It was Bones McCoy who used to remind Captain James T. Kirk: “I’m a doctor, Jim, not an auto mechanic!” or “I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!” or “I’m a doctor, not a coal miner!” or “What am I, a doctor or a moon-shuttle conductor?”
How about this one: “I’m a doctor, not a football coach!”
That’s what some medico involved in Utah football needs to step up and say to Captain Kyle Whittingham, and here’s why: Just because a quarterback can play doesn’t mean he should play. Just because a quarterback won’t cause himself permanent damage by playing doesn’t mean he should play. Just because a quarterback gets caught up in the machismo of the moment and wants to play doesn’t mean he should play.
Travis Wilson could and did play in Utah’s most recent loss at USC, but he shouldn’t have played.
Anybody who wants to argue that point wasn’t watching when the Utes set offensive football back a few decades, stumbling and bumbling around in the Coliseum. They couldn’t run. They couldn’t throw. And unless someone could come up with another way to advance the football, they were out of options, out of sync, out of luck.
It wasn’t all Wilson’s fault, but the quarterback neither resembled his former self nor a shadow of what he once was. In past low moments, the sophomore had fired the ball errantly and suffered interceptions. But at least he fired it. Against the Trojans and against Arizona the week before, his throws flew and floated and fluttered and flopped. He passed the ball on USC as though he was wearing an oven mitt on his throwing hand — for good reason. The glove he wore was, presumably, for protection.
Wilson completed 8 of 23 passes for 66 yards and four picks in those two league losses. He also fumbled. And the Utes lost by a combined margin of 27 points. He went out and fought hard, nobly, with a hand that was cut up — and stitched — in two different places and had a sprained index finger. He couldn’t grip the ball well or deliver it with any effectiveness.
“I needed to make better throws,” Wilson said afterward, allowing himself no sympathy.
Whittingham allowed no sympathy, either, speaking an oft-heard, blunt coach’s refrain that if a player is on the field, he’s good to go. No excuses.
Talk to the hand, K-Whitt.
Wilson wasn’t good to go. The kid was hurt. He should have been excused. Nobody had to examine his hand or have a framed physician’s diploma on the wall to come to that conclusion. He flat-out couldn’t pass the ball.
He shouldn’t have been on the field.
Coaches — and players, too — sometimes get so caught up in a competitive fog that they can’t process what’s real. They might be dealing with an injury that, from a medical standpoint, doesn’t shut down a player, but it just should. Most players want to go, even when it’s not the best idea. A lot of players are hurt at this time of the season. But they don’t want to be a wimp. They do want to play on. They always want to play on.
It’s a doctor’s call as to whether an athlete can play. It’s a coach’s call as to whether he will. Remember all the heat Bronco Mendenhall took a year ago when quarterback Riley Nelson played with a broken back. The BYU medical staff said it was OK. The coach should have said it wasn’t.
Utah offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson said this past week that when he played quarterback at Montana State some 50 years ago, it was “unheard of” for a player not to play: “You didn’t miss games unless you couldn’t walk.” That Neanderthal mentality still persists in football — unless it involves head injuries, and that bit of enlightenment probably has as much to do with liability as it does good sense.
After a bye week, Whittingham said Monday that Wilson will get 60 percent of the reps and backup Adam Schulz 40 percent in the run-up to the Arizona State game Saturday. Wilson’s hand on Monday still looked like he had tried to pet a porcupine. Maybe it’s healed now. Maybe it’s not.
Schulz may not have Wilson’s talent, but if the starter’s hand is still any kind of issue, a call for a change should be easy. Should be.
Unless the fog has yet to lift.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.