By Dan Salomone
Additional photography by Mike Malarkey
The Giants had an atmosphere of accountability, and nothing could stop linebacker Carl Banks. Not even a dislocated wrist. With an expected recovery time of six to eight months, Banks missed six weeks.
There Carl Banks sat on the team plane to the nation's capital, arm propped up by a makeshift sling that was put together with a coat hanger hooked on the overhead luggage bin. Throbbing, the linebacker replayed the events in his mind of 13 days earlier when he came up from a pile on Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith only to notice a little bulge on the backside of his left wrist. Banks, in the third quarter of the Giants' eventual 31-17 victory over the Cowboys in Week 4 of the 1990 season, went over to the trainers, telling them that he thought he sprained his wrist and needed to be taped up so he could return to the game.
The trainers then waved over the doctor, who immediately put that idea to rest because, as it turned out, Banks dislocated his wrist. The medical staff took Banks for x-rays that showed where the bone had dislodged, needing to perform a "finger trap" to get it to fall back into place. The traction was successful, and the doctors inserted percutaneous pins and wrapped up the wrist. Good as new.
Banks and the Giants had the advantage of a bye week before their next game, trying to keep their undefeated season going on the road against the Redskins. Banks practiced all week without pain, relatively speaking, but then the throbbing took over on the plane the day before the game. Thinking that perhaps the cast was too tight -- the staff had recast it before the team took off -- Banks didn't know what was going on with his wrist. They landed, arrived at the hotel, went through the day, but Banks could not sleep. So the doctors cut the cast open.
"The issue was the pins were exposed through the cast," Banks recalled a quarter-century later. "And that meant dirt could get through the pins and straight down into the wrist. So I got a major infection as a result of that."
For Banks, it was not a game he wanted to miss as his team looked to start the season 5-0. So he asked the doctors about his options. With surgery already scheduled for when he landed back home, the prognosis was that no further damage could be done by playing, just, "If you can bear the pain, we'll wrap the wrist up so it's not in any danger and you can play."
Banks said, "OK, give me four Tylenol."
With one arm, Banks helped the Giants gut out a 24-20 win against their Washington rivals to preserve their perfect record.
"The way our defense was playing, we were a very close-knit unit and it was just kind of this atmosphere of accountability," Banks said. "And I felt like I was letting my team down if I couldn't make a contribution."
The next day, Banks underwent surgery.
The doctors told him the normal course of action would keep him out six to eight months. After six weeks of aggressive rehab on his part, Banks returned against the 49ers in Week 13, playing the rest of the way, including three postseason games that culminated with a victory in Super Bowl XXV.
"For me, the cast situation, that Washington game was probably as memorable as it could be for me because for the first time in my entire professional football career, I had to make a medical decision with the doctors looking at me saying, 'Whatever you choose to do, you do,'" Banks said. "So when you hit that crossroads, it's, 'Am I going to do this for my team, or am I just going to sit it out?'"