Pro Bowl in Arizona changes game for medical team working event

By Bill Bradley, contributing editor

For the second time since 1979, the Pro Bowl is being played at the home of an NFL team. But it's also being contested with unconferenced teams selected by a draft this week.

Those factors bring unique issues for the medical personnel directing player health and safety during the annual event, which will be played Sunday at the home of the Arizona Cardinals, University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

One of the teams Sunday will receive assistance from the Baltimore Ravens' medical and training staff, led by long-time team physician Dr. Andrew Tucker. NFL Evolution this week interviewed Tucker about how he prepares for the medical needs of a Pro Bowl and how his staff treats a roster of other teams' players.

This has been a last minute assignment for you after the Ravens were picked when the Denver Broncos declinced. Are the medical staffs for the Pro Bowl always based on the coaching staff that is chosen?

Yes, the medical staffs chosen correspond to the team's coaching staffs that are working the game.

Will you work with the Ravens athletic training staff as well, or will that group be chosen from another team?

We will work with our training staff. There are many advantages to maintaining the working relationship between a team's physicians and athletic training staff rather than mixing and matching new relationships for an event such as this.

Have you run a medical staff at the Pro Bowl prior to this year's event and, if so, what are your memories from the medical side of the event?

Yes, we staffed the 2009 Pro Bowl (with the Ravens coaching staff). I remember it was a relatively quiet week from a medical perspective, with more issues arising in friends and families than the players. We were able to get away from the hotel complex in the afternoons and experience some of Hawaii.

Before last season, the teams were divided by AFC and NFC. Now the teams are drafted from a general roster during the week of the game. How does that affect your work as well as the athletic training staff?

With rosters mixed with AFC and NFC players, it does not affect us too much since we don't really know the players very well, regardless of their conference affiliation. It does raise the awkward possibility of our own Ravens players being on the other team. I would rather they be on the team we are covering and I would think our own players would rather work with the coaches, trainers, doctors and equipment people they are used to working with.

Although it's being played in an NFL stadium, what are some of the differences you find yourself facing as you direct medical care for a game like this? It seems to more daunting than a Ravens road game.

There is great comfort in knowing the medical system in place is the same as used by the Arizona Cardinals and their medical staff, whom we know are available throughout the week, will be present on game day. Also, the emergency medical systems established by Dr. Jim Ellis and his colleagues are very well developed. Dr. Ellis sets up the emergency action plans for the Super Bowl every year, and he is doing it for the Pro Bowl this year since the games are back to back in the same venue.

How does the league's centralized medical records come into play in preparation for a game like this?

The league's centralized EMR is not likely to be a significant factor for player care for a single event such as this.

Do you still find yourself talking to the other 31 team doctors while preparing to care for these players?

We don't need to talk to many physicians or athletic trainers about the players for an event like this. If a player had a significant issue at the end of the season, their team medical staff would not likely be clearing the player for participation in the Pro Bowl. There are isolated instances when a doctor or trainer may give us a heads up about a player, but from our experience in 2009 this is not common.

How do you discover each player's individual needs? Do you interview each one?

We do not interview each player. If there are issues, we are usually contacted by their medical staff early in the week, or the player will discuss with us at the practices early in the week.

How does a medical staff balance one of the prime issues of the Pro Bowl; that is keeping the players safe while making the game competitive?

That's a great question. I think that is more a question for the NFL and rules they set up governing the game. For the medical staff, it is "business as usual" once the game begins, and we would use the same approach as covering any game.

What are the biggest player health and safety concerns you have entering a Pro Bowl week? Would you make any changes to the Pro Bowl for the sake of player safety?

I don't have any concerns. The NFL does a great job making sure the processes are in place to care for any emergency during the week and during the game. There is great comfort in working with fellow team physicians in our host city. We are plugging into a well-run system. As far as the game is concern, I think the football operations staff at the NFL have put a lot of thought into making the game competitive yet safe as possible for the players.

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