ESPN Wisconsin

Photo/Getty Images 
Nick Collins celebrates with the Lombardi Trophy after the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV championship in February 2011.

‘It’s time to open up another book’

Nick Collins struggled in the years following the neck injury that officially ended his career Tuesday. Six months after his frustration bubbled over, he’s at peace and looking forward to the next chapter of his life.

By JASON WILDE

GREEN BAY – Nick Collins is on the road – again.

It’s early afternoon on a Wednesday, and Collins is laughing as he negotiates an Orlando, Fla., side street in his mocha steel metallic Cadillac Escalade ESV. No, he says, he is not going to repaint it canary yellow and affix a stop sign to the side. Although, he admits, he might as well.

These days, the Green Bay Packers three-time Pro Bowl safety still covers a lot of ground, but he does it in the family SUV, taking his and wife Andrea’s four children to and fro for school and activities. He is constantly on the go with daughter Jenajah, 10; son Nicholas, who’ll turn 7 next month; son N’Mare, 5; and son Nash, set to turn 3 in November. School in central Florida has already been in session for a week, so Dad’s route is set.

“Just picked up one. Now, we have pick up another,” Collins says as he sits at a stoplight. “I’ve been doing it for a year now. It’s fun.”

He might be the only dad in the school pickup line to have ever intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown in the Super Bowl, with 111 million people watching, but he sounds happy. Genuinely happy.

His tone is certainly different than the last time you talked in February, when he’d just watched the Super Bowl on TV at a resort in the Bahamas with two of his former Packers teammates, Tramon Williams and James Jones. Then, he was growing restless and frustrated and bitter and shouting on social media that the NFL needed to give him a chance to play again, risks be damned.

Now, he says, he is at peace.

The deadline he’d set for a comeback – the start of NFL training camps – has come and gone, and his phone never rang. And so, on Tuesday, he’d logged back onto his Twitter account (@nickdapick36) and announced to his 53,718 followers that he was officially retiring, nearly three years after suffering a neck injury against the Carolina Panthers that later required single fusion spinal surgery of his C3 and C4 vertebrae.

He hasn’t played since that fateful September 2011 afternoon in Charlotte, N.C., and no other NFL team showed serious interest in him after the Packers released him in April 2012. Ever since, he’d been holding out hope that somewhere, there was an NFL team doctor willing to stake his medical reputation on Collins’ ability to play the game again without risking his life, but it never happened.

And so, just a few days after his 31st birthday, Collins finally decided enough was enough.

“It’ll be three years since I’ve been on a football field,” says Collins, who’d left Bank of America Stadium on a backboard and in an ambulance. “I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to move on.”

He pauses.

“It’s time to open up another book,” he says. “Close one and open up another.”

How the story in that book will be written – beyond his adventures behind the wheel – truly begins with a blank page.

Over the past several months, he’s made inquiries. He’s called Packers coach Mike McCarthy. He’s called Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey, the Packers’ former college scouting director. He’s called Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, the former Packers pro personnel director. He’s called Seattle Seahawks assistant coach Marquand Manuel, with whom he’d worked side-by-side at safety during the 2006 season.

Coaching, scouting, whatever – Collins wants to give it a try.

“I’m willing to come in and learn the game from their side,” Collins says. “I always wanted to be, and I still want to be, connected to the game. Just because I had to leave the game like I did and I was in the prime of my career, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be connected to it anymore.

“I just feel like it’ll help me move forward, and I think I can help a lot of the young guys coming in, too.”

Coaching, he understands, wouldn’t be an easy gig. Not only is Manuel paying his dues as a defensive assistant in Seattle, but another of his former secondary mates, two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Al Harris, is toiling as an assistant secondary coach with the Chiefs. Manuel warned Collins that coaching isn’t a cushy job, but he’s still interested.

“[Manuel said], ‘It’s a grind, it’s tough, but at the end of the day, it’s worth it,’” Collins says. “You get to see the game from a different side and you get to connect with different people. It’s been good to engage with him and talk to him about his experience.”

Collins has also explored scouting, having attended the East-West Shrine Game each of the past two years with Packers senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith, with Highsmith explaining the ins and outs of the job and asking Collins to share his thoughts on the safeties they were watching together.

“He was like, ‘What do you think about that guy?’ So I would be checking out guys, telling him one guy had better footwork, the other guy was better in space,” Collins explains. “I think I have the intangibles of being a scout, but I know I have to work at it.”

For now, though, he’s going to work at being a dad and husband and wait for what comes next. His wife is expanding her homemade cupcake business and is the process of building out a storefront for her creations. He’s working out when the kids are busy (“That’s my therapy”) and contemplating a trip to Green Bay for Friday’s game between the Packers and Raiders (“I’m trying to convince the wife to let me go”) so he see old friends, including Jones, Williams and Charles Woodson.

Whatever happens, Collins says, he’s at peace.

“You know, I think it hit me last week,” he says, still sounding upbeat. “I was like, ‘This is it.’ I’m settled in, I found my little niche becoming a better father and learning the ropes of how our house is supposed to be run.

“I just came to grips with it. It’s time to pursue something else.”

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.