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Finley's injury serves as reminder of football's violent side

Oct. 21, 2013
 

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Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley is checked on by teammates Andrew Quarless and David Bakhtiari after being injured on a hit by Cleveland Browns defensive back Tashaun Gipson during the fourth quarter of the game. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, far right, looks on as Jermichael Finley is carted off the field on a stretcher after getting injured in the fourth quarter. / Dan Powers/Gannett Wisconsin Media

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It was one of those extremely uncomfortable moments that forces men who are flush with machismo to face a disturbing reality.

Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley lay motionless on the Lambeau Field turf early in the fourth quarter Sunday after hauling in a 15-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers and then absorbing a direct hit to his helmet from the shoulder pad of Cleveland Browns defensive back Tashaun Gipson.

As trainers attended to Finley and the stretcher was brought onto the field, several players stood close by and watched. Some were in tears. Others, like Rodgers, temporarily took off his helmet and took a knee. Others, like Packers right guard T.J. Lang, went in another direction.

“I saw that clearly something was wrong,’’ said Lang following the Packers’ 31-13 win. “So I kind of walked away.

“I don’t like to; it’s just something that kind of nauseates me when something like that happens. It’s such a violent game sometimes. Hopefully, he’s all right. He’s a big part of this offense and he’s a great guy. Good locker room guy. Hopefully he’s going to be all right.”

Packers officials said Finley suffered a neck injury but had use of all his extremities. He was taken to a hospital and was undergoing tests. Beyond that, no one knew what his future held.

“Hopefully he’ll be all right,” said receiver Jordy Nelson. “He needs to take his time. Obviously it’s his second (head injury) already this year. He needs to take care of himself first. Hopefully he’ll be all right; be checking in on him.”

Tight end Jake Stoneburner, who was promoted from the practice squad this week, said it was especially difficult because he counts Finley as a close friend and knows how his family would have reacted.

“I put myself in my mom’s head, and I know if I was laying out there she’d go, ‘You’re never playing football again,’” Stoneburner said. “It was like, emotionally draining. It’s like, man, this is just a sport and this guy’s out there getting hauled off in a stretcher. It’s kind of surreal, in a bad way.

“You never know when football is going to be gone just like that; not saying it is for Jermichael. But getting taken out on a stretcher is something you never want to see, especially one of your good friends. My prayers are out for him.”

It was a critical loss for a receiving corps that was already down two of its premier performers — Randall Cobb and James Jones. But that was of little concern after what teammates had just witnessed.

“That’s honestly the first time it really got me,’’ Nelson said. “I didn’t like what I saw.

“It makes you sick just seeing a guy lay there, so you start thinking a little bit.”

Finley, in the final year of his contract, was having a solid game, and a solid year.

He caught all five passes on which he was targeted Sunday for 72 yards and a touchdown. That came early in the first quarter when he caught a short pass from Rodgers, broke the tackle of linebacker Craig Robertson, lowered his head and shoulder to break a tackle attempt by Gipson and then broke free from cornerback Buster Skrine and went into the end zone for as impressive a 10-yard reception he’s had all season. It was his third TD of the season, one more than he had in 2012.

The numbers could have been even better had it not been for a holding call on Don Barclay that wiped out a 20-yard reception.

But numbers, of what was and what will be missed, took a back seat in the locker room. The reality of what each player deals with came to the fore.

“I think it’s a reminder of how tough this game is,” Rodgers said. “We put our bodies on the line, our future health on the line, and (it’s) tough to see with Jermichael.

“He was playing really well. He’s a great friend, a great teammate and he’s had a very good year for us. Injuries are part of the game but those are tough to see, not being able to walk off the field. Always in the back of our minds, that’s kind of our worst nightmare.”

For someone like Stoneburner, who was a front-line special teams player Sunday, the next-man-up mantra is about to hit home.

“Yeah, for sure,’’ he said. “It’s very unfortunate it has to go down like that because Jermichael’s one of my good friends on this team.

“I feel I can make contributions to this offense blocking and catching. I feel like I’m sufficient in both and can go out and make some plays. It’s really up to the coaches what they want me to do and what they feel comfortable with me doing.”

mwoods@postcrescent.com and follow him on Twitter @PCMikeW.

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