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If Jermichael Finley’s spinal cord is indeed bruised, Jameel McClain’s return Sunday is an encouraging sign.

Uncertain future

By JASON WILDE

GREEN BAY – Jermichael Finley’s neck injury is unique to him and no one else’s outcome can predict what the future holds for him.

But if the Green Bay Packers veteran tight end is looking for a player who came back from a bruised spinal cord to play in the NFL again, he need not look any further than what was happening in Pittsburgh at roughly the same time he was leaving Lambeau Field in an ambulance Sunday.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Monday evening that Finley suffered a bruised spinal cord during the Packers’ 31-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tyler Dunne later wrote that he had confirmed the report with a source close to Finley. Finley spent Sunday night in the intensive care unit of a local hospital and while he was released from the ICU Monday afternoon, he remained hospitalized. It’s unclear when he will be discharged.

Finley sent out a series of Tweets Monday evening updating people on his status. (Small adjustments were made to this quote to replace Twitter shorthand.)

“I want to thank my family, friends, teammates, fans and Packer Nation for the prayers and support over the past 24 hours,” Finley wrote. “I'm happy to report that I have been transferred out of the ICU and that I have full feeling in my arms and legs. As importantly, I was able to walk to and from the shower today, which was badly needed after yesterday's victory! Thank you again for the support, and Go Packers!”

Finley’s prognosis is unclear, as Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday that the injury is “significant” and more tests needed to be done. USA Today’s Tom Pelissero reported that Finley is unlikely to need surgery but that it will be weeks before the Packers will know when – or if – Finley will be able to play again.

While the track record of Packers players who suffered neck injuries over the past 25 years is hardly encouraging, if Finley is able to recover the way Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain has, then he will return to the field.

McClain started for the Ravens on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, returning to the field for the first time since suffering a bruised spinal cord in a game 10 months ago, last December against the Washington Redskins. McClain started the season on the physically unable to perform list but was activated last week and participated in full in practice all week without any setbacks or recurring symptoms.

According to the Baltimore Sun, McClain was told by at least one doctor that he would never play football again.

“I waited a long time for this moment,” McClain told the newspaper after the Ravens’ 19-16 loss. “It's good I was able to get the opportunity to go back out there when it wasn't believed it was possible. On a team note, it's very disappointing. It's not even sweet. It's bitter.

“We lost, so I played bad. You can't play good when you lose. It's a bad feeling. It's tough, man. It's like a nightmare come true.”

McClain played in the Ravens’ base defense and finished with five tackles while playing 30 of the Ravens’ 57 defensive snaps.

"I didn't have no setbacks," McClain said. "That's the biggest thing, no injuries. I got to get the feel for it again and everything is normal for me. I just played football.

"It felt great. It was exactly what I wanted. I wanted the chance to hit someone and see how my body would respond. I played with no hesitation."

Many Packers players never got that opportunity, beginning with defensive back Tim Lewis in 1986, who suffered a neck injury and was diagnosed with spinal stenosis – a narrowing of the spinal column – upon examination following the injury. Lewis, a promising player who’d been the Packers’ first-round pick (No. 11 overall) in 1983, never played another NFL snap.

In fact, almost every Packers player to suffer a neck injury has suffered the same fate: From wide receiver Sterling Sharpe, who suffered a C1-C2 disk injury late in the 1994 season; to safety Gary Berry, who suffered a bruised spinal column as a rookie in 2000; to wide receiver Terrence Murphy, who suffered a bruised spinal column as a rookie in 2005; to offensive lineman Tony Palmer, who suffered a fractured vertebrae in 2007; to linebacker Jeremy Thompson, who suffered a bruised spinal cord in practice in 2009; to three-time Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins, who suffered a herniated disk in September 2011 and had spinal fusion surgery but never got clearance from the Packers’ doctors and was released.

It is important to note that Berry, Murphy and Thompson were all diagnosed with spinal stenosis after their injuries, which would exacerbate the problem. 

Safety Sean Richardson, who suffered a herniated disk in his neck last season and underwent surgery by Dr. Robert Watkins, is on the Packers’ PUP list. Watkins is the same surgeon who did quarterback Peyton Manning’s neck surgery, and Richardson hasn’t given up hope of playing again – even though the Packers’ doctors have yet to clear him.

Last week, Richardson said he’s still hoping to resume his career.

“I talk to the team doctors just about every week. We’re just making sure everything’s still kosher, no setbacks, no injuries, no loss of motion and stuff like that,” Richardson said. “Whatever happens, happens. I’m praying and hoping that I can be able to play again and everything will be fine. If it don’t, then life goes on. I’m very optimistic. Coaches and everybody are optimistic. I have a strong supporting cast behind me. I just go out and work hard every day and stay upbeat and up-to-date in the meeting room and at practice and do my rehab. I’m just hopeful for great news.”

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.

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