With his team leading 7-0 with just over three minutes left in the biggest game of his career, Nick Collins had to be ready. Collins, having battled injuries throughout the season, saw a fluttering pass from Ben Roethlisberger and nothing but green space in front of him.
He leaped into the air, caught the pass and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown. Just like that it was 14-0, and Nick Collins, an unheralded player drafted out of Bethune-Cookman in 2005, had announced his arrival to much of the NFL world.
“When I wake up in the morning, step out of my door, somebody might ride by and say, ‘Hey champ!’ That’s great. I can live with that for the rest of my life and no one can take that away from me,” Collins said, speaking at a charity event in West Allis, WI.
Packer fans, who Collins calls the best in the world, were aware of the kind of playmaking ability he possessed for a number of years, but that hadn't always been the case.
In 2005, when Ted Thompson drafted a converted corner who was considered somewhat raw to replace a Pro Bowl player in Darren Sharper, plenty were left scratching their cheeseheads.
Former Packer great and Super Bowl winner LeRoy Butler was even reportedly miffed the Packers would give Collins "his" No. 36.
After an up-and-down rookie season, Collins began to show flashes that he was putting his incredible speed and athletic ability to use. In 2006, he picked off three passes and returned one for a touchdown.
2007 was somewhat forgettable for Collins, only playing in 13 games and not recording a pick. That's likely the last time this now three-time Pro Bowler will have such a quiet season.
Since 2008, Collins has been a second-team All-Pro every season, totaling 17 interceptions with three for scores in the last three seasons.
He was recently ranked in the top 100 players in the NFL, and beat writers at ESPN ranked him the third-best safety in the NFL, something Collins had followed closely.
“I was ranked third behind Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed, so that’s a great accomplishment in my six years in the NFL. I don’t take [anything] back. I don’t take [anything] for granted,” he said.
“I was a little surprised. It’s a lot of great players out there, and to be in the top 100, the top percent of the NFL is a great accomplishment, and I still have the room to improve.”
Considering Polamalu and Reed are two of the best players in the NFL at any position, improvement from Collins would be quite an accomplishment.
Unfortunately, the lockout has put a damper on his achievements both on and off the field, taking the shine off an historic Super Bowl run.
Collins, though, has remained an active part of the community as he becomes one of the faces of the Green Bay Packer organization.
Who is the best safety in the NFL?
“Meeting with the greatest fans, Packer nation, it’s good to come out here that I can be a resource that’s doing the right things," he said as he met with fans at an event celebrating his partnership with Kohl's Department Store and Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.
Collins is now the face of a new safety campaign—and yes, the pun is intentional on their part—to raise awareness about creating a safe home environment for kids.
It's an effort Collins says is even more important in the face of such a heavy cloud looming over the upcoming NFL season.
“It’s part of our job, our identity to give back, to show them that we’re supportive of them as they support us. And to let them know there’s going to be football one day, hopefully sooner than later.”
Dozens of fans came to meet Collins and get an autograph. It was something that seemed to give the Packer safety genuine satisfaction to meet with fans for a good cause.
He says he also understands the importance of staying in shape for whenever football is to be played. Collins is working out in Orlando in between charity and guest appearances around Wisconsin and elsewhere.
“I’m a professional, I’m going to do what I have to do to get right because once they give me that call and say, ‘It’s time for football,’ I want to be ready,” said Collins.
Big Ben wasn't ready for the hit Howard Green put on him, forcing the fluttered pass Collins picked off in the Super Bowl.
Packer fans weren't ready for the kind player Collins would become but have embraced him now as much as any player on the roster.
After three straight years playing at an elite level, it seems the question isn't, "Will Nick Collins be ready for the NFL this season," but rather, "Is the NFL ready for Nick Collins?"