GREEN BAY – As David Bakhtiari hastily crutched his way down to the Packers' training room, the All-Pro left tackle issued fair warning to longtime team doctor, Patrick McKenzie.
"I better not hear anything that starts with an A," Bakhtiari said.
A few hours earlier, the eighth-year veteran felt something he'd never experienced after his knee buckled during a Thursday practice on New Year's Eve, leading up to Green Bay's regular-season finale in Chicago.
Bakhtiari had difficulty standing and quickly knew something was wrong but figured everything would be all right. He had told his fiancée he probably wouldn't play against the Bears but should be good to go after Green Bay's first-round playoff bye.
The MRI said differently and Dr. McKenzie had the misfortune of confirming to Bakhtiari that he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Surgery awaited Bakhtiari and his season was over.
"I freaked out when I heard and (Dr. McKenzie) had to deliver the news," Bakhtiari said. "Transparently, I mean, I was crying, I was just in disbelief and crying because that I take a lot of pride in this. This is my job. It's something I'm very passionate about, so to have that completely taken away, not only in that moment but also the situation that we were in, that was heavy."
The first 36 hours were the toughest. Injuries happen and the news breaks, but what often gets forgotten is the human being facing months of rehab to get back on the field.
By Jan. 2, Bakhtiari had mentally regrouped. As the Packers readied for a playoff run, Bakhtiari underwent surgery to repair his ACL and centered his focus on a comeback.
A positive perspective enabled Bakhtiari to focus on "the littles" and clearing small hurdles such as putting more weight on his leg, improving his range of motion, and making one cycle on a bike.
"How I looked at it and how I described it to my closest family and friends was I've got this long road I've got to go down," Bakhtiari said. "I don't want to go down it, but I have to. I've got to go down it no matter what. I might as well go with a positive attitude and attack it like I've done with everything in my life."
The support of the Packers fanbase and former teammates also played a big role in Bakhtiari's recovery. Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jimmy Graham and Bryan Bulaga were among the multitude of former and current Packers who reached out to check in and wish Bakhtiari well in his recovery.
Bulaga, specifically, was a vital resource for Bakhtiari throughout the offseason. Not only had the two developed a close friendship in Green Bay, but Bakhtiari also had seen Bulaga bounce back from two separate ACL injuries and continue to play the game at the highest of levels.
"He's done it twice and he plays the same position I play. Granted, opposite side, but plays at a very high level," Bakhtiari said. "He took any of my calls when I was really curious early on about any little thing and he gave me a lot of good, sound advice and at times, just wanted to console me and calm me down, which I really appreciated. Again, I really can't thank him enough."
Bakhtiari split his offseason between where he typically trains in his home state of California and Green Bay, with the two sides working together to monitor the 29-year-old tackle's recovery.
Asked how confident he was he'd be ready for the start of the season, Bakhtiari deadpanned: "I've got no problem saying I will 100% be ready for the starting of training camp…in 2022."
All jokes aside, Bakhtiari isn't putting a timeline on anything right now. He's happy with the progress he's made, which has enabled him to run off to the side at practice and rehab with the training staff to rebuild the strength in his knee.
Bakhtiari called this entire process "very humbling," with ACL surgery teaching him to not take small things, such as walking and climbing the stairs, for granted.
Mentally, Bakhtiari is "in a good spot right now." Whenever the day comes he's cleared to return, Bakhtiari expects to pick up right where he left off as the game's premier left tackle.
"This is my first time going through this, so I'm just going to attack every day, try to hit every benchmark I can," Bakhtiari said. "And once Doc can check me off, I can check myself and I can go out there and not only perform and protect myself but perform at the level that the Packers need me to, I think that's where you'll see me return, on that date."
Take a look at the Packers' first practice of minicamp at Clarke Hinkle Field on Tuesday, June 8, 2021.