|Collie took a brutal shot to the head from the Steelers' Larry Foote on Sunday. (US Presswire)|
Indianapolis Colts receiver Austin Collie could be dying right before our eyes. We've all read the stories about concussions, NFL players and the devastating intersection between the two. It's a slow death, one that starts now but concludes off camera, when the player has long since retired, his brain atrophying until he's 50 or 60 and can no longer drive a car, then tie his shoes, then feed himself. This is your brain on a concussion.
Austin Collie has had at least three of them since November 2010, the first one particularly vicious, the most recent concussion Sunday against the Steelers.
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His dad was watching.
His dad has seen them all on television, including the one Sunday when Collie caught a pass, was hit by Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, then finished off by a forearm to the helmet from linebacker Larry Foote.
Back home in Sacramento, Austin Collie's dad had a thought.
"Is this the one," Scott Collie wondered, "that's going to be the breaking point?"
The son is the story, but Scott Collie is the prism through which I wanted to see it. He's a former receiver himself -- he caught passes from Steve Young at BYU, then played four years in the Canadian Football League -- but above all else he's a father. He's the father, specifically, of an NFL player who has suffered three concussions in 21 months.
This was a delicate phone conversation, as you can imagine. Part of me wanted to know how Scott Collie had handled the news of his son's latest concussion. But part of me wanted to know, had to know, if Austin wanted to keep playing -- and whether the father would allow it.
We'll let Scott Collie answer that last question first.
"He's going to keep playing -- so long as the Colts will have him," Scott told me. "I don't know what 26-year-old is going to listen to his dad. I can advise. I can't tell him to stop."
Nor did he try. Didn't advise him, didn't ask him, didn't suggest it. And Scott Collie knows what you're thinking. He knew what I was thinking as we spoke, because when I asked if he wished Austin would retire, this is what he told me:
"No, and I realize that borders on me being a poor dad -- that I should be standing up and saying, 'Austin, you've got to stop,'" Scott Collie said. "I think by me not saying that, it could show ignorance on my part and not understanding the long-term possible effects that concussions could have. And again, the comments I make are ignorant, particularly where [former NFL players] have had issues later on in life. To think that's not going to happen to my son is ignorant as well.
"But for every story you hear about the guys who have the long-lasting effects, you can talk to eight more that come away from it still able to enjoy life. The ones who suffer from depression, where does it come from? Is it because you're so used to being the guy, the attention, [with] the money, and then it's gone, and now all of a sudden you're just a normal guy? Does that contribute? I don't know -- I don't know. And that's where I go into real dark areas, gray areas, and I know that can upset a lot of people."
Scott Collie is trapped, you see. Trapped between loving his son enough to support his pursuit of the NFL dream ... and loving his son so much that he wonders if the pursuit will be catastrophic.
Scott Collie knows what it's like to chase the dream. As a player he suffered a broken leg and broken ankle. He had surgery on his shoulder and back. He played with a ruptured artery in his leg, but didn't know it. Doctors sent him onto the field with stitches and gauze, but the wound started spurting. Part of his quadriceps died from a lack of blood, and the surgeon who removed it told his family he'd never play again. The surgeon didn't tell him, however.
|Fantasy Slant: Austin Collie|
Collie's fantasy outlook:
Collie's not really worth more than a late-round pick after his latest concussion.
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And Scott Collie did play again.
This is a different kind of guy, which could explain why he's dealing with his son's latest concussion in a different kind of way from you or me. Scott Collie was released during his fourth year in the CFL, after one of the best games of his career -- six catches for 123 yards, figures he remembers 26 years later -- and his response was to call an acquaintance, Mike Holmgren, a 49ers assistant in 1986.
Holmgren invited Collie for a tryout, but doctors looked at his medical reports -- at the ruptured disk in his back, the torn ligaments in his ankle, at the leg and the shoulder -- and told Collie he was finished; the 49ers couldn't let him on the field for liability purposes.
Scott Collie was upset.
"A terrible day," he said.
This is Austin Collie's father, so maybe you can understand why he refuses to ask his son to retire, even as he acknowledges "the guilt I'll feel if something happens. And I'll have to live with myself," he said. "If I could have stepped in and said, 'Austin, you need to stop ...'"
Scott Collie's voice trailed off, and we'd spoken long enough. I started to end the call by thanking him for being so honest and polite while being peppered about his duties as a father. He said, "I've been accused of being a poor dad before."
So our phone call wasn't finished. I had to hear this. Tell me about that, Scott.
"Well, I was asked once, 'When did you first know Austin was a great athlete?' And there's a story there," Scott Collie said.
The story goes like this:
Austin was 4. He and his older brother, Zac -- who would play at BYU and spend time with the Eagles -- were at the batting cages when Austin stepped in to face the 55-mph machine. Austin put on a helmet, grabbed a bat, stood on the plate and told his dad he was ready: Put in the quarter and let me hit.
"Get off the plate," Scott Collie said. "It's gonna hit you."
Said Austin: "Put in the quarter, dad."
Dad shrugged, put in the quarter, and watched as the first pitch hit his son. Scott Collie picks it up from there:
"You would expect a 4-year-old to fall down or cry -- or both -- and come out of cage," he said. "Austin got up, stepped off plate, stepped up to it, then hit the next pitch. That's when I knew he was different."
Yes, he was. And still is. The same goes for the father, whose own head has been battered by football. That's right: Scott Collie once suffered a concussion, too. His happened at age 9, if you can believe it, but it was so serious that he was hospitalized. As the story goes, his parents were out that night so Scott's youth coach drove him home from practice after he had been knocked silly. Scott was talking so nonsensically that his sister called their parents, who came home and took him to the emergency room. That's the story he has been told, anyway -- all he remembers is waking up in the hospital.
Today Scott Collie is still immersed in football, co-founder of ReceiverTech, designed to prepare young players for "the next level." Football has been hard on him, but it has been wonderful as well. So when I asked him, as Austin's concussions have mounted, if he ever wishes he'd never introduced the game to his son, he said no.
"I wouldn't take it back," he said.
And Scott Collie means it. His youngest son, Dylan Collie, will be a BYU freshman this season. He plays football.
He plays receiver.