Andrew Quarless looked into Jermichael Finley’s eyes and saw the fear. And then Quarless got scared, too.
While initial reports on Finley were encouraging Sunday evening – the Green Bay Packers veteran tight end had feeling and movement in all his extremities and was undergoing further tests at a local hospital – in the moments immediately after Finley suffered a neck injury during the Packers’ 31-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns Sunday, Quarless and Finley’s other teammates feared the worst. Even after the game, tears welled in some of their eyes as they spoke.
“I ain’t going to lie, man. I ain’t cried in long time, but I definitely shed a tear for him. That’s my brother,” said Quarless, who was the first Packers player on the scene after Finley took a hit from Browns safety Tashaun Gipson.
“He couldn’t move at the time. So I just told him, ‘Just stay here, just lay here, don’t move.’ That look he had in his eyes, that was something that stuck with me. It really hurt me just to see him like that. My brother was out there on the ground.
“I was the first one there, I tried to help him up, and he just couldn’t get up. That was tough to see, for me to see my brother out there on the ground and I couldn’t do anything about it.”
Finley was injured with 10 minutes 28 seconds left in the game. He had just caught a 10-yard pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers when Gipson hit him in the head and neck area as Finley ducked down after making the catch.
Finley was motionless on the field, lying on his side, as the Packers’ medical staff tended to him. Finley was down for roughly 6 minutes before leaving the field on a gurney, having had the facemask removed from his helmet and his head immobilized. He could be seen moving his hands as he departed.
Gipson was penalized 15 yards for a personal foul for “leading with the helmet,” according to referee Jeff Triplette, although it did not appear to be a dirty play. After the hit, Finley fell face first to the Lambeau Field turf, and his head appeared to shake.
After team physicians Dr. Patrick McKenzie and Dr. John Gray attended to him, Finley was placed on a backboard, had his head immobilized with a belt across the top of his helmet and was wheeled off the field on the gurney as his teammates, including Quarless, Rodgers, guard Josh Sitton, center Evan Dietrich-Smith and wide receiver Jordy Nelson looked on.
“It’s a reminder how tough this game is. We put our bodies on the line, our future health on the line,” Rodgers said. “Obviously with Jermichael, he was playing really well. He’s a great friend, great teammate. He’s had a very good year for us. Injuries are a part of the game, but those are tough to see. Not being able to walk off the field, I know in the back of our minds, is kind of our worst nightmare.”
Nelson had a hard time talking about the play, and his eyes were moist as he spoke.
“That’s honestly the first time (an injury) really got me. I didn’t like what I saw,” Nelson said. “Hopefully he’ll be all right.
“It makes you sick. Just seeing a guy lay there. You start thinking a little bit.”
This is the second such injury Finley has sustained this season. As he was catching a pass down the seam in Cincinnati on Sept. 22, he started to fall forward after the reception and absorbed a similar hit from Bengals safety George Iloka. Finley suffered a concussion on the play, but when Iloka was later fined $15,750 by the NFL for the hit, Finley said he didn’t believe the hit was dirty and that he didn’t think Iloka should have been fined.
Asked about the hit in the visitors’ locker room after the game, Gipson said he hit Finley only with his shoulder but didn’t know exactly where he hit him.
“It's scary for me, seeing him just lay there. You definitely never want to see something like that happen,” Gipson said. “I shot a prayer up for him and if I can reach out after the game I'm going to try get in contact with him and let him know my condolences go out to him.”
Finley’s injury brought back memories for some of his teammates of the 2011 neck injury suffered by three-time Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins at Carolina. Collins never played again for the Packers and was released before the 2012 season after the team refused to clear him to play for them again.
“He was moving his head. I think he was trying to see what could move,” Quarless said, choking up. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I just think back to stuff like Nick Collins’ injury. You don’t want to see a guy on the ground, not moving. It’s tough. It’s tough.”
After Finley suffered the concussion against the Bengals, his son Kaydon told him he didn’t want him to play football anymore. Finley also said he doesn’t want his son to play the game.
“I get calls from my grandma all the time,” Finley said of the woman who raised him, Clara Mitchell. “I tell her I only want to play 8 to 10 more years, and she says, ‘Boy, you need to quit this dang game.’
“That’s the thing. I know the risks. But family members that care about you, they see it from a different perspective than we do.”
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.