Game Day with Jacksonville Jaguars Head Athletic Trainer Mike Ryan
By Mike Ryan,PT,ATC,PES
Head Athletic Trainer/Physical Therapist
“What does an NFL athletic trainer do on game day?” I hear that question often and I’ve always wanted to share the answer. Sundays during the fall season are easily the best day of the week for fans, players, coaches and, of course, athletic trainers.
Last weekend was (another) big game for my Jacksonville Jaguars as we travelled to Houston to clash with AFC South foe, the Houston Texans. Here’s what my away game day experience looked like for an NFL certified athletic trainer.
4:30 AM- Wake-up, roll-out my legs and back to loosen up for my workout. It’s time to hit the hotel fitness room for my 50 minute bike/core program/flexibility program. “Man, you should stretch more” my hammies and hip flexors remind me as I get back on the elevator.
6:00 AM – Review my player injury and rehab notes. Plan for pre-game medical workouts for players listed as “questionable” for the game. This is the last quiet moments of my day so I savor this part of my Sunday.
7:00 AM – With my body and mind ready, it’s time to head to the team pre-game meal. I love to eat, especially breakfast.
7:45 AM – Refueled and hydrated, it’s time to head to the stadium with my loyal assistants Justin Bland and Rod Scott. At the stadium, we put the finishing touches on prepping the game day supplies: ten miles worth of tape, twenty gallons of fluids and 12 medical trunks filled with sports medicine supplies and emergency equipment.
8:45 AM – Player Bus #1 arrives and it’s “go time”. We tape 80+ ankles, aggressively preparing the players with massage, manual therapy techniques to increase joint range of motions, soft tissue treatments to enhance muscle and fascia blood flow, flexibility drills to promote movement patterns and the many pre-game routines that these world-class athletes need to compete at an elite level for 3+ hours. The tension and testosterone builds in the air as the game approaches while everyone seems to ignore that it’s really there. It’s strange, I know. Most players have specific pre-game rituals with such detail that you could set you watch by it.
9:30 AM – This is the time when an injured player(s) is brought out to the field for an aggressive medical assessment workout to assess his status for the game. The decision to play must be made by 90 minutes before kickoff. I have no player medical workouts today. I complete the NFL Game Day Cast Card, listing all casts and splints to be worn in today’s game. An NFL official picks it up 2 ½ hours before kickoff.
11:10 AM – As the players head to the field for pre-game warmups, the medical staff follows. The unwritten rule: If the Athletic Training Room gets quiet, you’re probably late for something. “Run to the field!”
11:20 AM – On the field, I have my checklist to follow. Visual check every sideline trunk is where I start. I personally test both electric screw drivers for emergency facemask removal is my first check. I like to watch my injuries players to see how they move during warm-ups as well. I introduce myself to the sideline support staff, review emergency details with the paramedics, meet the airway management and concussion physicians, review the communication format with the athletic trainer field observer and have fun chatting with the other PFATS members and visiting team doctors. The Texans’ athletic trainers Geoff Kaplan, Roland Ramirez and AJ Van Valkenburg are great guys and I always enjoy catching up with them. I wish them “good luck” but, to be honest, I really don’t mean it.
11:45 AM – If any medical issues arise, our General Manager and Head Coach are updated immediately. My staff and I strongly remind the player and staff to hyper-hydrate and to get any needed sports medicine assistance now. This is the last time to get the little things done: extra tape on that fractured finger or some Active Release Technique for the tight hamstring or adjust the knee brace.
11:55 AM – My busy-work is done, my headset is turned on, my supplies are loaded in my belt bag/pockets and now my mind eagerly tunes into the energy in that locker room for the game. We don’t like the Texans and they don’t like us. It makes the excitement for this game that much more intense!
12:00 PM – “They’re Heading Out!” cries out and the entire medical staff, with our pockets and medical belt packs properly stocked, excitedly heads to the tunnel with the players.
12:04 PM – The crowd is overly loud today. The traditional high-fives take place, the ammonia cap requests are coming fast and the players and staff do their pre-game things on the sideline waiting for battle. I like this part of the pre-game…watching who has “the look” in their eyes and who is not quite locked in yet. I shake hands with most of the coaches and follow through on a few player pre-game rituals. It’s time for the kickoff. The excitement, the noise and the pure energy is addicting! “THIS is why I love this job” echoes in my head and it’s such a rush to be right there on the field as the stadium begins to rock! As to what I scream at that point, I’ll keep that to myself!
1:05 to 4:15 PM – My role becomes simple: Keeping the players safe and the football staff updated on every medical issue impacting the players on the field. When a player “goes down”, one of my assistants (Justin Bland or Rod Scott), Team Physician Dr. Kevin Kaplan and I race out to evaluate and treat injured player. Once on the sideline with the injured player, it’s my job to quickly updating the Head Coach, position coach and special team coach on the injury and the projected plan for that player.
An extensive evaluation and x-rays typically takes place and the player is either:
1. Ruled “OUT” for the game and his physical therapy is started immediately.
2. Treated with physical therapy/taped/padded/braced
Put through an agressive return-to-play agility drill on the sideline based on his position and injury
Give the opportunity to be cleared by the Team Physician to return to the game.
This is the challenging and fun part of the job. It’s multitasking at its best in a high energy and testosterone-filled setting with one eye on the field and one eye on the players on the sideline.
4:30 to 5:45 PM – Win or lose, the role of the medical staff doesn’t alter one bit. We evaluate and treat post-game injuries and prepare the injured players to fly back to Jacksonville. The use of x-rays, specific sports medicine techniques and supplies helps this medical process to run smoothly. A post-game injury report is written up in my notebook. We won the game!
5:45 to 5:55 PM – Strip, run to the shower, put on suit and tie, grab a box dinner/bottle of water and race to the five waiting team buses. My bus is #4: it’s a fun combo of both staff and media on this bus.
6:30 PM – Security check and board the plane, with a victory in hand. Update the Head Coach and General Manager on medical issues, coordinate the icing and positioning of the players with my assistants for the long ride home. I finalize any special tests such as MRIs, concussion testing and medical consultant appointments with Nancy our MVP office manager back in Jacksonville before the plane takes off. This is an important task for me to update the players and staff before we leave Houston.
30,000 feet – Eat healthy & relax.
I enjoy my job as an athletic trainer & physical therapist in the NFL. It’s not easy. It’s a 7 day a week job for six straight months but that’s just part of the job. I love the challenge and the responsibility associated with this exciting career.
I owe my assistants and friends, Rod Scott and Justin Bland, so much for the outstanding job they do each and every day. I couldn’t do my job without them! Our objective is simple: To keep our players as healthy as possible so they can do their job at an elite level.