, against the longtime division rival Redskins. On a failed bootleg play in the red zone, Aikman was gunned down by former linebacker LaVar Arrington, who came full speed at the QB’s right shoulder. The hit knocked Aikman out of bounds, and gave him lucky concussion number 10 of his career. Aikman can now be seen giving foggy accounts of his playing days alongside Joe Buck, as the announcing duo for Fox NFL Sunday.
DREW BLEDSOE V. MO LEWIS
This entry (which foreshadows the top play on this list) isn’t the first time a Drew Bledsoe injury opened the door for a young emerging quarterback. In Week 2 of the 2001 season, Bledsoe rolled out to the right, and caught a stiff right shoulder from Jets linebacker Mo Lewis. The hit may not have looked that bad, but managed to cause a sheared blood vessel in Bledsoe’s chest, which almost became a fatal injury. Everyone knows what happened next (Brady leads Pats to three Super Bowls), however, Bledsoe did come back to sub in for an injured Brady in New England’s AFC Championship game victory.
REGGIE BUSH V. SHELDON BROWN
Reggie Bush thrives in the open field, and as a result, leaves himself vulnerable to some vicious hits. None were as brutal as this screen pass gone horribly wrong from his rookie season with the Saints, during a NFC divisional playoff game against the Eagles. After catching the ball, Bush was spear-tackled in the backfield by Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown, causing the ball to pop out, and Bush to go down like a sack of potatoes. While Bush did stumble on the ground to regain his basic motor skills, he miraculously stayed in the game, a Saints victory.
DESEAN JACKSON V. DUNTA ROBINSON
The NFL has taken a strict stance against players “launching” (leaving their feet for a tackle) against “defenseless receivers,” but for some reason, Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson has yet to get the memo on the rule change. In Week 6 of last season, Robinson charged, helmet-first, into DeSean Jackson’s left shoulder, causing the undersized Eagles receiver to snap backwards onto the field. Jackson sustained a severe concussion, and missed two weeks of action. Robinson was fined for an illegal hit on a defenseless player, and the incident further raised the debate on the guidelines for physical play in the league.
TOM BRADY V. BERNARD POLLARD
While it may lack the visual horror of other hits on this list, there is no question how terrified Patriots fans were while watching their franchise quarterback go down in a heap, following this low blow from Week 1 of the 2008 season. In the infamous clip, Brady’s left leg is literally clipped by Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard, resulting in a tear of the ACL and MCL of the quarterback’s left knee. Brady was knocked out for the season, after only a half quarter of action. Despite the devastating injury, Brady had successful reconstructive knee surgery, and has since looked as good as ever, winning his second MVP award last season.