GREEN BAY - In the National Football League, as in most team sports, members of the medical staff can be among the most adored employees of the organization. Without their efforts, star players who take the field might not take the field at all
Players who have forged personal relationships with their team’s medical staff likely have done so because of chronic injury woes. In that sense, knowing the trainers well is less enviable than observing them from afar.
Which is why Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson relished the tranquility of his offseason. For the first time since Aug. 23, 2015, Nelson did not have an injury that needed treatment.
“It was great,” Nelson said Tuesday at Lambeau Field. “We had some withdrawals from the trainers, which was awesome. It was about a month or two of not coming into this building. That was the first time in a couple years that that happened, which was great for me, physically and mentally, to get away, spend time with the family and let the body re-heal from everything.
“Just a long season and a lot of rehab the last two seasons. It’s great to come in healthy. It’s great to not have to worry about anything or even think about anything and go back and start working toward another season.”
RELATED: A.J. Hawk will retire as a Packer
It was on that August day two years ago that Nelson tore his ACL in an exhibition game against Pittsburgh. He missed the entire 2015 season and underwent surgery; for nearly 12 full months his rehab never ceased.
When he returned, Nelson blossomed into the league’s 2016 Comeback Player of the Year. He caught 97 passes for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“I’m a guy who needs practice,” Nelson said. “I truly believe that. I need to practice. I want to practice. That was one of the most exciting things for me last year during the season, I didn’t miss a practice. It allowed me to continue to fine-tune throughout the season. I think we saw how that progressed.”
It progressed until the opening round of the playoffs, when the Packers hosted the New York Giants. Nelson, who will turn 32 in May, leaped to catch a pass along the sideline and absorbed a spearing hit from safety Leon Hall, the impact fracturing multiple ribs.
Back to rehab. Back to the trainers.
Nelson returned for the NFC championship game against Atlanta and, to the surprise of many, lasted four quarters thanks in large part to padding manufactured in the equipment room. He caught six passes for 67 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s hard to get people to believe that I was not in that much pain,” Nelson said. “Our equipment staff did a great job of putting something together to protect myself. … They did a great job of creating something similar to the flak jackets that quarterbacks wear to protect me. And then Doc (team physician Patrick McKenzie) did a great job of making sure I was prepared to be able to handle anything as I was getting hit out there.”
Three months later, all parts of Nelson’s body are fully healed. He returned to Green Bay with the same excitement as everyone else, happier than ever to avoid the training room.
“It’s fun because I don’t have to worry about anything,” Nelson said. “When we go work out these next couple weeks, I’ll be doing everything. When we go to IPWs (individual position workouts) and OTAs (organized team activities), there won’t be anything to hold me back. That’s an exciting part, which will allow me to fine-tune for Week 1 and progress from there.”