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Posted: Friday December 4, 2009 9:28AM; Updated: Friday December 4, 2009 9:28AM
Peter King
Peter King>GAME PLAN

Warner sees light on head injuries; 10 things to watch this weekend

Story Highlights

Kurt Warner says players have to be truthful for concussion policy to work

Chris Johnson needs another huge game for Titans to beat Colts

What to watch: Favre, Hines & Ben, MVP race and much more

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Kurt Warner didn't dress for last week's game against the Titans and is undecided about Sunday's game against the Vikings.
John W. McDonough/SI

Kurt Warner knew, as he walked to see the Arizona Cardinals team medics last Sunday morning in Nashville, that playing against the Titans was not up to them. It was up to him. His words would determine whether he'd go out on the field with his sore neck and an odd, sharp sensitivity to light.

And for a moment he thought: I can lie*, and they'll let me play.

*For those of you who only know Kurt Warner from the two-minute post-game interviews you've seen over the past decade, trust me implicitly on this one: There is no more honorable person in the game. Once, when I was looking for him in the Rams' locker room a few years ago, one of his teammates said, "The Pope's in the shower.''

"So I thought about it,'' he told me, driving home from practice Wednesday evening. "And I had to say to myself, 'What are you doing! What are you thinking!' First, it's not my character to lie. That's not me. But it's also in this case just not the right thing to do. I have seven kids, a wife. A life. I want to win as much as anyone. But at the end of the day, you have to be able to take a step back and realize what you're talking about. It's a football game, versus the rest of your life.''

He told the doctors about his sore neck, a leftover from taking a blow to the head seven days earlier in St. Louis, and about the light sensitivity, which they, and he, knew could be a remnant from a minor concussion. They told him he wasn't playing. The neck's fine now, and any headaches are gone, but there's still sensitivity to light. Not as bad as it was, but it's there, and though he thinks he'll play Sunday night in one of the coolest football games of the year -- Battle of the Football Geezers, 40-year-old Brett Favre versus Warner, 38 -- he still has some gnawing doubts about whether he should.

Warner had just heard about the league's new return-to-play edict before we spoke. In 2007, the NFL said players who sustained concussions could not return to play in the same game. On Wednesday, the NFL's awareness to head injuries was underscored when the league said players who are disoriented, exhibit any memory loss or confusion or signs of a concussion will not be allowed to return to the game. But for the program to work, players are going to have report their own symptoms and those of teammates. They're going to have to make the same decision Warner did -- even when it goes against the suck-it-up-and-play grain of football ethos, and even when they're going to get suspicious looks from coaches and teammates, players have to report when they're disoriented or think they've suffered a head injury.

"There's no question I was self-conscious about it,'' Warner said. "I can't say definitively that guys were thinking that, but I noticed a few things. Maybe a coach didn't talk to me the same way, or a player walked by without talking to me. We're conditioned to think one game can mean everything. So you do wonder, yeah. You wonder if they're thinking, 'Yeah, he wimped out on us. Yeah, he wasn't tough enough. Yeah, he wouldn't come to battle with us.' ''

Three weeks ago, Cardinal special-teamer Sean Morey -- the co-chair of the NFL Players Association concussion and traumatic brain injury committee -- admitted he played with a concussion against Chicago and didn't tell team doctors about it. Morey says he's going to donate his brain upon his death for study on the affect of repeated trauma. And so I wondered: If Warner thought for a moment of lying about his symptoms, and if Morey hid a concussion, how in the world is this great new program going to work?

"If we lie,'' said Warner, "it's not going to work. Players have to be honest, organizations have to be honest, for this to work over the long haul. We're so conditioned to think the toughest, most courageous player plays with an injury like that. What I found out is the most courageous player is the one willing to tell the truth. Do you know how hard it is to say, 'I don't know if I'm ready?' We're conditioned to play hurt. I've played injured in my career. As long as you can be out there, any way you can be out there, you play. Everybody's going to appreciate it, and everyone will talk about how tough you are. It takes a lot to be able to step away and say, 'It's just a game.' People get fired for not winning. Players get cut.

"I am convinced players have to be continually protected from themselves.

"Look, I'm toward the end of my career. I don't think about one more game defining me, or them throwing me out. I'm thinking about the 50 years with my family after this part of my life. Football takes a huge backseat. I'm going to have 12, 13 years in this game, and 70 out of it. When I think about it that way, it makes the decision a little easier.''

Warner was told last week that the light sensitivity he felt was related to the blow he took in St. Louis, and doctors told him symptoms could persist for a few weeks. "My injury is very minor,'' he said. "Beyond the symptoms, they really don't know what it means. They don't feel if I go back on the field I'm taking a risk, but no one can guarantee it. No one knows what it would mean if I took another hit this week. So that's the gray area. What would another hit mean 10 years down the road? And no one can answer that question.''

He still has some sensitivity to light, but he said headaches and the neck pain are gone. He's splitting practice snaps with backup Matt Leinart this week, and either could play against Minnesota. You could hear the indecision in Warner's voice. Should he play Sunday night? Or should he play it safe?

It's the same voice scores of players are going to hear every week in the NFL from this day forward ... if players are honest with themselves, and honest with team doctors.

"I don't know,'' Warner said. "I am moving forward like I'm going to play. But I go back and forth. We'll decide late in the week. I don't know.''

About Last Night

Offensively, the Jets are a fifties football team. In the wake of the 19-13 win over the Bills in Toronto last night, the Jets are doing something very rare in recent NFL history: contending for the playoffs with more rushing yards than passing yards. Last night, they made the Bills regret ever letting nose man Pat Williams go in free agency, mashing the Bills for 249 yards on 43 carries. For the year, the 6-6 Jets are averaging 168.6 yards per game running, 156.3 passing. What makes this more impressive is that they've done it for the past five weeks without changeup back Leon Washington, lost Oct. 25 at Oakland with a broken leg. The Jets will need to keep it up to have a prayer to make the playoffs, seeing that their passing game is woefully inconsistent and may have to rely on Kellen Clemens for a couple of weeks with the knee injury suffered by Mark Sanchez on his ill-fated dive.

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