For Chad Clifton, the pain came early.
For Nick Collins, the pain came at the end.
Now, the feeling is joy as those two stalwarts on the Super Bowl XLV championship team have been selected for induction into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. They’ll be honored on July 23.
“I’ve had pretty much a smile on my face the entire time,” Clifton, who learned of the honor last week, said during a Friday conference call.
Clifton, a second-round pick in 2000, was infamously leveled by Tampa Bay’s Warren Sapp following an interception during their game on Nov. 24, 2002. Clifton missed the rest of the season with a serious pelvis injury that left him bedridden for a month. Clifton returned and started 79 of a possible 80 games during the next five seasons.
In 2010, health injuries cropped up again.
“That season started off, I was having some knee issues earlier in the year,” Clifton said. “Really, that second or third game of that season, I was at a point where, ‘Man, I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish this year out.’”
He did more than finish. Clifton started all 20 games, including the Super Bowl, en route to his second Pro Bowl selection.
“Thank goodness (for) and the credit to our training staff, to our doctors,” he said. “We were able to calm my knee issues down and ended up having a really good season and ended up going to the Super Bowl, which was definitely the highlight of my career, being out there on the field with your teammates, your coaches; after the game with your family and just celebrating a victory like that. It’s memorable and it’s something that you never forget.”
In the second game of the defending champions’ 2011 season, catastrophe struck. Collins suffered a career-ending neck injury while making a tackle. It was a premature end to the career of a player who was at the height of his powers. A second-round pick in 2005, Collins was selected for the Pro Bowl in 2008, 2009 and 2010, when he intercepted a total of 17 passes. That total doesn’t include his pick-six in the first quarter of the Super Bowl, which put the Packers in front 14-0.
Today, Collins is only 32. He might be well on his way to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career if not for the injury.
“I try not to think about it,” Collins said. “Every once in a while, it runs across my mind. I think I could have been one of the best safeties to ever play the game. There were a lot of safeties before my time that played at a very, very high level, but I could have been a part of that class. I think I would have. But at the end of the day, I was able to get drafted from Bethune-Cookman University in ’05, played seven amazing years, got a Super Bowl ring, made it to the Pro Bowl three times. What more can you ask for? I think I had an outstanding career.”
Today, Collins does personal training, position training and speed and agility training at his House of DBs in Windermere, Fla. He’s also a Pop Warner football coach for his two sons.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t miss the game that brought him such joy.
“As a player, you never get it out of your system,” Collins said. “It will take years for it to totally get out of my system. Do I miss it? Of course I miss it. I’m still a young man. I think about it all the time. At the same time, I gave the game everything I had. I have no regrets. I know I played up to the best of my potential and I left everything out there on the field for my team, for myself and for the Packers organization. At the end of the day, as a player, you know one day you’ll have to walk away from the game. Did I walk away from the game the way I wanted to? No, I did not. But, at the same time, I’m able to stand around and play around with my kids and enjoy life. That’s the most important thing.”