FLOWERY BRANCH, GA— Last Thursday, Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas knew exactly where he was one year ago to the day.
He was trying to get up off the ground, as he'd done so many times during his football life, after what he thought was just a bump of the knees during a one-on-one drill with an Atlanta cornerback.
But it turned out that the double-move route would be his last for 2009, his second year in the league and a season that held high hopes for the 2008 third-round pick.
Crumbling to the ground, Douglas heard two pops in his knee area and knew something wasn't right, and when he fell back to ground after trying to walk off the field on his own, his and the Falcons' worst fears began to materialize.
"That's when I knew right something wasn't right," Douglas said Thursday. "I try to come back from everything, I don't like being hurt with little nicks and little bangs; I always grind those out. That's when I knew, when I couldn't get up and walk, that something was wrong."
When Douglas talks about that day he always returns to his love of football. He'll tell anyone that will listen that he believes he loves the game more than anyone. Moments after he got the diagnosis of the torn ACL, with tears streaming down his face, he promised himself that the past offseason worth of hard work he'd put in wouldn't scratch the surface of the work he was about to embark on during rehab to return to the game he loves.
He prepared for the fight of his life and he'd make it back, not just for himself but for a team and an organization that he believes is filled with positive chemistry. There were days, however, when the pain of coming back was almost unbearable.
"You have your moments, trust me," he said. "There were days where I got strapped down to the table and they'd bend my knee as far back as they could and I'm in there screaming, but once again it was all for my good and all for my health coming back this year."
With the screams a distant memory, the tears long dried and rehab in the rear-view mirror, Douglas stepped foot on the practice field July 30 ready to pick up where he left off.
And how'd that feel?
"Just smelling the grass, being at the complex, once again I love the game of football," Douglas said, with relief in his voice — like being reunited with an old friend. "I think I love it more than anyone. Coming out here and just smelling the grass, catching footballs, laughing and joking with the guys, going through plays, sitting in meetings, it's all a great deal. With this organization, I don't think there's a better organization to do that with."
As is the case with every friendship rekindled after years apart, there's a warming up period — moments where you have to remember it's OK to let your guard down. Once Douglas was cleared for full-team participation a few days after training camp began, he knew those moments of football stress would come and he was curious to see how he and his knee would react.
"It was good," the former Louisville standout said. "Even (Thursday), I fell trying to catch a ball and I didn't even realize I fell. But being able to do that and not have to think about me falling, things of that nature, are important. I had some routes where I had contact and it was fine. I had one catch where I had to bend down on my knee that I hurt in a weird, awkward position and catch it. That was good. It was good to go through things like that."
Now with those getting-to-know-you-again moments behind him, Douglas feels no hesitancy at all.
"Nah, there's no second thoughts," he said. "Just go out here and play football, love the game, and do what you do."
In case one needs another reason to believe Douglas never moaned about his fate, look no further than how he approached surgery, just days after the Falcons began their season with a Georgia Dome win over the Miami Dolphins.
"I was nervous, I'm not even going to lie," Douglas said. "Then to make it even weirder, I had it the day before my birthday, so I got out of the hospital on my birthday. But it was kind of a great birthday present to have my ACL repaired. I didn't look at it as a negative. I looked at it as a positive that on my birthday I got out of the hospital and my ACL is new again."
His ACL is new again, but everything else about Douglas is just like it was.
Same old Harry.