TAMPA — It was just a scratch on Ben Taylor's elbow, the kind he had received countless times during his football career, long before he was a starting linebacker for the Browns.
The second-year pro was one game removed from an 18-tackle performance when he went to bed on a Thursday night in 2003. But in the course of a team meeting the next morning, he went from feeling like he had the flu to having a 102-degree temperature.
Tests showed Taylor had a serious staph infection called MRSA, which had gotten into his blood and infected the elbow's bursa sac. Antibiotics didn't work, and he found himself in the hospital, being prepared for surgery.
"They had to essentially slice my elbow open. They took out my bursa sac … got all the infection out, left it open for two days," he said. "Then they went back in, did the entire thing again and stitched it up."
He spent five days in the hospital, lost 10 to 12 pounds in a week's time and missed three games. He returned in a backup role, totaling seven tackles in the final four games of the season.
"That was one of the more severe cases, because it was in my bloodstream," said Taylor, who played five seasons with the Browns and Packers through 2006 and is now, at 34, a high school baseball coach in Virginia. "I was having a pretty good year. Losing the weight, I never fully recovered from that."
As the Bucs discovered last week, MRSA can spread through a locker room as quickly as it does the body and infect an entire franchise.
The team revealed Thursday that guard Carl Nicks and kicker Lawrence Tynes are out indefinitely with MRSA, which they likely contracted from the Bucs' training facility.
Tynes had an in-grown toenail that became infected. Doctors at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York confirmed the infection as MRSA. He had surgery Tuesday. Nicks, who has an infected blister on his left foot, is responding to medication.
The Bucs had their facility "nuked," as general manager Mark Dominik described it, and hope the sanitization will prevent future cases.
The Browns had the same expectation after sanitizing their facility, but what started with Taylor did not end until five other players had become infected over the next five years. Infections essentially ended the careers of center LeCharles Bentley and former Bucs receiver Joe Jurevicius, and several players sued the Browns, including Bentley and Jurevicius. Jurevicius settled with the team in 2010; Bentley did last year.
In 2006, Bentley signed with his hometown Browns for what was at the time the largest contract for a center, six years and $36 million, including $12.5 million guaranteed. "I can die happy now," Bentley said of his thoughts at the time.
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On the first day of training camp, Bentley was run blocking when a mass of players hit him and he tore the patellar tendon in his left knee. Bentley contracted MRSA at the Browns training facility while recovering from surgery.
"Eating it up every single day. Eroding the tissue," Bentley said of the infection. "I almost died. For 72 days I stayed in the hospital. … Throughout my entire body, the infection was rolling free."
He had four surgeries, and doctors told him he would never play football again. At one point, they told him they might have to amputate his left leg. Bentley said he had suicidal thoughts but never attempted to end his life. "I would rather, at that time, have chosen to have died than lost my leg," he said.
Bentley spent two years ridding himself of the infection and rebuilding his body for the rigors of the NFL, returning to practice in 2008.
"The same doctor who told me 'You will never play football again' cleared me to play football," Bentley said. "I went to practice the next day, took a couple reps, scanned the landscape, and I realized that I had lost the passion. And I retired the next day."