When Carson Palmer tore his ACL last November, his future looked grim. He was a soon-to-be 35-year-old quarterback who had suffered two devastating knee injuries in the past eight years. At his age, the odds of his being able to rehab his knee and return as a winning quarterback were miniscule. He could've retired from football, cleaned out his locker and received a nice outpouring of support from fans and fellow players. Who would've blamed him?
But in his heart, Palmer wanted to play. He knew he could still compete at an elite level, and he knew the Cardinals had built a team capable of winning a Super Bowl.
So what did he do? He worked. He undertook a rigorous rehab program, which often included seven hours of physical therapy and training per day. STACK had exclusive access to Palmer's grueling off-season sessions, and we saw a player focused on doing everything in his power to get back on the field. But Palmer didn't just want to be healthy enough to play again—he wanted to come back stronger than ever. He knew the odds were against him, but that only fueled his focus.
"I've seen a lot of guys who've had knee injuries that don't ever really get back. Or they only play a couple more years or they don't ever play again. And that number is huge compared to the guys that get back and continue where they left off—or get better," Palmer said.
It wasn't easy. There was sweat, there was pain and there was mind-numbing repetition. Rehabbing from an ACL requires a ton of patience and a willingness to do the same thing day after day for months on end. "You can't take a day off. You can't go, 'I'm bummed out, I'm bored.' It's very boring, especially the first part of it. But as soon as you take a day off, then you can take a couple days off. Then you can take a week off and before you know it, you're way behind," Palmer said.
Palmer's work ethic and focus helped him not only stay on track, but advance faster than anyone expected. He was lifting heavy weight and performing agility drills weeks ahead of what a typical recovery timeline would dictate, which helped him get to a point where he was simultaneously strengthening his knee and improving his overall abilities as a player.
Fast forward to now. It's safe to say the grinding off-season left Palmer more polished than ever. He's having the best season of his career statistically, and he's a strong candidate for NFL MVP. More importantly, he has the Cardinals in prime position to make a run at the Lombardi Trophy. It's hard to say anyone saw this coming 11 months ago, and for that, Palmer is my STACK Athlete of the Year.
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