Nick Collins spent Super Bowl Sunday poolside at a resort in the Bahamas, watching the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos with his two longtime friends and Green Bay Packers teammates, Tramon Williams and James Jones.
“We were all about spending time together, catching up. We didn’t talk too much about football,” Collins said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from his home in Orlando, Fla. “Well, besides when we watched the game on Sunday, which was terrible.”
So when the former Packers safety logged onto his Twitter account the next day, it wasn’t a case of Williams and Jones telling their pal how much the Packers miss him and his mind starting to race.
It wasn’t Collins seeing Seahawks Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith intercepting a pass and returning it for a touchdown – on a play strikingly similar to his own pick-six interception in Super Bowl XLV three years ago – and wistfully recalling his pre-injury life, before the neck injury that has, to this point, kept him out of football.
No, in Collins’ mind, playing again has always been a possibility. He just felt that it was time to let the NFL know – again.
“My whole purpose of doing what I did on Twitter, I wanted to remind everybody I’m still out there and I’m willing to play given the opportunity,” Collins said. “That was the whole purpose of my Tweets on Monday. Just to say, ‘I’m ready, I’m 100 percent healed.’
“I’m open. Whoever wants to give me the chance – if it’s Green Bay, if it’s any of the other 31 teams that’s willing to take me that chance – I just have to be comfortable with it. It has to be in the right place.”
That place, though, is unlikely to be Green Bay, Collins admitted.
According to Collins, team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie was really the “only doctor” who was unwilling to medically clear him to play. Collins believes – and hopes – that other NFL doctors might not agree.
“The only doctor that was really unsure was Dr. McKenzie. He wasn’t quite sold on the idea of me playing for the Packers anymore,” Collins said. “That’s not saying that I wasn’t cleared to go nowhere else. I was cleared to go somewhere else. He just wasn’t 100 percent sold on the idea.
“I’ve been trying to get that opportunity for two years now and no one seems to want to take that chance. But I’m ready if anybody is willing. I guess it’s all about just getting the teams to understand the [idea] of me coming back. They can bring me in, they can get their own doctors to look at me, they can do their own evaluation and we can go from there. If they say we can roll with it, I’ll take that chance.”
But Collins knows he has his work cut out for him in convincing an NFL team to give him that chance. The 30-year-old, three-time Pro Bowl safety was cut by the Packers in April 2012 when he informed the team he had no intention of retiring in the wake of his September 2011 neck injury, which required single spinal fusion surgery of the C3/C4 vertebrae. He has been a free agent for nearly two years, and not a single team has tried to sign him.
Asked if he has a hard time watching football on TV, Collins, who has been on the Packers sideline for multiple games over the past two years, replied, “It’s not too hard to watch it until my son comes by and says, ‘Dad, you should really be out there playing football. They need to give you a chance.’ That’s when it gets tough. All I can say is, ‘I know.’”
After his spinal fusion surgery, the Packers sent Collins to a number of other specialists in order to gather multiple opinions on whether he should be cleared to return to action. The doctor who performed Collins’ surgery, Dr. Frank Cammisa, the chief of the Spine Service at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, and McKenzie, had their own input on Collins’ future but also presented those other opinions to Collins.
In the end, the Packers decided they weren’t comfortable with Collins resuming his football career with them. Both coach Mike McCarthy and Collins’ agent, Alan Herman, said after Collins’ injury and surgery that if Collins were their son, they would not allow him to play again.
Asked if Dr. Cammisa had told him the last time he was examined that he was at no significant risk if he played football again, Collins replied, “I haven’t talked to Dr. Cammisa in, like, a year and a half. The last thing I know, he just told me everything was healed. That was pretty much it. I haven’t talked too much to him to be able to say he’s definitely on board [with playing again], but I do know he said I was 100 percent healed.”
Being 100 percent healed and being cleared to play football in the NFL are two different things, though, and Collins said he understands the risk he’d be taking if he played again.
“It is a risk, but it’s no higher than any other guy that’s playing the game right now,” Collins said. “We all understand the game, we all know it’s a risk when you step out there on the field. We know the consequences behind our actions out there. It’s just a game that I love so much. It’s a part of me, and it hasn’t left yet. I feel like I’ve got three to five years left in me. I just feel like I can help a team reach their goals.”
On his own during the 15-minute conversation, Collins brought up the fact that the Packers cleared safety Sean Richardson to play last season despite undergoing spinal fusion on the C5/C6 vertebrae. He also pointed out that tight end Jermichael Finley, who like Collins underwent C3/C4 fusion after his Oct. 20 neck injury against Cleveland, was at the Super Bowl doing interviews and saying that he’s a few weeks away from being cleared to play again.
“I tried to reach out to him but he hasn’t returned my phone call,” Collins said of Finley. “Obviously he’s doing pretty well, from what I’m understanding. I saw some videos of him working out, trying to get ready to play.
“Everybody’s different. I know they cleared Sean Richardson, so I guess it depends on how [each player] feels.”
Collins was asked if he looks at wife Andrea and the couple’s four children and has any fear about what could happen to him if he collided with another player and something went wrong.
“You know, you kind of block [the fear] out of your mind. If you’re going to go back out there and try to play a game, you can’t be thinking about all the negative stuff that can happen,” Collins said. “You have to stay positive and look forward. That’s my goal: Play fast with no hesitation and just make plays – be the player I know I can be. That’s all I can wish on and go for and don’t worry about all the negatives.
“You make it through one game at a time, one season at a time. That’s what you do. You can’t look and say I’m going ot make it through this year and hope nothing happens. It’s not guaranteed. You take it play by play, day by day, game by game and year by year.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.