He remembers thinking it would be like any other hit he’d taken in the pocket.
And then, nothing.
In his first interview since sustaining the concussion on a hit from Thomas against the Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ starting quarterback told reporters he doesn’t remember much about the hit that sidelined him for a week as he progressed through the league’s concussion protocol.
“I did not remember the play at all,” Rudolph said Monday. “Everything before the play and after the play. It was weird. I had to go back and ask the coach, what was the play call because for some reason, just that play was kind of blank. But everything before and after was clear as day.”
He does remember walking off the field with the help of his linemen, and Monday, he laughed about the minor controversy surrounding the malfunctioning medical cart.
“When I was on the ground, they made me move my arms and legs and made sure I didn’t have any type of spinal cord injury,” Rudolph said. “I guess there were plenty of memes about the cart not working. I wouldn’t have needed to be in the cart because I passed all of the tests on the ground. I would’ve walked, regardless of whether the cart was operational or not.”
Since the hit, Rudolph has watched video of the play. He said specialists told him that the placement of the hit caused him to be knocked briefly unconscious.
“It was a freak thing the way it hit my jaw,” Rudolph said. “My jaw was really never sore, the way that my head torqued really quick. The specialist said that it kind of shut off my brain, not my spinal cord, but my stem. Some high-ranking term that’s above my paygrade. It shut me off real quick.
“It was a sweet spot, shut me out black. Probably been hit like that many times and that’s never happened. It was a weird deal.”
He was officially cleared from the protocol Wednesday night, and promptly resumed his role as the team’s starting quarterback when it returned from the Week 7 bye. Rudolph was a full participant in Monday’s practice, and he’s expected to be a full go when the Steelers take on the Miami Dolphins in a Monday Night Football matchup on Oct. 28.
“As frustrating as it was to sit out when I really felt pretty close to normal and pretty fine, clear in the head,” he said. “It was the best thing for my long-term health.”
Though the hit looked vicious, Rudolph said he started to feel close to normal less than 24 hours later.
“The next morning I felt fine,” he said. “I had a minor headache that night. Next morning, I started to really come back. I slept really great. Never really had any symptoms like sensitivity to light. I’ve only had one concussion prior, in high school.”
Rudolph was a limited participant in every practice leading up to Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, but because he hadn’t officially cleared protocol and took mostly backup and practice squad reps during practice, Rudolph wasn’t active for the game. Even so, he still wanted to play against the Chargers.
“I feel like that because I’m a competitor,” he said. “I like to feel like I know my body. The thought process from the specialist was, ‘if you take a lesser hit, you could be out for longer, you could really damage …’
“I was just more vulnerable, at that point, was the opinion of the specialist, so I didn’t really have a choice. Obviously, I wanted to. I think, I look back at this 10 years down the road and I’ll probably be smart, glad I did sit out for week but I was not happy in the moment.”
Steelers wide receiver James Washington, who was teammates with Rudolph at Oklahoma State, knows almost exactly what his quarterback went through over the last two weeks.
Washington suffered a similar hit his junior year against Texas when defensive back Malcolm Roach made contact with the back of his head in the third quarter.
Like Rudolph, Washington was knocked out, but felt fine immediately after regaining consciousness. Washington took even less time to fully bounce back, playing in a game a week later.
“I was kind of the same way,” Washington said, remembering his own concussion. “Just felt like you woke up from a nap, really. I told them I could keep playing and they were like, ‘Nah, you can’t play anymore.’ Got to take those precautionary measures and just take it step-by-step.”
Washington remembers being worried about taking a similar hit the next time he played, and he thinks Rudolph will have the same lingering thought against the Dolphins — at least until he settles into the game.
“You’re just playing like you’re thinking about it,” Washington said. “But I caught a few deep balls from Mason, and we got to rolling and all of a sudden, the thought was gone. And it was just rolling from there. I think it’s going to take a few plays because you can’t get hurt and then think about it the next week.”