Bruce Adams, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, May 15, 2005
Chase Lyman, graced with uncommon talent and cursed with unfathomable luck, is on the mend once again.
The former Cal wide receiver is preparing for surgery on his left knee, the same scarred knee that cut short his final season as a Golden Bear. It is the latest setback in a star-crossed career in which he has logged hospital time at the rate of a first-year medical resident. The only constant has been his unshakable resolve.
Lyman was taken in the fourth round of last month's NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints, who acknowledged he would have gone much higher without questions about his knee.
On May 6, shortly after taking the practice field with his new team for the first time, Lyman re-tore his anterior cruciate ligament. For one more agonizing time he will be a spectator, not a participant, spending at least six months recovering and rehabilitating.
"I went from being about as high as you can be one week to being about as low as you can be the next week," Lyman said Friday. "The thing I've learned is that getting mad and upset in pointless. If anything, I'm embarrassed."
Lyman missed eight games this past season with the torn ACL. He missed all of 2002 with a torn hamstring that needed to be surgically re-attached to the bone. He has endured a series of other injuries -- shoulder, finger, ankle -- and missed the 2001 season opener with an appendectomy. He has lost count of the surgeries, which go back to his career at St. Francis High in Mountain View. In five years at Cal, he made just eight starts.
His father, Brad Lyman, who played football and ran track at UCLA in the early 1970s, said his son seems to grow stronger with each setback.
"I'm a parent and, of course, I'm proud of him," he said. "But my respect for him is what's over the top."
When healthy, Lyman is a top-tier talent.
A turning point came in the 2003 Insight Bowl when as a late substitute for the injured Geoff McArthur he caught five passes for 149 yards and one touchdown in Cal's 52-49 win over Virginia Tech.
Then, this past fall, Lyman was putting together a dream season. Going into the Oct. 9 game at USC he was No. 1 in the nation, averaging 32.2 yards a catch. He was an early All-America candidate and already a bona fide NFL prospect, with sure hands, open-field speed and the body of the prototypical pro wide receiver at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds.
In the third quarter of Cal's 23-17 loss to the Trojans, Lyman was running a short slant pattern. He made the catch even though his left knee had already given out when he planted to make his cut.
His season was over with 14 catches for 414 yards and five touchdowns in not-quite four games.
He underwent surgery, attacked his rehabilitation with vigor and apparently was at full strength at the NFL scouting combine in late February. He was timed at 4.42 to 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He was checked, and cleared, by doctors.
Then at the Saints' minicamp, Lyman's knee failed when he planted his left foot on his very first pass route, a speed-out to the right.
"It doesn't make sense," he said. "I've been doing it the last six or eight weeks. I've run that route a hundred times."
The Saints would like him back in time for the last five games of the season.
"I take all the blame," Lyman said. "I know I pushed the rehab too fast. I was focused on running fast at the combine. I didn't form a good base."
He admits that when doctors told him he could start working out again, he already had been secretly running for two weeks. He said he was aware of the risks, knowing that 5-to-7 percent of ACL surgeries fail.
"I've learned my lessons," he said. "I'll definitely do this one slower and be smarter about it."
Lyman is back in California for now, but said he will do his rehab in New Orleans, "under their watch." While he enjoyed the support of his teammates at Cal, he hasn't had time to build meaningful friendships within the Saints' organization.
"I think it's going to have to come from myself," he said.
Lyman said he will sign his contract with the Saints in July. He had already signed the medical paperwork before the minicamp.
Lyman graduated from Cal in December with an American studies major. He is about three-quarters of the way to earning a real estate license. But football remains his first passion.
His father compares his son with a boxer who keeps getting up off the canvas.
"If he said 'enough is enough' that would be fine," Brad Lyman said. "That's not his deal."
"I don't think about it," Chase Lyman said. "It's just natural. I just see it as the only option."