The Cowboys’ head team physician, Dr. Daniel Cooper, performed the operation on Smith’s knee one week after Notre Dame’s appearance in the Jan. 1 Fiesta Bowl, where Smith suffered the injury.
While every team had the same information, Cooper’s intimate knowledge of the torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments and recovery, plus the attitude of the patient, gave the Cowboys an edge.
“It definitely helped when their team doctor does the surgery,” Smith said, “and I’m very thankful.”
Smith said he trusted the word of the Notre Dame medical staff as well as his late agent, Eugene Parker, who had a long history with the franchise, in that Cooper was the best available.
In February, Cooper was given the Arthur C. Rettig Award for Academic Excellence by the NFL Physicians Society for his study, “Return to Play Following Isolated and Combined ACL Reconstruction: 25 Years of Experience Treating NFL Athletes.” Among the co-authors was Cowboys associate athletic trainer Britt Brown.
Cooper’s specialties are surgical techniques for knee and shoulder injuries.
What makes Smith’s injury less common, however, is the damage to the peroneal nerve.
In a USA Today article, Cooper said Smith would likely need a redshirt season and that the nerve injury takes nine to 15 months to fully recover.
Cooper said the damage stretched Smith’s nerve “enough to make it go to sleep, but it wasn’t stretched enough to be structurally elongated or visually very damaged,” adding, “He’s had time for his nerve to regrow two inches, and the area of where his nerve was injured is six inches above the muscle that it innervates. I wouldn’t really expect him to get much innervation back into that muscle for two or three more months. Then once it does -- I’ve seen kids who are completely paralyzed like him on the lateral side and not able to pick their foot up at all [that] wind up being totally normal.”
Smith said Friday, “I get different sensations every day with the nerve, but it’s just timing. I’m only 3½ months out, so time will definitely tell but the knee is fine. That was cleared at the medical recheck, that the knee won’t have any issues. It’s just timing for the nerve.”