It has been nearly three years since Green Bay Packers safety Nick Collins played his last down in green and gold. We all watched in horror as he lay motionless on the ground after trying to make a play. We collectively held our breath as the medical team strapped him to a board and only exhaled when he waved to the crowd to let them know he was okay.
But that was the last time we ever saw Collins play in Green Bay. The All-Pro safety had been felled by a neck injury, prematurely ending his tenure just like Sterling Sharpe and Tim Lewis before him as well as Johnathan Franklin and possibly Jermichael Finley just this past year.
While coach Mike McCarthy had asserted as Collins began the recovery process, “…if Nick were my son, I would not let him play,” Collins himself never gave up hope that he would suit up and take the field once again. If not in Green Bay, perhaps else where. Armed with a good bill of health from his own physician, he waited for a team to give him a call.
Weeks turned into months, and months have now turned into three years. There would be no phone call despite his own messages on Twitter reminding them that he was available as a free agent. Reconstructed neck notwithstanding, his neck was too much of an unknown variable, and no team wanted to take that gamble.
Finally last night, Nick Collins acknowledged what we had assumed all along and made it official.
— Nick Collins (@nickdapick36) August 20, 2014
This morning Collins is no longer an unsigned free agent. He officially became an NFL alum.
His Tweet began the final mourning process for likely fans as well as Collins. After all, it seemed inevitable. Someone else already wears his jersey number. While he has had shoes that have been hard to fill, the safety position is well stocked with the likes of Micah Hyde and HaHa Clinton Dix.
There is no mistake he will forever be a part of Packers lore. To this day I am surprised that the image of him on his knees in the Steelers end zone with a grin ear to ear and hands aloft after his pick-six in Super Bowl XLV did not make the cover of Sports Illustrated the following week. It was, perhaps, the iconic image of that game. After all, that play was instrumental in beating Pittsburgh, and Collins was at the top of his game.
Yet one other image of the game stands out: his three children making confetti angels on the field as the players and their families basked in the afterglow of the victory. Two preschool boys and a cute little girl, each dressed in miniature versions of their Daddy’s jersey embodied the joy we all felt as the Lombardi Trophy returned once again to Green Bay.
I have no doubt he hugged each one of his children that night, and I have a feeling he hugged them yesterday as well. That, no doubt, is the greatest gift to receive after a spinal cord injury. He can still hold his kids and isn’t paralyzed and confined to a wheel chair. That may be a bigger victory than the one in Dallas.
Last night the final chapter in Nick Collins career as Packers player came to an end. It may not be what he had wanted. It’s always sad when a career is cut short by injury. The next time he sets foot at Lambeau Field he will officially be an alum, and the next chapter of with the Green Bay Packers will begin.
It’s always a bit sad when a beloved player hangs it up for good, but the same quote comes to mind that I pondered when Donald Driver said goodbye:
Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.
Thank you for everything, Nick Collins. We all look forward to what the future brings you.