words // Jordan Hagedorn

For most kids growing up, they dream of a chance to play pro sports.  Much is the same for Green Bay Packers’ safety Nick Collins, but he apparently dreamed much bigger.  Growing up watching pro football, he told his family, “One day I’m going to be out there playing in the Super Bowl and I’m gonna contribute and do something very special.” Turns out he may have seen the future back then, as what he said came true back in February.

After losing a tough game to the Patriots 31-27 on December 19th, the Packers needed to win their final two games against the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears. On the day after Christmas, Collins had a 4th-quarter interception against the Giants in a convincing 45-17 victory.  In the regular-season finale — a must-win game against the NFC North rival Bears, Collins picked off Jay Cutler late in the game to seal a 10-3 playoff-clinching win.

Entering the playoffs as the NFC’s sixth seed, the Packers would go on a run that only the players and die-hard Packer fans could have imagined. They began their improbable run against Michael Vick and the third-seeded Philadelphia Eagles, winning by five points in the wild card round.  In the divisional round, they put a 27-point beat down on the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons.  They then defeated the NFC North Division Champion Bears by a touchdown, to advance to the Super Bowl, where they would play the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After the Packers jumped out to 7-0 lead, the Steelers got the ball with 3:34 left in the opening quarter. Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger dropped back, was hit and threw a pass short. Collins stepped in front of WR Mike Wallace and picked it off. He proceeded to return it 37 yards for a touchdown causing Packer fans to go crazy. After scoring, he ran to the middle of the field, dropped to his knees and outstretched his arms making for one of the most memorable images from Super Bowl XLV.

The Packers went ahead 21-3, but the Steelers battled back, cutting the lead to 21-17 in the third quarter.  The Pack held on late in the fourth quarter to defeat the Steelers 31-25 thus returning the Lombardi Trophy back to Titletown.  Having never trailed the entire Super Bowl and never being behind by more than seven points all year, it turned out to be a remarkable season. And at the forefront of the win was one of the defensive leaders, #36, Nick Collins.

It was a dream come true for him.  A few days after receiving his Super Bowl ring, Collins told me: “It’s unreal. I received the box and I was like, “Wow, we are the World Champions.” And that’s something I’m going to have for the rest of my life and no one can take that away. It’s been a great ride, a great accomplishment and hopefully we can have many more to come.”

In this day and age where pro athletes all have different career paths, Nick’s journey from childhood to World Champion has been a great one. In high school, he played quarterback, running back and defensive back along with being a hoops point guard and hardball centerfielder. When he first got to college, they had him playing linebacker. All of that proves that “Nick the Pick” is an extremely versatile, adaptable athlete.

Late in his first year at Bethune-Cookman, Collins finally switched over to free safety and everything started to click. He went on to have a brilliant college career and was drafted by the Packers in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft.

Since then, he has fit in nicely with the Packers, contributing every year and always improving. In 2008 he returned three picks for scores, becoming the first safety to do so since 1986.  Collins has only missed three games in his career due to injury, making him one of the most durable and dependable players on the Packers’ roster. Last year he was named to his third consecutive Pro Bowl.  This made him the first Packers’ safety to accomplish that feat since Packer legend LeRoy Butler did so from 1996-1998.

When I talked to him at his football camp earlier this summer, it became clear why he’s had so much success. He is a humble, down to earth guy that loves to laugh. He has a good head on his shoulders and just gets the job done. He is extremely generous with his time and is a great role model to kids. He is a sneaker collector but said he usually only wears shoes a couple times then he gives them away to less fortunate kids. When asked what advice he has for kids he said, “First of all make sure to do the right thing in the classroom. Show a lot of respect to others and just be determined. Know what your purpose is. Have a plan and goal then it’s up to you to go achieve that. If you just stick to those things, the sky is the limit for you. You always have to stay positive. If you’re able to wake up in the morning and look yourself in the mirror with a smile on your face, that means you’re going to have a successful day.”

To continue to inspire the youth he has started the Nick Collins Jumpstart Foundation.

You can follow him on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/nickthepick36

Also, keep an eye out for #36 on the field this year as he looks to help the Pack repeat!