We saw it in Sunday’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles — the Packers secondary is a real weak spot. We also saw it last week in the loss against the Bears. Gone are the days when Nick Collins and Charles Woodson gave opposing offenders nightmares. Woodson, of course, was in part a salary cap casualty. Collins’ career in green and gold ended much differently and much more abruptly — in North Carolina with a neck injury.
It was September 18th, 2011. The Green Bay Packers were in the midst of a matchup with the Carolina Panthers in North Carolina.
“They did draw a play. I was like, ‘okay, I’m gonna run up and get a guy down.’ Big running back, go low. Then all of a sudden I see him getting ready to jump and I’m like ‘okay, what do I do?’ The back of his thigh just grazed the top of my helmet and my head, neck just did that — and I hit the ground. I tried to get up and I was like ‘oh, I’m numb.’ Like whole body, just numb. I’m laying there and I’m like, ‘this can’t be real,’” Collins told FOX6′s Brad Hicks.
At home in Green Bay were Collins’ wife and children.
“The game was on. My mom and I were cooking. I heard the commentator say Nick Collins is on the ground and that he was not moving. I turned around to see the TV and in my mind I was like, he just fell or somebody knocked him over and he’ll pop up in a second. They went to commercial break, came back. He still hadn’t gotten up.
I had to keep in mind the kids were playing in the house and I didn’t want to freak out. But Nicholas turned to me and Nicholas said ‘Mom, why isn’t my dad getting up off the field?’ And when he said that I just started boo-boo crying. My mom immediately took the kids outside to play so I could try to get in contact with someone from the Packers organization to figure out what was going on with Nick. I thought he was paralyzed,” Collins’ wife, Andrea Collins said.
On a recent football Sunday, Collins’ home in Florida was filled with family members and friends. Collins’ mother-in-law cooked up a huge feast — and there were prayers, plates of food, some backyard ball and of course, the NFL.
It was a perfect Fall day — but for one problem — Nick Collins was at home.
“I do miss it. I miss the game,” Collins told FOX6′s Brad Hicks.
Collins’ NFL dream began in a small southern town, where Spanish moss paints shadows on sleepy streets. From a quiet corner of northwestern Florida came a kid the likes of which Dixie County High School had never seen.
“He just had no quit in him. That night, I think he scored all the touchdowns. He led us to the playoffs for the first time in about 20 years,” Dixie County High School Coach Brent Wilkerson said.
Drafted behind Aaron Rodgers in 2005, Collins started getting noticed before his rookie season even started.
Six seasons, three pro bowls, one Super Bowl ring — Collins was stamping out a spectacular career.
Then came September 18th, 2011.
“They come rushing out there, what’s wrong with you? I was thinking about my wife, kids, father, mother. It was just a moment that you realize this game is real. It can be taken away from you at any given second — and that day was that moment,” Collins said.
Collins had a herniated disk pressing into his spinal cord. A surgeon went in through his neck and put a plate between the bones, fusing them into one.
Other NFL players have had the same procedure. Some have returned, and some who have, have regretted it.
The Packers weren’t going to give Collins that chance.
During the healing process, Collins stayed close to the community, visiting hospitals, standing on the sidelines — always hoping he’d be back next season.
The Packers had Collins fly up for off-season conditioning, but with a week, they broke him the bad news.
“They’re like, ‘Ted wants to talk to you.’ I was like, ‘there’s nothing good gonna come of this,’” Collins said.
“He called me back and said I’m about to book a flight to come back home. I just got released. I was like ‘this is going to crush him,’” Collins’ wife, Andrea said.
The concern was a spot on Collins’ spinal cord — likely a bruise left behind by the impact.
“A few months after they released me, I went back to see my doctor and the spot was gone. I was trying to tell the trainers, tell the head coach, get me to training camp. If you get me to training camp, you’ll see for yourself,” Collins said.
But the Packers had closed the door on Collins.
Collins, however, has not closed the door on football. He’s keeping connected with Wisconsin, working out, waiting for a call, hoping for a chance.
“If you’re looking for a safety, I’m here. I’m your guy. I train. I would love to go back. I know I still have it. How do I get that chance? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I think I’ll never get that chance. The odds are against me right now. And I feel like I’m an outcast right now. It hurts, but the toughest part about the whole situation is when the kids are like ‘Dad, I wanna see you play football. We wanna see you play football.’ I’m like, ‘I know,’” Collins said.
Collins says since that day with Ted Thompson, he has gone through a wide range of emotions.
“There was a time when I was depressed and I didn’t know I was depressed. I would just wake up in the morning, not say anything to anyone in the house, go over there into the theater room and just sit there an watch TV. Just be to myself,” Collins said.
As for the first year without football, Collins’ wife says it was no easier on her.
“I don`t even think I totally dealt with the emotion of him being released. We`re definitely better than where we were a year ago when he was released. There`s still healing there, but like two or three months ago I think it finally hit me – when I started seeing some of the wives and stuff that I`m friends with on Facebook or still talk to, they`re posting pictures on Facebook and Instagram of them at mini-camp, then at Family Night, and I`m like, ‘oh my gosh,” Andrea Collins said.
Collins and his wife are now focused on their family, including three little boys running the house — but when you listen to Collins, you can hear his internal conflicts. How do you reconcile gratitude with regret?
“They gave me an opportunity to play out my childhood dream and I’m thankful for that. But at the same time, I feel like they really didn’t give me a chance. They cut ties with me so fast,” Collins said.
So how do you forge ahead after football?
“I’m not quite there. I battle with it every day,” Collins said.
Collins has a Dr. Seuss quote on his Twitter page: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
So is it over for Nick Collins?
“To me, it’s not over. It’s not over,” Collins told FOX6′s Brad Hicks.
Below, we have four bonus clips from FOX6′s Brad Hicks’ interview with Nick Collins — in which Collins discusses the best quarterback he ever went up against (minus Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers), the toughest receiver he ever had to cover, what he thought when he saw Jermichael Finley get injured — and why he believes the NFL is going to be dealing with more neck injuries.