Today is the day – the day when Green Bay Packers safety Nick Collins should receive his medical recommendation on whether he can play again the NFL. After going through a battery of tests in New York this past week, he will finally have the information to start making a decision about his future.
It was Week 2 of last season when Packers fans held their breath as Nick Collins lay still on the turf. The injury seemed minor at first. Collins had stretched himself out to tackle an oncoming Jonathan Stewart when his head collided with the running back’s leg. He felt some numbness in his limbs but fortunately did not suffer any level of paralysis.
Tests would later show that he had a herniated disk between the C-3 and C-4 vertebrae. Collins underwent cervical fusion surgery on Sep. 29, a procedure where the disk is removed and replaced with a bone graft that fuses the vertebrae together over time.
Quarterback Peyton Manning underwent the same surgery less than a month earlier.
Regardless of what information Nick Collins receives today, Mike McCarthy made it apparent that this would just be the start of the decision to return or retire, not the conclusion.
“I anticipate that [the doctors] are going to say it’s a very positive report because I know they felt good about the surgery,” said McCarthy at the NFL owners meeting in Florida last week. “To me, that’s really the first step. Then our doctors have to get involved and we’ll all sit down and talk to Nick and see where Nick is, so it will be a process that we’ll go through.”
Since his injury about 6 months ago, the big question on the mind of Packer Nation has been: Will Nick Collins return to playing football with the Green Bay Packers?
In this installment of the Packers Beer Mug Perspective, we’ll take a look at the issue from both angles, then determine whether our mug is really “half empty” or “half full.”
THE MUG IS HALF FULL
According to Mike McCarthy, the tests for Nick Collins have been “very positive” up to this point. There stands a good chance that spinal surgeon Dr. Frank Cammisa will return with news that Collins’ chances for serious injury are minimal, or at least no greater than for any football player in his position.
In fact, the situation with Peyton Manning this year has given fans a great deal of hope. Despite not playing since his surgery, Manning has apparently been able to convince a few general managers that he is able to return without risk. The Denver Broncos were the eventual winners of the “Manning Sweepstakes” and signed him to a five-year, $96 million contract last month.
Collins, like Manning and most other football players, are competitors by nature. They wouldn’t have chosen and succeeded in such an aggressive profession it they weren’t.
Back in December, just a few months after the surgery, Nick Collins told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “If everything’s good, then we’re going. If (doctors) say there’s a slight chance of something, then that’s it.”
Collins turns 29 in August, and despite his highly decorated career of three Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl championship, he still has a good number of years left as a football player. It is heart-breaking to end your career so early, especially one that you love. Even for a football career, Collins would be cutting it rather short.
(For comparison’s sake, the Baltimore Ravens’ free safety Ed Reed is turning 34 in September.)
Should Nick Collins get the “okay” from Dr. Cammisa, there is a good chance it will lead him to a decision to return.
THE MUG IS HALF EMPTY
But even if Collins does return, will it be with the Green Bay Packers?
Both Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson made it clear at last week’s NFL owners meeting that they share a level of personal concern for Collins’ well-being. A tremendous emotional burden would weigh heavily on them should they let him play only to suffer a more serious injury on the field.
“To have Nick Collins back on the practice field and playing games would be huge, but this is more than football,” said McCarthy. “Nick’s a family man, he’s a father. That’s no fun standing over someone like that. I don’t think any coach wants to see one of their players go through that.”
Earlier in the week, when asked by reporters, McCarthy even commented, “If Nick was my son, I would not let him play.”
Beyond that, Collins also has his own family to consider.
“When your kids grow up and they get into sports,” he said a couple months back, “you want to be there for them, cheering them on. And I’d rather do that rather than being in a wheelchair. I don’t want to be like that. I want to be there for my kids, my family.”
While the medical reports may say Nick Collins is good to go again, there will no doubt be a lingering uncertainty with every snap and every hit he makes. The personal side could very well be the trump card in this situation, and it’s what makes Collins’ decision so daunting.
GETTING THROUGH THE FOAM
Despite our longing desire for Nick Collins to return to the Green and Gold and finish out his career, our mug remains half empty. I expect the risk is too palpable even if the test results are completely positive today. If Collins doesn’t make the decision to retire, then it will be McCarthy and Thompson who are unwilling to place him in a life-threatening situation.
In looking for information about NFL players returning to action after cervical disk herniations, I found this article from Orthopedics. It discusses the results of a study by Dr. Wellington K. Hsu, who “investigated outcomes and return to play in athletes in the National Football League.”
One of the interesting statistics presented was that “72% of players who underwent surgery for a cervical disk herniation successfully returned to play, on average 29 games over a 2.8-year period.” However, it was also noted that defensive backs were specifically marked as being “over-represented” in the patient population for the study. Here was Dr. Hsu’s response to a question about this over-representation:
Although it is difficult to determine the exact incidence of cervical disk herniations in this population based on the methodology used in the study, defensive backs were over-represented compared to players of all other positions with a cervical disk herniation. The likely reasons for this are multifactorial, including the fact that defensive backs often must tackle opposing players that are much heavier and larger than they. As a result, an enormous amount of force must be generated (often from the head and neck) to bring the player down. Another reason for this finding may be attributed to the reliance of quick neck turns that this position requires to cover an opposing receiver. Over time, repeated, sudden neck turns could lead to further disk problems. Finally, defensive backs have self-reported a predilection to developing this injury, with difficulties playing afterward.
As noted before, the return of Peyton Manning to the game of football has given hope to many fans that Nick Collins will do the same. Two critical facts remain, though. One, Manning hasn’t played a single game yet, and his future is still uncertain. Two, a quarterback doesn’t play as physically or as aggressively as a safety.
Dr. Hsu postulates what many of us also do, that a football player in Nick Collins position is more likely to suffer injuries of this nature. Thus, the risk of re-injury or more severe injury has to be higher for him than for someone like Manning.
Plus, he may not even be the same player if he returns. Whether it’s a matter of playing more tentatively or just not having the strength from before, the injury has probably forever affected his performance.
When it comes down to it, though, we know that Nick Collins is looking out for not only himself, but also his family. He has often been characterized as a “family man,” and at the end of the day, it is this love and dedication to his wife and children that could be the biggest factor in his decision.
“This is tough for me, because I never pictured myself being in this position — having to plan for either I’m coming back or I’ve got to retire. This is tough. And hopefully I don’t have to end it this way. But at the end of the day, I want to be able to walk away from this game on my own.”——————Follow @ChadToporski