Wesley Walker cried when he watched Andrew Luck talk about giving up the game he loved so much — the game they all love so much until the game stops loving their bodies and minds later in life, sometimes with a vengeance.
“I was crying myself, because I know what that feels like when you can’t play at your level that you once were, and not enjoying yourself,” the former Jets receiver told The Post.
“Heaven forbid if he kept going and he’s gonna feel a lot worse down the road, maybe he’s circumventing that right now.
“Knowing what I know, the way I feel, I don’t want to feel like this, but it’s too late.
“Most players would tell you they’ll do it over again. I’m not one of them.”
Walker used to fly past defensive backs like few could and today he is hunched over with no feeling in his feet, unable to jog or run or sleep without Vicodin and/or Ambien. His is one of the many cautionary tales of the NFL player who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay heed to the consequences down the road, the way Luck did when he walked away from football in a manner that Walker no longer can.
“I just don’t know what’s happened to my body. I’m a shell of myself,” Walker said.
It all began with a training camp blow from cornerback Jerry Holmes in 1986 that left Walker with a serious neck injury.
“They said I would probably have to retire if it ever happened again,” Walker said. “I went like paralyzed, where I couldn’t even move, and I had this residual tingling in my hands on my arms, knees, legs. It was just weird, I never felt anything like that.”
Walker eventually signed an injury waiver to continue playing.
“I had a [neck] fusion of C4 through 7, a cage and a plate put in there, 14 screws there,” Walker said.
Sleeping was a major problem.
“I would only get three hours sleep with an Ambien,” Walker said.
Three years later, Walker was the one who delivered the hit.
“And I had the same thing happen, I’m walking off the field in slow motion, everybody’s high-fiving me on this block,” Walker said. “Meanwhile, I couldn’t even feel myself and it’s like I’m in a dream, and like this is weird.”
He was placed on injured reserve. Browns head coach Bud Carson called Walker expressing interest in him playing.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to retire,” he said, “and that’s how STUPID I am.”
Except the game was an addiction for him.
“I don’t think I even looked at the fact that I was really messing my body up, I just tried to get back on the field and do what I do,” Walker said.
He had back fusion surgery in 2014.
“With two big rods and 10 screws put in there,” Walker said.
He has had right shoulder reconstruction and rotator cuff surgery on his other shoulder. He tore his Achilles after simply jumping up in the air. His knees ache every day and has difficulty negotiating the stairs up and down in his Dix Hills home. He can’t feel the temperature on his right hand.
“My body physically just hurts every day,” Walker said.
“I’m a shell of myself.”
Walker, 64, is asked if he regrets not retiring after suffering his neck injury.
“I regret the way I feel right now because it’s not just the Jerry Holmes hit,” Walker said. “It’s probably that you don’t know when you should retire. That’s the regret.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen. … I have a regret not knowing that, but I don’t know how anybody can know that.”
Virtually all of them will acknowledge that they knew the risks and signed up anyway.
Former Giants great Justin Tuck considered retirement on several occasions.
“I thought about retiring every year from Year 6 until the day I did retire,” Tuck, who spent 11 seasons in the NFL, told The Post.
There is more to an NFL career than fame and fortune. Tuck, an All-Pro family man and businessman, understands why Luck retired.
“He’s just doing what’s best for his life,” he said.
Tuck, 36, does not regret not retiring earlier only because he felt he had more to give. But massage and acupuncture every week is mandatory.
“I can’t throw the football as far as I’d like to throw,” Tuck said.
Giants Hall of Famer Harry Carson, 65, endured 15 concussions during his 13-year career and post-concussion syndrome that led him to pondering suicide in 1990.
“I didn’t know I had that until I was out of it for two years,” Carson told The Post.
Regrets not retiring earlier?
“If I had known what I was putting myself through at that time, if I had full knowledge of it, yeah, I probably would have left earlier,” Carson said, “but I didn’t know. None of us knew.”
Everyone is concerned now about the horrors of CTE and Carson would discourage his grandson from playing football. He understands fully Luck not wanting to push his luck.
“I was shocked when I heard that [Luck] was retiring, but then I could totally understand where he was coming from, and I empathize with him because he doesn’t want to leave football, he loves football. … But you can’t keep pushing yourself when you’re hurt, you’re in a lot of pain. You’re either dealing with the pain now or dealing with the pain later, either way you’re gonna have a whole bunch of pain that you’re gonna be sort of dealing with,” Carson said.
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