Collie's recollection of it is hazy: "I don't remember coming to until they were putting me on the stretcher. It was like waking up from a nap. I just knew I wanted to call my wife, because I assumed she was a wreck."
Brooke Collie, 26, comes from a football family. Her father, Kirk Pendleton, played with Scott Collie at BYU, and her brother, Jordan, is a Cougars linebacker. On Nov. 7 she was eight months pregnant with the couple's first child and was watching the game with Allison Tamme, the wife of Colts tight end Jacob Tamme. "It was so bad, I just broke into tears," says Brooke. "I had never seen anybody get stretchered out like that after a concussion." Within minutes offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen called Brooke to say that Austin was awake. Several more calls of reassurance from teammates and Colts personnel followed.
Austin cannot remember the play, or the four that preceded it; in the ensuing week he slept prodigiously and battled nausea, and Brooke says he also complained of dizziness. Feuer held him out of the Nov. 14 game with the Bengals. The day after that Collie passed the NFL-required concussion ImPACT neurocognitive exam, a series of memory and reaction tests lasting approximately 20 minutes, and was cleared by an independent neurologist, another requirement.
Two days before Indy's next game, at New England, Collie met with Feuer, Colts vice chairman Bill Polian and coach Jim Caldwell. Collie had practiced hard for three days. "I told them I felt great," says Collie. Feuer cleared him to play and told Collie, "If you become symptomatic, you tell me, and I'm yanking you." Collie played 11 snaps. Eleven good snaps, with five receptions for 60 yards and three first downs in just over a quarter. But after catching the ball on a short drag pattern, he was thrown down by Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo. It was a clean tackle and not a huge shot, but Collie rolled backward and hit his head on the turf. He walked directly to Feuer and said, "I'm dizzy."
Feuer said, "You're out."
In retrospect Collie says his symptoms had flared earlier. "The day before the game I felt a little dizzy and tired," says Collie. "I thought maybe it was just nerves. I didn't feel sensitive to light or loud noises or anything like that. Then in the game there were a couple other times [before the Mayo hit] where I came out because I was dizzy," he says. "I got my wits about me, went back in. But that last hit, I felt like, 'That's enough.'"
Collie's relapse in the Patriots game troubles Feuer and points out one of the biggest difficulties in concussion diagnosis and treatment: It still relies in great part on feedback from the athlete. "I kicked it around in my head for a while," says Feuer. "Maybe I let him go back too soon. But he was asymptomatic. He had a good MRI—but of course those almost never show us anything. He felt good. And he didn't get hit hard." (There was, and remains, a suspicion among Indianapolis reporters that Collie suffered a second concussion in that game. Feuer says, "I feel strongly that he did not sustain another concussion in the New England game.")
Feuer sought information from colleagues and eventually met with University of Pittsburgh concussion expert Micky Collins, who showed Feuer a series of kinetic field tests that simulate conditions under which an athlete might experience a recurrence of concussion symptoms. "They get the athlete's heart rate up and then try to make him dizzy," says Feuer. "I got sick watching them."
Feuer ran Collie through the drills. "I was dizzy for another two weeks, but then I started feeling a lot better," says Collie. He passed the ImPACT test again as a precautionary measure, and on Dec. 19 he played against the Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. His parents and older brother, Zac, were in the stands. Brooke was home alone with Nash, nine days old.
Collie was brilliant in the game, with eight catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. With just over a minute left in the second quarter he ran a seam route, and Manning led him perfectly. Collie gathered the ball, and Jaguars linebacker Daryl Smith exploded into him, his right biceps and shoulder striking the left side of Collie's neck. Collie's head hit the turf, and he lay still. On the CBS broadcast Hall of Fame tackle Dan Dierdorf intoned, "Oh, no. Oh, no."