Aaron Rodgers has vowed to ‘rise again’ after rupturing his Achilles tendon, but history is less optimistic. For every Kevin Durant, who successfully returned from the injury in his 30s, there is a Johnny Unitas, Isiah Thomas, or Ryan Howard – athletes who failed to truly recover.
It’s not that it’s impossible to be productive following a torn Achilles. With medical improvements, the success rate of athletes recovering from the injury has gradually improved. In fact, one study produced by SAGE Publishing claims 75 percent of pro athletes who suffer the injury manage to return to their respective sports.
However, that figure drops to 68 percent for NFL players, according to a separate study. And there’s a dearth of information for those entering their 40s, as Rodgers will be in December.
‘Studies have shown that age is the strongest predictor of outcome after an Achilles repair,’ Dr. Peter DeLuca, a former Philadelphia Eagles and Flyers team physician, told The Associated Press. ‘So, the odds are not in his favor; however, there are other factors that play into this such as preexisting degeneration of the tendon and there are always exceptions to the rule particularly since he is in great physical condition.’
Rodgers is already ruled out for the remainder of this season, and given the 9-to-12-month recovery period, he could also miss a portion of the 2024 campaign as well. With that in mind, the following is Mail Sport’s look at comparable Achilles injuries, focusing on athletes in their 30s and how they performed after the career-altering injury.
Aaron Rodgers has vowed to ‘rise again’ after rupturing his Achilles tendon in Week 1
Aaron Rodgers is helped off the field by New York Jets trainers on Monday night at MetLife
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant, 31: Perhaps the most encouraging example for Jets fans is that of Durant, who tore his Achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals.
The road back to the hardwood was hardly easy. The 6-foot-10 former MVP missed the entire 2019-2020 season.
However, he returned to his old form with Brooklyn in 2020-21, averaging 26.9 points a game while earning another All-Star nod.
Remarkably, the Achilles injury hasn’t slowed Durant’s earnings in the least as he’s pocketed more than $160 million over the four seasons since he tore the tendon.
He’s also taken time to offer encouragement to other athletes who have battled the injury.
‘You’re going to come back better, stronger than ever,’ Durant told Villanova’s Justin Moore after the Wildcats basketball player went down in the 2022 Elite Eight.
‘These days, it’s not like the older days where you can’t come back from it.’
When Kevin Durant tore his Achilles in 2019, he said, Kobe Bryant reached out with some words of encouragement: ‘Don’t be a f****** crybaby’
Kobe Bryant rolls on the ground in pain after tearing his Achilles during a 2013 game
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, 34: Durant actually received similar encouragement from Bryant when he went down in 2019, although the late Lakers legend had a decidedly different choice of words.
‘Don’t be a f****** crybaby,’ Bryant said, as Durant later revealed. ‘It’s going to be all right. You’re going to come back and be who you are.’
It was six years earlier when Bryant went down with his torn Achilles, famously hitting a pair of free throws before leaving the court for the better part of the next two seasons.
Knee injuries further complicated Bryant’s return, but he still averaged 22.3 points a game in 2014-15 and miraculously dropped 60 in his farewell performance against the Utah Jazz on April 13, 2016.
Atlanta Hawks forward Dominique Wilkins, 32: The Human Highlight Reel ruptured his Achilles in 1992 before resuming his Hall-of-Fame career 11 months later.
Remarkably, Wilkins averaged 29.9 points a game for the Hawks the following season – nearly a career high – before being traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in 1994 and ultimately bouncing in and out of the league in his late 30s.
The Human Highlight Reel ruptured his Achilles in 1992 but resumed his career 11 months later
Marino remained a prolific quarterback after his torn Achilles, but said he never felt right again
Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, 32: Perhaps the best example for Rodgers to study is that of Marino.
With the Dolphins eyeing a potential Super Bowl run, Marino tore his Achilles in 1993, ending his streak of 145 straight starts.
He would return a season later, and while his stats remained the envy of most NFL quarterbacks, Marino felt his body never truly recovered.
‘It was really devastating,’ Marino told the team website in 2019. ‘A ruptured Achilles is one of the most difficult injuries to come back from. It’s time consuming and tedious. You go through times when you aren’t making the progress you think you should be.’
Making matters worse, Marino believes the surgery was unsuccessful.
‘The surgery to fix the Achilles didn’t work the way it was supposed to,’ Marino said. ‘The tendon atrophied and elongated, so I couldn’t put weight on my toes and push off the front of my foot when I was throwing the ball.’
Despite the issues, Marino remained confident in his ability to win games, and proved it by tossing five touchdowns against the New England Patriots in his return in 1994.
Marino managed to continue his career until age 38 before retiring in 1999.
Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, 31: The 2006 National League MVP tore his Achilles at the end of the team’s 2011 playoff run and never truly returned to form.
After averaging 44 home runs over his six years before the injury, that figure plummeted to 19 over the next five seasons.
By 2016, Howard’s average plummeted .196, and he ultimately retired after the season.
Johnny Unitas (right) and Ryan Howard (left) struggled to return from their Achilles injuries
Isiah Thomas’ torn Achilles tendon was the final word on his playing career with the Pistons
Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas, 37: In an ominous sign for paddleball enthusiasts, the Hall-of-Fame quarterback tore his Achilles while playing paddle tennis at a YMCA in 1971.
Unitas’ career had already been derailed by injuries by this point, and the Achilles tear obviously didn’t help matters.
He would go 5-9 over the final three years of his career, including his dreadful five-game stint with the San Diego Chargers in 1973.
Detroit Pistons guard Isiah Thomas, 32: Zeke was already near the end of his career in 1994 when he tore his Achilles tendon at the end of the season. He retired a month later, and quickly took a job as part owner and executive vice president of the expansion Toronto Raptors.