RENTON _ Deion Branch has spent most of NFL career holding out hope. So much of his time has been about clinging to slivers that may well snap.
This is what the Seattle Seahawks’ receiver thought about while he was recovering from his Feb. 7 surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The regular-season opener would come on the seven-month anniversary of that surgery — this Sunday, at Buffalo — and Branch was putting in the work to try to make it back.
He was holding on to that sliver of hope.
Only this time, the stakes weren’t nearly as dire.
Branch’s 7-year-old son, Deiondre, has a much bigger task in front of him. Deiondre Branch, who was diagnosed with spiral meningitis about two months after birth, is still unable to walk. His father believes that he will one day walk, and he often uses his son as motivation — in rehabilitating an injury, in playing football and in life.
“That’s my everything when I wake up,” Deion Branch said Wednesday, when he wore pads for the first time since the Seahawks’ Jan. 12 playoff loss at Green Bay. “Thank God I’m able to do this, and I feel so helpless that my son can’t do it. We complain about going out to practice, when my son can’t even do this. I can’t complain about running 10 more extra 40s out there when my son can’t even walk.
“This stuff is very minor. It’s minor.”
Branch’s “minor” fight took a step in the right direction Wednesday, when he put on the pads and caught a few passes from a JUGS machine. His chances of taking the field for Sunday’s opener against the Bills are still pretty remote, but Branch has not given up yet.
“If I could, yeah, I want to,” he said of playing Sunday. “If I could.”
Branch said the decision was in the hands of the coaches and trainers, but head coach Mike Holmgren said that the 29-year-old receiver has final say about when he returns.
“He’s come a long way,” Holmgren said Wednesday. “The doctors feel very good about his progress. But he has to, in his own mind, feel as though he can do the things he needs to do to be effective.
“The next big hurdle, I would say, is up to him.”
Branch tore his ACL almost seven months ago, when he was running a routine pass route at Lambeau Field. He said he had three options for surgery, including what he called a “risky” one that involved transplanting the ligament from a cadaver. Branch instead opted for a surgery that took part of his patella tendon — a less important part of the knee — and used it to repair his ACL.
He said that his doctor, James Andrews, suggested the safer surgery because there was a chance that the body would reject the cadaver’s ligament after a few months. In Branch’s words, “then we are right back to where we (were in January).”
Most players need around nine months of recovery time, but Branch is trying to make it back in seven.
“There’s no timetable when you have this type (of) injury,” Branch said Wednesday, adding that Dr. Andrews gave him no target date. “You can say six to nine (months); some guys, they can say nine to 12. It’s pretty much that individual who suffered the injury would know when they are ready.”
Branch admits that he’s not ready yet, but he’s come a long way.
“There’s a lot more work I’ve got to do,” he said Wednesday. “There’s still a lot more things I have to get a little bit more comfortable with doing. It’s not just one thing; it’s pretty much everything _ to get back on the field and play football, to get back on the field and run around, run some routes.”
During the rehabilitation that will reach its seven-month anniversary this Sunday, Branch has found motivation in his own household.
“I’ve been through far worse things than my injury,” he said. “I look at the case with my son. This is nothing. Compared to what he’s going through, it’s nothing.
“So the mental part isn’t (a factor). I just need to do what I need to do in rehab. I’m not really scared to take on the football field and say: ‘OK, I’m ready to go.’ Once I step on the football field, I’m ready to go.
“I’m not going to be worried about my knee and all my other stuff. I’ll be ready to go.”