NFL Folklore: Ronnie Lott’s Left Pinky Finger (Updated 2x)

Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott crushed the tip of his left pinky finger in a game against the Dallas Cowboys, and later elected to have it amputated. That story made an impression on me. Lott’s entire career made an impression on me. This is a player whose career has no need of embellishment or exaggeration.

Somewhere along the line, however, the pinky amputation story got changed to Ronnie Lott having the tip of his pinky finger amputated on the field or in the locker room so he could get back into the game. I first learned of this today, when I read an article on the controversy surrounding Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler’s not playing the second half of yesterday’s Bears – Packers NFC championship game because of a knee injury. “Football is perceived as the ultimate man’s game. Ronnie Lott, the 49ers’ Hall of Fame safety, once had part of a finger cut off during the game so he could continue playing.” (Read more:

Ronnie Lott debunked this version of events himself: “And the story goes that I cut it off right in the middle of the locker room — which I didn’t. But I did get ready for the following week. I wanted to sacrifice to succeed.” (

I learned from a folklorist that the perpetuation of a story in a community tells us something about the values of that community. It seems there are members of the community of NFL fans that really, really want everyone to know that the NFL is the ultimate, ultimate man’s game and by extension, the fact that they are fans of NFL means . . . Well, you know . . .

It is as if in the midst of the football posters on their walls, a familiar poster with this slogan appears:

“I want to believe.”

Update (20110127)

In a 20110124 AP article Cutler’s teammates defend him, Denver Post columnist Woody Paige asserts Cutler should have played in a 20110127 column.

Update (20130923)

This story is reminiscent of what happened with Ronnie Lott.


When a Cardinals football player took off his glove yesterday, he received a gruesome surprise.

The bone of safety Rashad Johnson was exposed and part of his middle finger actually remained inside the glove.

2 Responses to “NFL Folklore: Ronnie Lott’s Left Pinky Finger (Updated 2x)”

  1. bobpaycheck Says:

    Great post. Searched for ronnie lotts finger. I thought it was cut off during the game too. Thanks for the info. That guy was crazy regardless.

    • gregjonesorg Says:

      Well, if by “crazy” you mean an unbelievably intense and committed competitor I would agree. If by “crazy” you mean he was out of control, wild, undisciplined, I would not agree.

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