Saquon Barkley said he does not have a timetable in mind for his return to the football field, but he seemed intrigued by one particular possibility.
When told on a Zoom call on Thursday that players recovering from torn ACLs typically are able to start running approximately 3 1/2 months after surgery, and that for him that period would be right around Feb. 7, 2021 — the date of Super Bowl LV — the Giants running back smiled.
"That’s interesting," he said. "I did not know that."
So with injured reserve rules this season making no deployment there truly season-ending, and the Giants tied for first place in the NFC East with five games to go, and Barkley apparently making progress in his rehab . . .
Don’t get your hopes up.
"While athletes can return to play between four and six months, the conditioning needed for an athlete at running back at the NFL level would make that near impossible for Barkley," Dr. Craig Levitz, chief of sports medicine at Orlin & Cohen Orthopedic Group on Long Island, told Newsday.
Levitz, who is not treating Barkley, said even if Barkley had had his surgery right after his injury rather than waiting more than a month for the damaged MCL to heal and for his surgeon, Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles, to become available, he probably would not have been able to return in time for a potential Giants Super Bowl.
There have been those who tried to come back just as soon, and not just players who had nothing to lose. In 1997, Jerry Rice tore his ACL in Week 1 of the season and came back to play in Week 15 of the same season. Upon his return, though, he cracked his patella where the new ligament had been attached. He has said he regrets rushing back.
"If he was a lineman or even a dropback quarterback at the end of his career, maybe," Levitz said of Barkley. "But it would be a highly questionable call given his bright future."
When Barkley was injured and even when he had his surgery in late October, the idea of the Giants and the Super Bowl was absurd.
Now? Well, it’s still pretty far-fetched. But it’s certainly not impossible.
"I knew that this was going to be a year where we could really make some noise," Barkley said. "Obviously, I only got to experience one or two games of it, but now we get to see things turn and go in the direction that we want.
"We came in with the mindset that you want to be able to compete and be able to play in January, play in February, and we’re getting a chance to maybe have that opportunity."
And if they do . . . Barkley will remain a spectator.