After getting knocked out just four minutes into his second NFL playoff game Sunday, Seattle Seahawks tight end John Carlson was able to find a little humor the following day while sitting in O’Hare International Airport in Chicago awaiting a flight back to Seattle.
Carlson, a native of Litchfield, saw a replay on ESPN of his 14-yard reception that resulted in a concussion after being upended by Chicago Bears defensive back Danieal Manning and slamming facemask-first into the frozen sideline.
“It looked like it hurt,” he said, managing a chuckle.
Carlson, in his third season with Seattle, had caught two touchdown passes in the Seahawks’ upset win over defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in the first round of the NFC playoffs. And, after the Seahawks went three-and-out in the first series of the game against the Bears, Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck called Carlson’s number in the huddle.
“It was a ‘Fake 18 Key Pass Left’,” said Carlson, describing the play. “Basically, it’s a slide route play where I line up off the ball and float out to the left.”
Carlson caught the pass and ran down the left sideline. Manning came at Carlson quickly and dived toward his legs.
“I didn’t necessarily try to hurdle him, but I tried to jump away from the tackle,” said Carlson. “I remember getting flipped, but I don’t remember anything after that.”
FOX Sports replayed Carlson’s catch near the team’s bench numerous times. Slow-motion replays were almost gruesome to watch as he head twisted awkwardly as his facemask came in contact with the ground.
“The playing field is actually kind of soft for this time of the year because it has heated coils underground,” said Carlson. “But the sidelines are as hard as a rock and that’s where I ended up hitting.”
Carlson was flipped on his right side, his right arm cradling the ball, meaning he was unable to extend his arm to brace his fall unless he let go of the pigskin.
“I don’t know if I would have been able to brace myself or not,” he said. “It all happened so fast.”
Carlson ended up motionless on his stomach while trainers and teammates surrounded him quickly. He was administered to several minutes. His facemask was removed, but his helmet left on in case he had suffered a spinal injury. He had movement in his extremities as he was strapped to a gurney board and taken off the field on a cart, his eyes closed the entire time.
“The first thing I remember after that was being in the ambulance,” said Carlson. “I was confused at first, but the team doctor was there with me and told me right away where I was and what was going on. From then on, I was getting more and more alert.”
Carlson said once at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago, his helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he underwent a series of cognizant tests and an MRI to make sure his brain wasn’t damaged. His parents, John Sr. and Jo, as well as his older brother, Alex, and brother-in-law, Jason Michels, were all at the game at Soldier Field and were at the hospital shortly after Carlson was brought in. His wife, Danielle, stayed in Seattle with their three-month-old son because of the cold weather.
It was the third concussion Carlson has endured between college at Notre Dame and in the NFL.
“The NFL is really doing a good job of protecting the players who get concussions,” said Carlson. “The helmets are very protective of our heads. It’s not the skull that gets damaged slamming into the helmet, it’s the brain slamming into the skull.”
Carlson is very appreciative of the job trainers and medical staff did on him as he lay injured on the sideline.
“They did a great job being cautious and taking all of the proper steps to make sure of the situation,” said Carlson. “I now have plenty of time to recover because our season, unfortunately, is done.
“Too many players, whether it’s middle school or high school or even college, try to come back too early from a concussion. You need to be very, very careful you don’t return too soon or serious problems can develop.”
Carlson said he had a “nagging headache” on Monday, but no bumps or bruises on his head or face. He did say his elbows and right shoulder were scraped because of the hardness of the sideline.
The Seahawks had only two healthy tight ends for the game, Carlson and Cameron Morrah. The Seahawks’ game plan against the Bears consisted of a lot of two tight-end sets, but with Carlson knocked out early, the game plan changed.
“It was weird playing in the first four minutes of the game and then watching the final eight minutes on TV in the hospital,” Carlson said. “You feel kind of helpless and wish you could be out there helping your teammates.”
Carlson said he knew the risks of playing in the NFL is that there are going to be injuries.
“It’s one hundred percent that if you play in the NFL, you are going to be injured,” he said. “You just don’t know what type or how severe the injury is going to be. The longer you play, the more chance you have of a severe injury.”
Players are paid well in the NFL, but that’s not the reason most of them risk injury to strap on pads and pound on one another. It’s the love of the game and the thrill to compete.
It’s more like passion over pain.