PHILADELPHIA — For the first time in seven years, Mike Bartrum will not be in uniform for the Eagles when they take on the Giants tomorrow at the Meadowlands.
In a sport where serious injuries at a young age often signal the end of a potentially promising career, Bartrum enjoyed a rather charmed existence in the NFL after suffering a debilitating knee injury as a sophomore at Marshall University in 1990.
His hopes of being a pro quarterback dashed in college, Bartrum became Marshall’s long-snapper and a tight end.
Thirteen years and four NFL teams later, Bartrum still is making a living in the league.
Only now he is being forced to watch, as a tackle during a punt return in the 45-21 loss to the Indianapolis Colts Nov. 26 at the RCA Dome chipped his Vertebrae and herniated the C-3 and C-4 disks in his neck, with the latter pressing against his spinal cord.
If not caught in time, the injury could have left Bartrum paralyzed, or worse.
“Everything happens for a reason. You just have to believe that, keep the faith and move on,” said Bartrum, who made a rare appearance this week at the NovaCare Complex. He was placed on the season-ending injured reserve list Nov. 29.
“I’m doing better. I feel good,” he said. “It’s frustrating at times to just watch, but right now I am so focused on the other guys in here and what they need to do to have a successful season. They have put in so much time and effort, so I try and focus on that rather than being selfish about my situation.”
Bartrum has been a model of unselfishness throughout his 13-year NFL career.
He established the “Mike Bartrum Foundation” to benefit his former high school in Pomeroy, Ohio, as well as the Boys and Girls Clubs there. The most recent charitable endeavor for the married father of four was creating the “New Horizon Child Enrichment Center,” which helps kids attend nursery schools and works with parents and teachers to better educate foster children.
Although he hopes to play in the NFL again, the sad fact is Bartrum’s career, highlighted by a Pro Bowl appearance last season, likely ended that night in Indianapolis.
During his first 12 years in the league, his teams made the playoffs 10 times. Should the Eagles (7-6) defeat the Giants (7-6) and Cowboys (8-5) over the next two weeks, Bartrum would run those numbers to 11 in 13 years.
“I mean, how many guys with backgrounds like mine get to play 13 years,” Bartrum said. “I just feel blessed to be able to play that long. And if this (injury) means it’s over for me, then it’s over. But it’s crazy. Twelve years of just snapping the ball between my legs.”
Kicker David Akers and punter Dirk Johnson do not appear to have missed a beat since Jon Dorenbos took over for Bartrum as the team’s long snapper, but that does not mean he is not missed — on and off the field.
“As good a football player as Mike is, he’s an even better person,” Eagles head coach Andy Reid said. “He was one of the best in the business. We will miss him, and I’m going to make him stay around here because of the personality he brings.”
LB Shawn Barber (stinger) missed his third straight day of practice yesterday and will be a game-time decision. CB Rod Hood (hamstring) returned to the field, while RB Ryan Moats, deactivated the past six weeks, injured his ankle in practice. All three players are listed as questionable.
Just as teammate Antonio Pierce did Thursday when he disrespected Eagles five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress spouted off about the Birds’ secondary yesterday when asked whether Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown, William James, Sean Considine and Brian Dawkins could shut him down tomorrow.
“I don’t see that happening,” Burress said. “They would be crazy to think they could do it. I’m just going to go out and do what I’ve been doing — make some plays.”
Burress played a pivotal role in the Giants’ 30-24 overtime victory Sept. 17 at Lincoln Financial Field, with six receptions for 114 yards, including the game-winning 31-yard TD catch in overtime to cap a 23-point fourth quarter comeback.
BY JOHN NALBONE