ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - Who did Takeo Spikes think he was, Superman?
"Yeah," the Buffalo Bills' linebacker and former Washington County star said while clearing out his locker last week. Then, with a wink, he added, "I still do."
Spikes makes no apologies for not meeting the high expectations he set for himself when the season began. The fiercely intense and determined player believed he would be the exception, the rare athlete capable of leaping fully back into action as if he hadn't spent nearly a year recuperating from a torn Achilles' tendon.
It doesn't matter to Spikes that he proved to be as mortal as the next person. And he won't dispute that he didn't play near to his previous Pro Bowl standards. He was unable to avoid the inherent troubles - such as a hamstring injury that sidelined him for four games - that commonly hinder athletes attempting to rush back into action.
He finished with 70 total tackles, a career-low in a year in which he played more than three games, and had one sack in 12 games.
What counted most to the nine-year NFL veteran was how he persevered through a series of emotional highs and lows in a season that ended with the Bills (7-9) missing the playoffs for a seventh consecutive year.
"A lot of people told me that I couldn't come back. And it was tough, man. I had no earthly idea how tough it was going to be," he said. "Even though statistically I didn't have what I wanted to have, the comeback was official. I finished the season."
That's victory enough for Spikes, confident he'll return better than ever next season now that he can spend the next few months resting.
"I got to have it," Spikes said. "At least a month of not doing nothing. I'll get some cardio in, but as far as physical activity, if it ain't fishing, it can't be done."
It's a well-deserved break for a player hurt in Week 3 of the 2005 season and, after having his cast removed two months later, barely took a weekend off from a grueling rehab schedule.
That Spikes, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, was ready to start this season was considered a mild surprise considering he had limited practice time during training camp, and that some players require up to 18 months to fully recover from similar injuries.
And Spikes turned heads further when, on the first play in Buffalo's season-opener at New England, he sacked Tom Brady and forced a fumble which London Fletcher returned for a touchdown.
Little did Spikes realize the play, which he celebrated with a familiar tomahawk chop, would stand out among his few highlights. He was sidelined by a pulled hamstring during the next series.
The injury was the result of his rushed rehab and a frustrating setback Spikes never saw coming.
He returned, registering five tackles in a 20-17 loss at Detroit, but for the most part lacked the familiar burst and agility.
Spikes' best game was Buffalo's season finale, when he had a team-leading 11 tackles in a 19-7 loss at Baltimore last weekend.
Spikes was reminded of his vow a year ago, saying he would come back "like a mad dog in a meat house."
"Nah, I wasn't," Spikes said.
"The mind wanted to but the body couldn't do it. But it came out a couple of times (against Baltimore). I was happy with it, so I look forward to next season. I really do."