Former Oklahoma State, NFL quarterback Rusty Hilger feeling the long-term effects of playing football

Now that he's educated on concussion symptoms, Hilger estimates he suffered “at least 15 to 20” throughout his career. It's been years since he's had cartilage in his knees.
by Michael Baldwin Published: January 27, 2014
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photo - Former OSU quarterback Rusty Hilger poses for a photo in Mustang, OK, Friday, November 22, 2013,  Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman
Former OSU quarterback Rusty Hilger poses for a photo in Mustang, OK, Friday, November 22, 2013, Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman

Some days, Rusty Hilger has difficulty getting out of bed. Eight seasons as an NFL quarterback and multiple surgeries dating back to his Oklahoma State career have taken a toll.

Hilger is among 4,500 former NFL players involved in a proposed $765 million concussion settlement with the league. Hilger also is part of a workers' compensation dispute separate from the concussion litigation.

“That's the other side of the coin,” said Hilger, who lives in Mustang. “It's long-term wear and tear. They call it cumulative trauma. It refers to a number of different things. For me, it's not being able to walk back-to-back days, arthritis in my hands and shoulders.”

Now that he's educated on concussion symptoms, Hilger estimates he suffered “at least 15 to 20” throughout his career. It's been years since he's had cartilage in his knees.

“People have no idea how difficult it is to grow old in a football body,” Hilger said. “I'm only 51 years old. It depends on the day. It's hard to put two good days together consecutively. I'm usually in some sort of ice traction. There are days I can't get out of bed until I get some swelling removed.

“Everything is about inflammation, including brain function, which is related to the concussions. It started with my knees. That's why I retired. That was 20 years ago.”

Hilger was a sixth-round draft pick in 1985 by Raiders, when they were based in Los Angeles. Primarily a backup, Hilger started 14 games. He was the youngest quarterback to start at that point in Raiders history. In 1988, he was the Detroit Lions' Offensive MVP.


by Michael Baldwin
Reporter
Mike Baldwin has been a sports reporter for The Oklahoman since 1982. Mike graduated from Okmulgee High School in 1974 and attended Oklahoma Christian University, graduating with a journalism degree in 1978. Mike's first job was sports editor...
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