Q&A: Former Packers cornerback Sam Shields wants to play again
A fresh Instagram account belonging to Sam Shields posted a series of clips this week that showed the former Green Bay Packers cornerback running through drills at a recreational facility in Sarasota, Florida. He backpedaled, changed directions and accelerated in quick bursts while wearing a black hoodie, Under Armour cleats and Packers shorts.
The caption on the videos read as follows: “I missed a whole year.”
A second post from the workout quickly followed: “When our attention is in the present moment, we push fear from our minds.”
Packers safety Morgan Burnett, Shields’ teammate in Green Bay, chimed in with a photo of Shields from the same turf field: “My boy @samshields37 is back!! He been grinding putting in work!! #CantHoldaRealOneDown #Sticky #37isBack”
When it comes to football, no one has heard much from Shields since Jan. 22, 2017, when in the aftermath of the NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons he spoke briefly to ESPN about the continued headaches that many believed would signal the end of his career.
Shields had suffered his fifth documented concussion more than four months earlier while making a tackle in Week 1 against Jacksonville and never saw the field again. He spent part of the season recovering away from the team in Florida and eventually was placed on injured reserve. The Packers released him two weeks after their season ended.
Nearly 17 months later, the posts on Instagram marked the beginning of what Shields hopes will be a successful return to the National Football League. He believes someone will sign him later this spring, perhaps in March or April, and one personnel man from another team said Shields could generate interest if his health truly is in order.
Shields detailed his recovery and the decision to give football another chance in a telephone interview Thursday with the Journal Sentinel. From thinking his career was over, to spending several months in California for rehab, to using marijuana as a medicinal tool, Shields believes it all will be worth it if he gets another chance.
“It’s going to feel great,” Shields said. “You’re going to see the (number) 37 you remembered. Everything you seen in Green Bay, you’re going to see that wherever I’m at.”
This interview has been condensed and edited:
Q: I saw the posts on Instagram from you and Morgan Burnett. What did it feel like to get back out on the field?
A: Man, it just feels like — have you ever rode a bike before when you was young, and then you just do it again? It’s basically just like that, just like riding a bike. And you know, of course the fatigue and all that, that comes with it. But man, shoot, I feel great. No headaches, none of those things going on. Everything has been going the way it’s supposed to be going.
Q: Was that the first time you had tried some of those drills?
A: Yes, yes it was. Before that, I did a little cardio as far as a treadmill. But that was my first day of really going out there and moving and backpedaling and coming out of my breaks.
Q: Why did you decide it was the right time to try those things?
A: Just how I felt, you know? I always go by how my body feels. I was never like pressured to do anything like, ‘Oh, you need to go work out.’ I always went off how I feel and how my body feel. And I just felt that that time was right, so I went out there and did what I do.
Q: How would you describe what it felt like those first couple days after the hit in Jacksonville during Week 1 of the 2016 season?
A: Oh man, it was terrible. I done had three (concussions) before that, three or four before that, I forgot. But I never had headaches before like that, and it was just constantly headaches, headaches, headaches. I couldn’t see the light (without) headaches. Any little sensitive thing I was getting headaches and I was like, ‘Damn, I never went through this before.’ I definitely thought it was the ending point of my career. And then again, you know, people around me and my supporters, the doctors, they was trying to help me through it. But I was still like, ‘Dang, I don’t know. My head is hurting. I’ve never been through this.’ It was just kind of scary.
Q: In January 2017 after the NFC Championship game, you said there were some days when you felt pretty good, and some other days when you still had headaches. When did everything finally go away and you felt back to normal?
A: Well, I was in California for six months doing some rehab with UCLA. That whole six months, you know, it was here and there. But shoot, I did great during the rehab. That whole six months I wasn’t really having headaches. It was coming (along), but it was also a mind thing as far as what they taught me. If I do have a headache, would I think it’s a concussion or would I think it’s a headache? It was all like a mind thing. The physical part was there. I didn’t miss a beat off that. But it was basically just the mind thing of getting no headaches and things like that.
Q: In terms of the facility in California, what made you decide it was the right place to go?
A: Actually, I was just reading up on like a good spot for physical therapy and things like that. UCLA was like the first that came up.
Q: How would you describe a typical day out there? What kind of things did you do?
A: Just relax really throughout the day until I had workouts like at 2 p.m. What (they) had me going through was a lot of cardio on the treadmill. As I was doing that for an hour or two, they asked me a million questions just working on my mind, working on just the physical part, the fatigue and all that. Actually, that was great. That really helped me out as far as my headaches and things like that.
Q: As you were going through all of these workouts and six months go by, and then a year goes by, did you always think football was still possible? Did doubt creep in?
A: Oh yeah, it was here and there. One day I was like, ‘Aw, I’m not doing it.’ The next day I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m ready!’ It was here and there, you know? I just had to get that rest, rest my mind. That whole year I really needed that, needed this whole year off just to get my mind right, just to make sure everything is right with my family and things like that. It definitely worked out.
Q: Given the number of hours players dedicate to football, was it almost nice in some way to be able to spend that extra time with your family, with your daughters and with your friends down in Florida?
A: Aw man, that’s the best feeling in the world. In the league, just being in it for a long time and missing out — you get like, what, a couple months with your family? — and then now it’s like full time I get to meet the teachers, take my daughters to school, all those types of things, birthdays, especially the holidays. That was a good thing.
Q: What do your daughters think about you coming back to football?
A: They say, ‘Go back, Daddy.’ Because I asked them a couple times, I said, ‘Do y’all want Daddy to go back to football?’ And of course all of them said, ‘Yeah! Yeah! We just love watching you play.’
Shields was arrested on Oct. 19, 2016, in Green Bay and charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. He pleaded no contest to the marijuana charge, and the paraphernalia charge was dropped.
On Sept. 2, 2017, ESPN reported Shields faced a two-game suspension as a result of the incident. Shields believes the suspension already has been served, though it’s unclear if the punishment still would apply should someone sign him for next season. Two league spokesmen did not respond to requests for clarification.
Q: I’ve talked to athletes over the years who said when they know they’re going to have a lot of time off — they know it’s going to be six months, eight months, a year — one of the things that has helped them through injuries is marijuana. Is that something you used to help with concussions?
A: Oh most definitely, most definitely, man. And OK, everybody knows yeah, I do what I do. But yeah, I think it does (help). I really do. I don’t want to get too far into it, but certain things as far as stress levels and things like that, man… (laughter)
Q: Do you have any concerns about your future health?
A: No, I don’t think so. I think I’m back to my normal self. I can just take one day at a time and try to keep conditioning to get myself ready for whatever, March or April, whatever team picks me up so I can be ready to go.
Q: What do you think are the chances that somebody picks you up? There are teams who shy away from players with a history of concussions. Do you think somebody will give you a chance?
A: Oh yeah, most definitely, man. I think they will because I can still run. (laughter) I’ve still got that in me. I think somebody will want that. (laughter)
Q: Was it difficult for you to watch the Packers on TV?
A: Oh most definitely. (laughter) I couldn’t do it, man. I used to pace and walk, walking through the house. Oh man, it just brings me back.
Q: Do you think the Packers would be interested? Or did their decision to release you pretty much say that ship has sailed?
A: That I really don’t know. But shoot, as I see on my social media, man, they still love me. (laughter) That’s always been there, especially with the Packers since I’ve been there. It’s always been love. Not just me, but anybody. That’s just the love we’ve got from the fans. But yeah, I think they would (bring me back).
Q: In terms of your motivation to come back, how much of it is you really miss the game? How much of it is you miss your teammates? Is there financial motivation? What’s driving you?
A: The game, man. Financial — that’s solid. I was in Green Bay, so you ain’t spending nothing in Green Bay. I did a few investments, some good ones. It was the game, man. I just love it. Just being still new at that position I think, there’s still more that needs to be done at that position. It’s not that I’m (ignoring people who say), ‘Aw, you just need to stay healthy.’ Nah, I know that part. Like I said, I took a year off. I could have been came back (already). If it was any financial (reason) or anything like that, I could have been came back and just take that risk. But I took a whole year for me and my family. Man, I just miss that game. I just miss guarding somebody one on one; that’s who I got, and I’m with him (all game long). Just that whole competition thing.
Q: So when you look at the top corners around the league, whether it’s Xavier Rhodes in Minnesota or Casey Hayward in San Diego, is that something where you think, 'Man, if I could just get one more chance I would be in that same group?'
A: Oh man, all the time. This whole year I was thinking that. Just watching some of the games it’s like, ‘Aw man, I could have had that.’ Just being in that position like dang, the ball in the air. (It felt like) I was just going through that, and of course I would have definitely been at the top.
Q: Is this the type of situation where suffering another concussion would mean you definitely have to walk away? Or can you continue to play if it happens again?
A: Nah, that’s it. That’s a wrap.
Q: So one more concussion and you’re done?