NFL’s Ultimate Ironman
When Daryn Colledge and Eric Winston sit down for lunch, the conversation usually covers all of the spectrum.
They’ll talk about the kids, football, compare their Sunday battle scars, talk a little more football, argue about who has the fullest and manliest beard, tell a few jokes, and playfully brag about which one of them is more important to the Cardinals.
“Uh, me,” Winston said after a throaty cough that quickly gets Colledge’s attention.
“Oh, please,” Colledge says with a sigh.
But sit them down and ask them about their abilities to practice and play through pain and how they manage to never miss a game, and it’s nothing but sheer mutual respect.
After all, these are two of the NFL’s ultimate ironmen, a pair of virtually indestructible warriors as tough as there is in the trenches.
Colledge, the Cardinals’ starting left guard, has played in 121 consecutive games — the second most among active offensive linemen and the most among guards. Winston, Arizona’s starting right tackle, has appeared in 117games in a row — the second most among tackles and the fourth most among linemen.
They will add to their streaks Sunday as the Cardinals aim for their third consecutive win when they play at the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I think Eric and I could have both told you that we were over 100, but I don’t think either of us could have told you what the exact number is,” Colledge said. “I think both of us just look at it as we want to be one of those guys that our teammates and coaches both look at and go, ‘Hey, I know that guy’s going to be here on Sunday.’
“It’s not just injuries. It’s overcoming stupid things off the field, on the field, in training camp, whatever.”
Playing that many games in a row is a badge of honor for both. It’s that quiet knowing that helps keep them going — no matter how much pain they’re in at the moment.
And yes, both are banged up, bruised and moving slowly on this particular day.
“Any time you’re getting up into that stratosphere of 80, 90, 100 consecutive starts,” Winston said, “that’s the definition of consistency. And let’s face it, in this league, no one’s lucky enough to skate by without playing with something.
“You’re playing with bone chips in ankles, bone chips in elbows. I think it just shows a dedication and an ability to play through things more than anything else.”
Their toughness hasn’t been lost on coach Bruce Arians, who made it a point to note that Colledge and Winston don’t just show up every Sunday — they show up every single day. They are an inspiration, the coach added, to the young players they play beside.
“They practice,” Arians said. “They’re not guys who take Wednesday off so they can be ready to play Sunday. They’re not that old yet; been around a bunch of them. They teach guys how to practice and it shows up in games. They’re rock solid.”
Wednesday practices set the tone for the rest of the week, and if Colledge, 31, and Winston, 29, start taking time off to rest and refresh, they say it would only make the team suffer.
“As an offensive line you need all five guys to be on the same page every single play so the more we’re practicing together, the more opportunity we have on Sunday to get it right,” Colledge says. “If you’re missing days, you’re not only hurting yourself, you’re hurting the guys around you.”
Colledge suffered a fracture in his fibula back in training camp and later he reinjured it, but he pushed through and hasn’t missed a down.
“Everybody’s hurt,” Winston said. “When was the first day of training camp? That’s the last time you’ll be 100 percent all year.”
Winston learned how to deal with pain early in his pro career when, playing for the Texans, he badly dislocated his middle finger in a game against the Cowboys. A doctor snapped the digit back in place, taped it up, and told a doubting Winston he was “good to go.”
“I looked at him kind of incredulously like, ‘What do you mean I’m good to go? My whole hand feels like it’s broke.’ ”
Then a veteran lineman held up a hand in front of Winston. Every finger was twisted this way and that. It was ugly, Winston recalled, but it was also a wakeup call.
“That’s when I came to the realization that no matter what happens, a sprained ankle or a busted leg, I’m just going to take it one play at time and not worry about how I’m going to get through this,” he said. “Just focus on the next play and the future will take care of itself.”
Both linemen decided to do some preventative maintenance. This season, they began eating a healthydiet prepared for them daily by a company called Sunfare.
The food, they said, tastes great and it’s given them more energy and stamina. They still have plenty of aches and pains, but at least they’re healthy on the inside.
“Maybe it helps me gain that little edge and keep these young guys from nipping at your heels too much,” Colledge said. “I don’t know, but we still haven’t missed a start, so that’s good enough for me.”