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Headed for trouble?

With a history of concussions, LB Dan Morgan faces a life-altering decision whether to return to NFL

Posted: Friday October 13, 2006 12:05PM; Updated: Friday October 13, 2006 5:36PM
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Dan Morgan suffered a concussion in the Panthers' second exhibition game against Jacksonville, and then another a month later in Carolina's season opener against Atlanta.
Dan Morgan suffered a concussion in the Panthers' second exhibition game against Jacksonville, and then another a month later in Carolina's season opener against Atlanta.
Craig Jones/Getty Images
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By Christopher Nowinski, Special to SI.com

Dan Morgan dodged a bullet Wednesday when he announced that he would sit out the rest of the NFL season after suffering at least the fifth and sixth concussions of his career this summer. Scratch that -- he dodged a cannonball.

If Morgan, the Carolina Panthers' star linebacker, had returned, research suggests that he would likely suffer at least a third concussion this season and join a long list of NFL players -- including Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Merril Hoge, Ted Johnson, Wayne Chrebet, Al Toon, Ed McCaffrey, Bill Romanowski, Chris Miller, Stan Humphries, Frank Wycheck and Bob Christian -- who have had to retire early because of post-concussion syndrome (PCS).

Dr. Mickey Collins, a Pittsburgh-based concussions expert, knows that risk, and that's why he recommended that Morgan sit out the rest of the season, despite the fact that Morgan told reporters, "If it was up to me, I'd be out playing against Baltimore this week." To those worried about Morgan's long-term health, Wednesday was a tremendous victory for the Morgan family, which includes Dan's wife and young daughter.

But the battle is far from over, and the most difficult decision facing Morgan lies ahead. What's more, if Morgan makes the wrong choice, it could negate the small victory he accomplished this week. "I feel like I do have football left in me," said Morgan, who says he plans to return next season. "I know when I come back people are going to look at me and worry about me, but I know how I feel and I know next year I can come back and things can be a little different."

This story has two possible outcomes. In one, Morgan returns to football, is injury-free and resumes his stardom in the NFL. But the other, in which Morgan suffers another concussion and potentially irreversible damage, is far more dangerous -- and more likely. 

Morgan, who declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this article, appears to be under the impression that taking this season off is going to heal his brain. At his press conference, referring to the list of PCS victims above, he said, "I think that's a big step that we're making right now that we're preventing. I'm not going in there. I'm not going to get dinged. It's going to give me a lot of time to heal up rather than going in there and getting dinged like those guys in the past."

But Morgan is mistaken. Those guys were all once where he is today, and they suffered one concussion too many. Morgan has already done a lot of damage to his brain. Sitting out this season isn't going to undo that.

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