San Francisco linebacker Dre Greenlaw has been ruled out of the Super Bowl in the most bizarre and heartbreaking circumstances.
The 26-year-old was bouncing up and down on the sideline alongside some of his defensive teammates when he prepared to re-enter the fray after a punt return with just over nine minutes remaining in the second quarter.
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Greenlaw planted his left foot just outside the field of play and pushed off to rejoin the action, when he collapsed in a heap and reached down to grab his leg.
The 49er was able to make it back to the sideline on his feet, but was ruled out of the contest almost immediately by a team doctor with a suspected ruptured Achilles tendon.
Greenlaw was then taken from the field on a cart in tears as his Super Bowl dream ended in devastating fashion.
The 183cm, 104kg linebacker was credited with three first-half tackles before his evening ended far too early in Las Vegas.
“They’ve lost Dre Greenlaw, a key piece for that defensive unit. Devastating,” Tony Romo said on the CBS broadcast of the match.
Serious Achilles tendon injuries are some of the most debilitating in professional sport and usually lead to a full year on the sidelines.
There was an outpouring of support for the former University of Arkansas standout on X, with some comparing it to injuries suffered in the past by Kobe Bryant and Aaron Rodgers.
Veteran quarterback Rodgers ruptured his Achilles tendon four snaps into his debut with the New York Jets in the opening match of this season.
“Tough to watch and it’s a huge loss for San Francisco,” was one comment on X, formerly Twitter.
“So sad to see this happen, especially in a big game like this,” wrote another.
“Achilles popped right there! Just like Kobe, just like Rodgers! Sad,” said another NFL fan.
“Can’t imagine the Super Bowl being taken away after simply just running on the field. Hope bro has a speedy and effective recovery,” added a fourth.
It also sparked more discussion over the surfaces used in NFL games.
Injuries are so commonplace in the brutal gridiron world and there is regular debate over natural grass surfaces versus artificial.
Of the 30 teams in the NFL, it is split right down the middle, with 15 apiece using real grass and 15 opting for aritificial turf.
Some fans were in no doubt what should be used after Greenlaw’s injury occurred at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, which uses roll-in natural Bermuda grass for NFL matches.
“Get rid of these damn turfs,” was one comment on X.
“Get rid of turf … either ACL or Achilles (injuries),” wrote another.
Interestingly, Allegiant Stadium also has an artificial turf surface, mainly used for college football matches.