After the Seahawks completed their Thursday walkthrough and huddled up for a message from their head coach, Pete Carroll closed things out by having Ben Burr-Kirven come to the middle of the circle and break down the huddle.
Burr-Kirven, who had re-signed with the team earlier that day, received a huge cheer from his teammates, not just because he was back, but because they knew how much he went through to get to this moment.
Nearly two years ago, Burr-Kirven suffered a serious knee injury in a preseason game, one that threatened to not just end his third year in the NFL, but also his career. In addition to a torn ACL, Burr-Kirven also suffered nerve damage that led to a condition called drop foot. A handful of players have come back from similar injuries, most notably linebacker Jaylon Smith, who was a Pro-Bowler in 2019, four years after injuring his knee in his final game at Notre Dame. But plenty of other players have had their careers ended by injuries involving nerve damage, and initially that was the fear for Burr-Kirven as well.
"Oh, definitely," he quickly responded when asked if he doubted he'd ever return. "Because that's what I was being told. I was being told I wasn't going to play football again. So that's what I was trying to suss out, am I really done, or are there things I can do? … I just decided, all right, let's see how far we can take this, and if I couldn't get back here, I couldn't get back here, but there wasn't going any scenario in which I didn't at least try and see what was possible. And the further we got into it, the more I started to believe it was possible."
But even if Burr-Kirven was told he may never play again, he wasn't going to give up on football without exhausting every possible option.
"I just love football," he said. "I've been playing football since I was 10, and you never want it to stop. So to have it taken away so early, for a while there it was like, 'Am I going to be able to do this again?' You miss it. All of a sudden, I kind of saw what it was like when football ends. For two years of not being to suit up, the hunger never went away. As long as I was waking up and still wanting to do this, it was easy to make the decision to keep showing up."
Burr-Kirven sought out as many expert opinions as he could, eventually had an experimental surgery last summer, and the end result was a recovery that allowed him to work out for the Seahawks on Wednesday, then sign a contract a day later.
The surgery, which Burr-Kirven called a nerve transfer, was performed by Dr. Mitchel Seruya at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles. It's a procedure Seruya had performed before, but not to get a professional athlete back on the field, but rather to help people simply return to normal function in their day-to-day lives. But after consulting with the team's athletic trainers and doctors, Burr-Kirven decided to give the procedure a chance, and it was what ended up helping him turn the corner in his recovery.
Even after the surgery, there was another full year of rehabbing and working out as he spent the 2022 season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Burr-Kirven credits, among others, assistant athletic trainer C.J. Neumann for sticking with him throughout the two-year process.
"From day one, he said, 'Look man, I'll take this with you as far as we can go,'" Burr-Kirven said. "I can't thank him enough for being there from Day 1 there to do whatever I wanted to do and try to take it as far as I wanted, and not just throw in the towel."
Burr-Kirven knows he still has plenty of work to do between now and September to earn a role on the team after two-years away—though his play on special teams will no doubt help his chances—but on Thursday he was just enjoying the chance to be back on the field after such a long road back.
"It's incredible," he said. "There definitely were nights where you're thinking, 'Am I going to get to do this again?' Even when I came in to do the workout yesterday, even getting in the building and doing a workout, that felt like a win, but now, I've got to go practice today, and then it's going to be, that'll be the first challenge, and then we start stacking days and trying to get back to where I was before I got hurt.
"It's going to be pretty surreal. It's the culmination of two years of work, basically."
Some of the best photos of Seahawks linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven during the first two seasons of his career. Learn more about Burr-Kirven in this Player Q&A fueled by Campbell's Chunky soup: https://shwks.com/xfrvz