There is hardly a tougher choice for an athlete than whether to play through an injury or not. Unless you're talking about a guy like Jay Cutler, who won't play with a hangnail, his choice is always to sit. He's on one end of the spectrum, and that's why he'll always have leadership questions (not enough heart).
Then there's the other end of the spectrum, where glory resides at the expense of flesh, ligaments, and bones. These are the guys that have a little bit more in their stomachs to pull motivation from, hence the term "gutsy performances."
There is a tier of athlete that has an unexplainable drive that enables them to push through a contest on sheer willpower alone. Some athletes can bend their bodies past their breaking point, and are still able to achieve borderline-superhuman feats. All for the love of the game, teammates, and winning.
That is the edge that many superstar athletes enjoy - a love that runs through them, and gives them the strength to mentally overcome their physical ailments.
This is not an advocation for playing through serious injuries, but a recognition of next-level competitive spirit.
Hey, what's nine months in a cast for a chance at sports immortality? A torn ACL for a Championship belt? Hospital bills and insurance premiums for record books and historical folklore?
This list of people all share the fortitude to persevere through the pain in the highest pressure situations, and hopefully will make some people think twice before saying athletes are only concerned about their contracts and shoe deals. Some of them actually have a passion for what they do, and it seems to be what makes champions and superstars rise above the rest - being willing to sacrifice their bodies for the sake of prestige and glory.
15 T-Mac Puts The Magic On His Back On Christmas
Ten days after being elbowed in the back by Kobe, Tracy McGrady was determined to play against a great Pistons team, even with a lingering deep bruise.
The Magic flew in a 13-year-old DC-Beltway sniper victim to watch his favorite player, T-Mac, play on Christmas day, so this game had extra value.
T-Mac was on a "strict" minute-cap, but kept filling up the bucket and blew the cap right off. He was crucial in the second half, and played every minute, shot 18 of 21 from the free throw line for the game, and finished with 46 points.
14 McNabb's Best Passing Game With A Broken Ankle
McNabb endured a lot of strife in Philadelphia, mainly because of his unwarranted braggadocio. He did get the Eagles to multiple NFC Championship games and a Superbowl, but his most remarkable performance came in an early season bout against the Arizona Cardinals.
McNabb had his ankle rolled up on during a sack on the third play of the game. He couldn't even jog while on the field, but took his time to rack up his best stat line as a pro. He finished the game 20 of 25 for 255 yards and four touchdown passes, as well as an eight week prognosis for a broken ankle.
13 Tony Romo's Fractured Rib and Punctured Lung
Tony Romo, whatever you may think of him, is a pretty tough guy; he's played through collarbone and back injuries.
In 2011 Romo had his rib fractured and lung punctured on the third play of the first quarter, then played the rest of the first half before taking a shot of painkiller at half time. He sat out the third quarter to let the injection set in, then returned to the game in the fourth with the Cowboys down 24-14.
Romo proceeded to lead his team to a 27-24 overtime victory, and finished the game 20 of 33 for 345 yards and two touchdown passes
12 Brandon Roy Propels Blazers To Playoff Victory 8 Days After Surgery
Brandon Roy wasn't supposed to play eight days after surgery for a torn Meniscus. He pestered coach Nate McMillan the night before the game for a chance, and ended up getting the green light from owner Paul Allen.
Portland, down 1-2 to the Suns, needed every spark of energy that came from Roy that night. When Roy jaunted to the scorers table the "Rocky" theme music blared, and the fans went ballistic.
B-Roy ended with only 10 points, a board, and an assist. But his presence forced the Suns to change their entire defensive game-plan, and sent a surge through his teammates that lifted them to victory.
11 Ben Rothwell Tears ACL vs. Gilbert Yvel
Ben Rothwell is currently a top UFC fighter, but his journey began bumpy. Coming off a loss to Cain Velasquez in his UFC debut, Rothwell was slated to fight Gilbert Yvel.
Rothwell won the fight unanimously, but did not walk away unscathed. On his first takedown attempt of the fight, Rothwell tore his ACL. The injury did not stop him, and he persisted in shooting for takedowns through the entire fight. On one attempt he was kicked in the nose, and now has a permanent deviated septum as a result.
Yvel did his damage, but Rothwell had the bigger heart.
10 Emmitt Smith Separated Shoulder, Clinched Division
Emmitt Smith separated his shoulder in the first half. The doctors told him at half time that there was nothing they could do other than shoot him up with some painkillers.
It was the last game of the season, against the division rival Giants, and the Cowboys had a first round bye in their sights. He ended the game with 226 total yards, 78 of them after the needle, and grimaced his way to the rushing title as well.
Former player and announcer Dan Dierdorf said of the performance, "To watch a guy like that sacrifice himself like that for the betterment of his team...I was just filled with admiration."
9 Aaron Rodgers Wins Divisional Round With A Torn Calf
Aaron Rodgers could barely even walk, let alone scramble in the pocket, make linemen miss and make miraculous plays, like he normally does. He had injured his calf in week 15, then re-tweaked it early in the game week 17, but still got the Packers to the playoffs and cinched an MVP award in the process.
Rodgers played the Divisional round game with the torn calf muscle, and led a comeback against the Cowboys to advance with a 26-21 victory. Hobbled and hurt, but not defeated, Rodgers battled it out for his team as only a true leader could have.
8 Chuck Liddell Defends Title With Torn MCL
Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz used to train together at Pitbull club until the two had a falling out. The main issue between them was that Ortiz would not grant Liddell a Title bout. After a long road to the Championship belt, circumventing Ortiz in the process, Liddell was prepared to defend his Title no matter the condition he was in.
This would be the fourth Title defense for Liddell, and it was against his biggest rival, plus, it was the largest money-draw for the UFC to date. Liddell ended Ortiz via TKO early in the third round, and didn't complain once about his torn MCL.
7 Curt Schilling Bloody Sock In ALCS
Curt Schilling tore the tendon sheath in his ankle in game one of the ALCS, and got knocked around by the Yankees. The Redsox went down 0-3 to the Yanks in the series, so it was time for Schilling to man-up and take the mound again in game six to continue sports history's greatest comeback ever.
Doctors performed a "radical" surgery on the tendon, and literally sutured it to his skin to prevent it from moving. He allowed only one run in seven innings.
"That's what I came to Boston to do. It's what I was supposed to do. And for that magical night, the Man Upstairs agreed," Schilling said.
6 Michael Jordan Flu Game
Michael Jordan did not have the flu in this game, but that is the way it is remembered, and as long as it is remembered is all that matters. He actually had food poisoning, which is completely debilitating. Anyone with food poisoning cannot be shamed for spending the whole day in bed. Jordan is a different breed obviously, so of course he was going to fight his way through this game.
Jordan finished the game with 39 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists, then finished off the Jazz the following game for his fifth Championship. His Airness impressed his will on the Jazz, and there was nothing they could do about it.
5 Tiger Woods Wins US Open On One Leg
Tiger Woods won the 2008 US Open without an ACL in his left knee, residual cartilage problems, as well as two stress fractures of his left tibia. How does a golfer get these injuries? Tiger used to "snap" his left knee forward in his drive to generate more torque through impact. After millions of swings, he had all but shredded his leg.
This was still Tiger in his prime, though, on a legitimate hunt for Jack Nicklaus' record 18 Masters victories, so he was going to play. Tiger and Rocco Mediate ended up playing extra holes in a Masters befitting Tigers' prowess.
4 Logan Mankins Reaches Superbowl With Torn ACL and MCL
Logan Mankins tore his ACL week one of the season, but could still run and play on it, so he didn't think there was any reason to see a doctor. He knew something was wrong, but didn't know how bad it was. Mankins said his weekly treatment for his ACL was to, "Put a brace on, tape aspirin to it, and go."
Then Mankins sprained his MCL two weeks before the playoffs. Needless to say, he played through the playoffs on that also, and ended up starting Superbowl XLVI with injuries to ligaments on both legs.
3 Arthur Abraham Defends His Title With A Fractured Jaw
Two titanium plates, 22 screws, three days in intensive care, and a championship belt. Middleweight Champion Arthur Abraham defeated the previously unbeaten Edison Miranda after suffering a compound fracture of his jaw.
Miranda was 26-0, and had won 19 of his fights by knockout before the third round. He fractured Abraham's jaw in the fourth round, but got docked 5 points total for head-butts and elbows.
The referee asked Abraham if he wanted to keep fighting ten different times, and Abraham responded affirmatively every time. He couldn't even close his mouth, but silenced the cocky Miranda with a unanimous decision (116-109, 115-109, 114-109), and his Title defended.
2 Kirk Gibson Walks-off With Hamstrings Issues
Kirk Gibson sat on the trainer's table the entire game, hoping for any kind of opportunity to get in the ball game. He was all but officially ruled out of the contest with hamstrings injuries on both legs.
When the ninth inning came around, the Dodgers' Pitcher was due up to bat fourth. Gibson summoned the batboy to relay a message to manager Tommy Lasorda that he was ready to pinch hit.
Gibson hit a walkoff two run homerun in game one, and in his only at bat of the World Series. "Some people think I'm crazy, but I dreamed it up and it happened," Gibson said.
1 Kurt Angle Wins Gold At Olympics With Broken Neck
Kurt Angle lives by intensity, integrity, and intelligence. Whether or not wrestling in the Olympics with four broken vertebrae in his neck was intelligent or not is a valid question, but glory fades with opportunity not taken. After visiting numerous physicians, Angle eventually found one that would shoot him up with some painkillers and give him the OK to go for the gold.
Angle defeated Abbas Jadidi of Iran at 100 kg. in Freestyle, for a Gold Medal, with a BROKEN NECK. "The Olympics are what I was meant to do," Angle said. "The WWF has been my calling, it was like the Olympics was going to take me here."