Hawkeye stars paid physical prices in NFL

Kaeding joins Gallery, Sanders as retirees due to injury

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Robert Gallery, Bob Sanders, Nate Kaeding.

You can’t help but link the three former Iowa football stars together. They were taken in the first, second, and third rounds of the 2004 NFL draft, respectively.

There wasn’t a highly regarded high school recruit among the three. Yet, they all blossomed into All-Big Ten players, All-American in the case of Gallery and Kaeding. It is an understatement to say the three were instrumental in the revitalization of Iowa football a little over a decade ago. The offensive tackle, safety and placekicker were truly impact players.

Last week, Kaeding retired from pro football because of health issues. The groin injury he injured early last season with the San Diego Chargers flared up again as he was training in Iowa City. “The main lever in the kicking motion,” he called it.

There was no guarantee Kaeding would make an NFL roster this year. He had signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a month ago, but would have had to beat out incumbent Connor Barth, whose full salary for the coming season is guaranteed. But had he shown in the preseason that he could still perform at his career standards, it isn’t hard to believe another team might have snapped him up had he not won the Bucs’ kicking job.

However, injuries happen and players’ careers often end sooner than they would have wanted. That’s sports, and that’s especially the NFL.

Sanders was brilliant for the Indianapolis Colts when he was healthy enough to play. He was named to two All-Pro teams, and was the 2007 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Alas, that ‘07 season was one of just two in which he played more than six games. He played just 50 regular-season games over eight seasons, and just five over his last three years.

Sanders was nicknamed “The Hitman” when he was at Iowa for the most-obvious reason, but he received as much pain as he dished out with his no-abandon tackling. When he was right, though, he was a game-changer. He amassed 373 career tackles. He had a terrific interception in the Colts’ Super Bowl win over Chicago six years ago.

But over his career Sanders had foot, knee, ankle and arm injuries that cost him playing time. A torn biceps tendon was the capper.

Gallery came into the NFL as the second player taken in that ‘04 draft. by the Oakland Raiders. He was drafted that high to be a left tackle. He didn’t flourish at that position.

Maybe that was on him, maybe it was because he played with a constant changing of head coaches, offensive line coaches and quarterbacks in an Oakland organization that was 33-79 over his seven seasons there.

Once Gallery was moved to guard in midcareer, he became quite a good pro player.

“It’s tough when guys tell you, ‘Hey, if you would have won more games, you should have gone to the Pro Bowl the last couple of years.’ ” Gallery told The Gazette’s Scott Dochterman last fall.

The Seattle Seahawks thought enough of Gallery to sign him as a free agent in 2011. But he needed surgery for a torn groin muscle during his season as a Seahawk. Earlier in his career, he said, he played on a broken leg until he shattered it.

The New England Patriots signed Gallery before the 2012 season, but he retired during training camp. He just couldn’t bounce back physically.

Even kickers get hurt. Kaeding tore an ACL in the first game of the 2011 season. He rehabbed all the way back from that, and a year later he made all seven of his field goal tries in the Chargers’ first three contests. Then came the groin issue.

He healed, was waived by San Diego, signed with the Miami Dolphins, and played the final two games of the season. That turned out to be the end of the road, one in which he made 86.2 percent of all the field goals he tried.

Iowa went 8-0 in the Big Ten in 2002. The Hawkeyes’ coaches did well to sign recruits like Gallery, Kaeding and Sanders, and did even better to develop them and put them in positions to succeed. But they would be the first to tell you it’s up to the players to become difference-makers.

Three college teammates now in their early 30s made a lot of money playing football. But it came with a price, and each has the scars to prove it.


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