HOUSTON -- The cast around Brian Cushing's surgically repaired wrist was mostly hidden underneath the suit he wore to a charity fashion show in Houston. It's the remnant of a very difficult season for the star Texans linebacker.
"There's a different mindset when you go out onto the field and you know you're 100 percent and you know you're going to take over a game," Cushing said. "And there's [the mindset] where you know you're probably going to be limited, and it's tough. The worst feeling in the world is being on the sideline. There was a good amount of time during critical games last year I was [on the sideline]. And sometimes not even playing, missing two games. As a captain and a guy who's been here for a while, I consider myself a big impact player.
"To get that taken away from you is kind of an empty feeling. But it's not forever."
As Cushing sees it, the toughest stretch of his career is now over, and he has no doubt he'll return to the dominance he showed before his torn ACL in 2012.
"I'm 28; I feel like I've gotten over the stretch of the hardest part of my career," Cushing said. "I don't see anything even comparable to what happened. I still feel it. Certain games when I do feel healthy, I come back and I feel like myself and I know I'm just playing football."
The Brian Cushing we all saw last season was not the same player who was once the soul of the Texans' defense. He often told us during the season his health was fine, but on Wednesday evening, he admitted those words might have been partially to convince himself.
"I want to tell myself I'm all right," he said. "I believe in a lot of positive energy and not believing that I'm hurt or banged up and pushing through things. I consider myself a pretty tough guy, I can handle a lot of things. But you know, I was obviously hurt in more than one area of my body. I didn't want to complain about it. I didn't want to complain about it or make any excuses."
It was all part of a season in which Cushing saw his playing time diminish as the team tried to manage his health. From the start of 2009 through Game 5 of 2012, Cushing played in 84.7 percent of the team’s third- and fourth-down snaps. This season, he played in only 34.9 percent of them.
His play has still been effective for the Texans, who allowed 0.83 more yards per play with Cushing off the field than with him on it over the past two seasons.
Throughout the season he had conversations with general manager Rick Smith, coach Bill O'Brien and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel about being smart with his health and making sure he went into 2015 healthy.
Patience, though, is difficult for the man who is as intense about football off the field as he is on it. The advice of others who have had similar experiences has helped.
"I've still got that burning fire and enjoyment for the game," Cushing said. "For practice, for Wednesdays when we put our game plan in, it's a great feeling. There's definitely no loss of passion or fun for the game. Many guys who I've talked to who have been hurt [say] a lot of times [that] happens. You're so tired of getting hurt and don't want to put up with it anymore. That's the least of my worries."