Vince Lombardi once said that football wasn’t a contact sport, it’s a collision sport. But with those collisions come injuries and sometimes, those injuries are career ending.
Here is a look at four prominent Packers players who were playing at a very high or even potentially Hall of Fame level before injuries prematurely ended their careers.
- CB Tim Lewis
The Packers drafted Lewis with the 11th overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft out of the University of Pittsburgh. The rookie wasted little time getting on the field and started seven games in his first season with the Pack while picking off five passes.
In his second year, Lewis became a full-time starter and led the team with seven picks which he returned for 151 yards. One of his career highlights came in Week 12 when he intercepted a pass by Jeff Kemp and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams which remains the Packers franchise record for longest interception return in a regular season game.
In 1985, Lewis continued to develop as a cover corner and continued to make big plays. He returned a fumble recovery for a score in the Packers 20-17 win over the Vikings. He intercepted four more passes that season and became Green Bay’s top cornerback.
But during the Packers Week 3 contest against the Bears in 1986, Lewis suffered a neck injury that ended his career at the age of 25.
Lewis intercepted 16 passes in just 51 career NFL games. Had he been able to continue, he had the potential to be one of the better cover corners in the league for at least the next few years.
Lewis later went into coaching and served as the defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants during his coaching career.
- TE Jermichael Finley
Jermichael Finley gave the Packers something rare in the modern NFL: a tight end who could stretch the field and create mismatches not just with his size but with his speed as well.
The University of Texas product was Green Bay’s third-round pick in 2008 and became a starter in his second season. He was injured during the 2010 season and missed playing in Super Bowl XLV.
In 2011, Finley was a big part of the most dominant offensive season in Packers history. He caught 55 passes for a career-high 767 yards and eight touchdowns. The following season, he grabbed 61 passes, a new career best.
Unfortunately, Finley suffered a spinal cord injury during the 2013 season and was forced to retire at 26. The Packers have yet to find a tight end who can do the things Finley was able to do which only reinforces how valuable a talent he was.
- S Nick Collins
The Packers drafted Nick Collins in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft. The former Bethune-Cookman star became a starter for the Packers as a rookie and made his first career interception that year.
By 2008, Collins had become one of the league’s better big play safeties. He intercepted seven passes and returned three of them for touchdowns which led the league. He was voted to the first of three straight Pro Bowls that season.
Collins had a knack for breaking up passes and making big plays. He was even used on the occasional blitz to surprise opposing quarterbacks.
One of Collins’ career highlights came in Super Bowl XLV when he intercepted a pass by Ben Roethlisberger and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown that gave the Packers an early 14-0 lead that they never relinquished.
Collins suffered a career-ending neck injury early in the 2011 season. That was a big blow to the defense which struggled for the rest of the year without their elite cornerback.
Collins was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2016 and will always have a place in the franchise’s history, but he had the potential to accomplish even more had he stayed healthy.
- WR Sterling Sharpe
Sterling Sharpe was on his way to a Hall of Fame career when a neck injury ended his career in the 1994 season finale. He played only seven seasons in the NFL but was named to the Pro Bowl five times and earned All Pro honors three times.
He led the NFL with 90 catches in 1989 as he and Don Majkowski became a lethal duo during the Packers surprise 10-6 campaign.
In 1992, Sharpe set a new NFL single-season receiving record with 108 catches. He led the league with 1,461 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. The following season, Sharpe broke his own record and finished with a career-best 112 catches.
Brett Favre knew he could always rely on Sharpe to get open and make key catches. His size and strength made him extremely difficult to slow down. Even when defenders were close to him, they had trouble stopping him from catching the football.
The Packers qualified for the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade in 1993 and Sharpe played a major role in Green Bay’s 28-24 win over the Lions in Detroit. Sharpe caught three touchdown passes in the game including the dramatic game winner in the final minute on a 40-yard bomb from Favre that clinched Mike Holmgren’s first playoff victory. A week later, he went over 100 yards again in the Pack’s playoff loss in Dallas.
Sharpe’s final season came in 1994 when he caught an NFL-best 18 touchdowns. But he was unable to play in the playoffs that year because of the spinal injury he suffered.
Sterling Sharpe was the best receiver in the NFL during the last five years of his career although he was forced to retire at the age of 29. He finished his career with 595 catches which still places him second on the Packers all-time franchise list ahead of Hall of Famers like Don Hutson and James Lofton. There is no doubt he would have joined them in Canton had he had a few more productive seasons without getting hurt.
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