Andrea Kremer sat down with Carson Palmer this week for an exclusive interview. For the full story on his recovery, tune in to NFL Network's "GameDay Morning" at 9 a.m. ET this Sunday.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Carson Palmer sits down for our interview and the first thing I notice is his left knee, the one that's "been through a lot," he says, in a massive understatement.
First there was the reconstruction in 2006 for a torn ACL and MCL, cartilage and meniscus damage and dislocation of his patella -- an injury so gruesome that the Cincinnati Bengals' team doctor said, on a severity scale of 1-3, this was a 4. Then last November, Palmer believes, the cadaver Achilles' tendon that was used to repair his knee reached its "expiration date," and the ACL tore again. This reconstruction was done with Palmer's own patellar tendon. The scars of the past nine years are evident as Palmer plays show and tell -- the scar on the inside of the left knee, the "zipper" down the middle and the fresh scrapes from the turf of Sunday's season opener. But these scars are different from the ones the injury left on his 4-year old daughter, Bries.
"Every night I come home and my youngest daughter Bries goes, 'Daddy, is that the broken leg?' She can't remember if it's left or right, but she asks me every single day, and it's not broken anymore, but she remembers the surgery process, and her mom crying, and she was at the game and just the chaos that comes with that. And I think she was scarred by that moment. It was probably pretty traumatizing for her to go through that at a young age, but she pats it and she comes and sits on this leg and gives me a hug. That's priceless and I hope I never forget that."
Palmer and his wife, Shaelyn, now have three children, but that's not the only change in his life since the original 2006 injury. Palmer is now 35 years old and playing his 13th NFL season. The clock is ticking loudly and Palmer is keenly aware of this. But his head coach, Bruce Arians, told me that Palmer is ahead of where he was last season when he got injured.
"His arm is healthier than last year (when Palmer battled a nerve issue in his throwing shoulder)," Arians said, "and he has a better grasp of the entire offense."
His throwing mechanics have improved, too. Part of the rehab process for an ACL injury is to relearn even the most basic movements, so Palmer turned the occasion into an opportunity to fine-tune his throwing mechanics. According to Arians, Palmer's legs and core are stronger, his feet are closer together and he's standing tall in the pocket. Palmer's rehab was so meticulous it bordered on the obsessive. Not only did he benefit from changes and improvements in rehab techniques since his first knee injury, but he left no stone unturned in researching the latest in sports science, as well.
"I changed my diet -- I had my bloodwork checked all the time to make sure I wasn't deficient in anything, and what I was deficient in, I was taking vitamins for to make sure all my levels were even," Palmer said. "I was getting IVs with different vitamin packs and staying hydrated. I'd drink gallons of water every day. I was getting my knee worked on all the time. I was getting massages to flush the bad blood out to get good blood in there. I knew that I was not 25 coming back from this and heal quickly. I knew -- at the age I'm at and what I expected of myself -- I had to do everything. My diet got to the point where I didn't eat a carb other than one day a week, and I got down to like 218 pounds."
Palmer, who is still in search of his first playoff victory, has never been one to seek individual honors or accolades. But he admitted to being motivated by the desire to be the Comeback Player of the Year, an honor that eluded him in the 2006 season when the New York Jets' Chad Pennington won it, much to Palmer's dismay.
"That was the one negative thing that I had in my head that kind of just pissed me off and pushed me a little bit more," Palmer recalled.
Then there are the naysayers who can't understand why Palmer would try to return, a few months shy of his 36th birthday (in December), after the second ACL reconstruction of his career. It's why he invokes this Thomas Edison quote: "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."
"That quote is important to me because I had more people going, 'What are you doing? Why? Why? You can go and do whatever you want. Why don't you go play golf or do this or do that? Why are you still playing?' " Palmer said. "And I got so annoyed and so bitter at the question and the text and the emails and running into a random fan at a restaurant or stuff on Instagram and the why? And it's such a simple question and people were so perplexed. And it's because I love football.
"I love playing. I want to win a Super Bowl. It's such a simple answer that people were kind of like, 'Oh, OK. That makes sense.'"
Prior to getting injured, Palmer called last season his most fun, saying it was the best team he'd ever played on. Not coincidentally, when he re-tore his ACL, the Cardinals sat atop the league with an 8-1 record. He feels like he's picked right up where he left off and believes this team is even better with another year of seasoning together. He's healthy, lean and strong. Arians told me the veteran quarterback has grasped more complicated concepts of his system and truly earned his trust. Palmer even uses virtual reality technology at home to further study the offense. And he says he only thinks about the knee and the injury when people like me ask him about it.
Now if he can only convince Bries Palmer that daddy's knee is all better. In fact, Carson Palmer might be better than ever.