Wisch: Heisman Campaign For Injured Persa A Little Premature
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By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) It’s estimated that the rehab for an Achilles tendon rupture such as the one suffered last November by Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa takes anywhere from 12 to 14 months.
But how long do you figure it would take for the NU Athletic Department to rehab its increasingly overeager marketing tactics?
Whatever that timetable, I encourage Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips & Co. to get started now so as to slow things down a bit – or, perhaps, a lot – in their promotion all things purple.
Because things are starting to get out of hand.
In late July, Northwestern fired off the latest salvo in its ongoing campaign to boost the profile of “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” by any means possible. Officials announced that the school had purchased billboard space not just along the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago but also way out in Bristol, Conn. – the home of ESPN – in order to promote Persa for the Heisman trophy.
Nevermind that it hadn’t been even nine months since Nov. 13, 2010, when the Persa blew out his Achilles’ tendon in the Wildcats’ win over Iowa, prematurely ending his junior season.
And clearly putting his overall health for his senior season in doubt.
Nevertheless, Northwestern didn’t stop with just the billboards, as the school also sent 7-pound purple dumbbells to 80 media members under the campaign theme of “Persa Strong.” That phrase referred to the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Persa – who has bench-pressed 360 pounds and squatted 520 (pre-Achilles injury) – having been named by ESPN.com as the strongest QB in the entire country.
While spending the summer building an entire Heisman campaign around the notion of its quarterback’s strength, though, Northwestern officials didn’t seem to bother determining whether that quarterback would even be strong enough to even play this season in the first place.
So far, Persa hasn’t. And it’s unclear when he will.
Saturday afternoon, when NU squares off with Eastern Illinois in its home opener (2:30 p.m., BTN), sophomore QB Kain Colter is expected to again be under center as Persa continues recovery from his right Achilles injury.
According to the school, there is no timetable set for Persa’s return. But, as recently as mid-August, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was still selling the senior as his starting QB, going as far as to say that Persa’s Achilles might be “100 percent healed.”
“With any major injury, there will be an evolution,” Fitzgerald told the Chicago Tribune on Aug. 19. “Will Danny make the pirouette spin move into the end zone, like he did against Michigan State? Probably not initially. But that will come with time.”
The Tribune reported that on Aug. 15 at Northwestern’s summer camp in Kenosha, Persa’s regimen included arriving at the gym at 5:45 a.m. for a 90-minute rehab session, followed by quarterback meetings before practice from 8:50 to 11. After lunch, he was driven to Milwaukee where he ran 2½ miles on an anti-gravity treadmill. After more meetings, another two-hour practice and a spell in a cold tub, Persa then underwent a third rehab session lasting until about 9:30 p.m.
“There’s nobody in the country working harder than he is right now,” Fitzgerald said. “Nobody.”
But considering that Persa still isn’t able to take the field for Northwestern when it was claimed he was near 100 percent, is it possible that he was working too hard? And is it also possible that Persa might have overworked himself because the school had unwisely put the weight of a Heisman Trophy campaign on him?
And, you know, expected the guy to have the strength to just bear it.
Now, I do admire Jim Phillips’ energy and aggressiveness in marketing Northwestern athletics far and wide, even if I don’t agree with all of the school’s messaging (NU still remains more Evanston’s Big Ten Team than it does Chicago’s).
But I do think that NU is starting to let a purple haze of marketing cloud its overall judgment, and should step take a step back and reassess the wisdom of endeavors such as promoting players rehabbing from serious injuries as Heisman candidates.
In August, Chicago Tribune reporter Teddy Greenstein asked NU what it would do for the Heisman campaign if Persa got off to a hot start.
“We’ll send out treadmills,” joked Mike Polisky, NU’s senior associate athletic director.
Well, perhaps NU should still purchase a few of those.
And use them to slow the marketing department down.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.