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Oklahoma football: Former OU center Ben Habern knows what it's like to be Peyton Manning

Ben Habern underwent a surgery similar to the one Peyton Manning endured. But at a different position and in a different situation than Manning, he had to make a different choice. On Saturday, he'll walk on the field for Senior Day with his old teammates.
BY STEPHANIE KUZYDYM Staff Writer Modified: November 23, 2012 at 11:27 am •  Published: November 22, 2012

Ben Habern knows what it's like to be Peyton Manning.

A year after the star NFL quarterback went through a spinal fusion, the Oklahoma center underwent a similar surgery that removed a bulging disk that was pushing against his spinal cord.

After his February fusion, Habern went through weeks of rehab and then summer workouts. Like Manning, Habern wanted to give himself every chance to play. But the pain and uncertainty was too much. On the first day of two-a-days, he told his teammates he wouldn't be playing his final season.

“We all just moved forward from there,” Habern said. “I'm there as much as I can be and where I can be to provide support for the guys on my team — on OU's team.”

The senior center has spent the last three months on the sideline of every Oklahoma home game and on Saturday, he'll step out on Owen Field for OU's Senior Day — even though he's already retired from college football — as his name is announced one last time.

“It's the most difficult thing,” Habern told The Oklahoman. “Not sharing that senior experience with my teammates.”

Habern could have heard his name all season, could have likely heard it announced in the NFL Draft and then maybe across the stands of a professional stadium. He could have, but he chose not to.

That's where Ben Habern isn't like Peyton Manning.

While Manning decided to continue his NFL career after missing the 2011 season, signed with the Denver Broncos and has played well this season, Habern's situation is different.

The center didn't have a year to sit and recover like the professional quarterback. Habern used up his redshirt year as a freshman after an ankle injury. He also wasn't making millions of dollars. He was going to class to get his human relations degree, which he'll graduate with in December.

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