On a Thursday night in 2008, Willie McGinest nearly decapitated me. I was a tight end for the Broncos; he was a linebacker for the Browns. I was in the slot on the left. He was the strong-side linebacker, or "Sam," on the right. I ran a seam route that took me into the middle of the field versus a two-safety look. He dropped into coverage. Having no receivers in his zone to hold him, he was free to keep his eyes up at anyone who might be coming across the field.
The ball brought me further across the middle than the route required, and I had to change direction to track it. At the last minute I laid out. Parallel to the ground, I snagged the ball with my fingertips and brought it in to my body. It was the greatest catch of my NFL career. It was the greatest catch of anyone's career. It was the greatest, most acrobatic catch ever known to man ever.
Well, almost. Here's how the play-by-play describes what happened:
(4:38) 6-J.Cutler pass incomplete deep middle to 81-N.Jackson (55-W.McGinest). DEN-81-N.Jackson was injured during the play. His return is Doubtful.
Here's how I would describe it: Before I hit the ground, something large hit me in the head. I know now that it was Willie, flying in at a death angle, dropping his shoulder and running it through my temple into my tonsils. The blow dislodged the ball and knocked me out. It was the kind of borderline hit that today might get him fined. Being knocked out in a football game is not a painful event at impact. It is a dimensional vacuum through an extremely narrow wormhole. It is a piano falling on your head in the middle of your recital. It's a system reboot. My adrenaline was always too high to feel the pain of a hit, anyway. When I came to, I didn't know where I was. You're lying on the grass, Nate. The crowd is roaring. But what are they roaring about? Oh, yes, it's for you. You got knocked out. Yay! His brain is bleeding!