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Derek Wolfe injury: Lifting the veil

After months of mystery surrounding his November collapse on a team bus, Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe tells Denver reporters what happened to him and why he had to miss the rest of the 2013 season.

For months, the circumstances behind Derek Wolfe's seizure and injury were shrouded in mystery. Respecting Wolfe's privacy and medical situation, the Denver Broncos opted not to give too many details surrounding the second-year defensive end's suddenly-altered status.

Here's what we knew:

  • Wolfe suffered a seizure on the team bus November 29th heading to the Broncos' Week 13 games against the Kansas City Chiefs.
  • Wolfe was hospitalized for several days.
  • Broncos coach John Fox said it was doubtful Wolfe would play the following week against the Tennessee Titans, but didn't say (or didn't know) it would be a much longer absence. "Right now we're not thinking about his availability or any of that stuff," Fox said at the time. "We're just concerned about his health, and medical people are working through that as we speak."
  • Wolfe returned to practice in January, after the Broncos made the playoffs, but by the time the Broncos were preparing for the AFC Championship Game he was placed on Injured Reserve.

And that was it. No details. No on-field incident fans could point to. Just a mysterious collapse, then the unavailability of a Broncos starter.

That all changed Wednesday. After Derek Wolfe's tell-all interview with Denver TV stations, here's what we now know:

  • Wolfe's seizure is believed to have stemmed from the spinal cord injury he suffered in the preseason in Seattle. "We think that's where it stemmed from, yeah," Wolfe said. Wolfe was carted off the field and hospitalized at the time.
  • Three months later, after collapsing on the team bus in November, Wolfe was unconscious for 26 hours. "I don't remember any of it," he said.
  • Wolfe says doctors had to induce him into a coma to perform spinal taps to rule out a condition such as a brain tumor. "They ruled out anything life-threatening that could be happening to me."
  • Wolfe had every intention of coming back and helping the Broncos, but like many a football player, he probably rushed himself back too soon. Wolfe said his nervous system "shut down."

"I thought I was going to be able to come back. I thought I was going to play as soon as we hit the playoffs," Wolfe said. "I came back to practice, and just like, I couldn't even like... I mean everything was screwed up. It was really, really weird. A really weird and scary feeling. The doctors reassured me, 'Everything's going to be alright, you just need to rest.' I kept trying to push myself back out there and finally Greek (Broncos trainer Steve Antonopulos) was like, 'No. Stop. Just take a break. Go home, and don't even come around. Just go home and rest.' So I just kind of locked myself in the house and relaxed and tried not to watch any football really."

I came back to practice, and... everything was screwed up. It was really, really weird. A really weird and scary feeling.

Some of that football Wolfe tried not watch included Super Bowl XLVIII, Denver's 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Wolfe talked about missing the championship game, saying the presence of Von Miller, Kevin Vickerson, Chris Harris Jr., and Rahim Moore - all out due to injury - would have made a big difference in the game.

"If our defense is healthy, it's a different ball game," said Wolfe.

Looking forward

Wolfe said retirement never entered his mind, which surprised me. A spinal injury that was "really, really weird" and "scary", where my "nervous system shut down" would have certainly given me pause. But Wolfe plans to carry on. After weeks of rehabilitation, the third-year player will begin working out next week.

"Really I just needed to rest. And I did, and now I'm good," Wolfe said. He seems good too. He has a long offseason to take things slowly, and with better awareness surrounding his condition, he should be able to tackle the offseason like he would an opposing running back.

"I think I'm going to come back bigger and faster and stronger than I ever was," Wolfe said. "That's the plan."