ACL comeback was Jordy Nelson's crowning achievement

Star receiver reminisces as he’s inducted into Packers Hall of Fame

Former Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson

GREEN BAY – One of the most significant journeys in Jordy Nelson's NFL career started with a lie.

Walking to the locker room during a 2015 preseason game in Pittsburgh, Nelson asked assistant athletic trainer Nate Weir what the "little pinch" in the back of his knee might be. He didn't feel any pain, so he had no idea.

Weir told him it was probably a cartilage issue, or something along those lines, knowing full well team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie had diagnosed Nelson's season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament on the sideline.

"They weren't going to let me know on the field," Nelson said Thursday, prior to his Packers Hall of Fame induction. "They knew it was not good for me to know that there, because obviously the way I reacted in the locker room when I did find out would've been not good to be on the sideline at the time."

After the bad news was delivered, Nelson took a couple of days to process it, and then set out on a path with Weir and head athletic trainer Bryan "Flea" Engel to come back better than ever.

That was no easy task for a receiver who had earned Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors the year before, in 2014, with a career-high 98 receptions and a (then) single-season franchise record 1,519 yards, to go along with 13 touchdowns.

But the former second-round pick out of Kansas State, chosen No. 36 overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, wasn't shy about aiming high. Winning the league's Comeback Player of the Year award in 2016 became the target.

"We talked about it right after surgery, that was the goal," Nelson said. "It was that, and for me personally, it was to practice every day, and we got both of those accomplished. Didn't miss one practice, didn't miss a game, and we were able to go down to the NFL Honors and accept that award and take Nate and Flea down there with me, because they had a huge part in it."

Nelson became the first Packers player to win that award, catching 97 passes for 1,257 yards and a league-leading 14 TDs in 2016, a season that ended with him playing in the NFC Championship Game in Atlanta despite cracked ribs.

That campaign of achievement ranks at the top of Nelson's list, which also includes appearing in 136 games with 88 starts over nine seasons, ranking fourth in team history in receptions (550), sixth in receiving yards (7,848), third in TD catches (69) and fourth in 100-yard receiving games (25).

While it's tempting to think about what those numbers might've been had he not missed an entire season in his prime, Nelson doesn't think back in that fashion. He remembers the determination to pick up where he left off starting with a conversation with Weir.

"We both talked and gave myself a day or two to pout about it, and it was time to move on," he said. "My attitude and my mindset, once that happened, had to change, and once we got that dialed in, we were in great shape.

"We were on a mission to make Doc McKenzie extremely mad, that I was running too early, cutting too early, trying to play too early, and we accomplished that mission."

All that prefaces why Nelson chose Weir, now the team's director of rehab and return to play, as his presenter for the induction banquet.

"Our players set the standard with how they trust people, how they treat people, how they show appreciation, professionalism, how they go about their work every day, not just when they're healthy or when the team's winning, but when injures occur," Weir said. "I think in his 10 years he set the standard."

In addition to the superlative comeback season, plus all his statistics and places in the team record book, Nelson also will be remembered for scoring the Packers' first touchdown in their Super Bowl XLV victory, a 29-yard reception that comes with a story of its own.

Earlier that season on a similar play call – a screen pass on which Nelson is supposed to run a short route off an outside release and then settle in to block his defender – he missed a hand signal from quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

"I claim it was never taught, he claims different, and as we all know when you screw up, you're told about it," Nelson said. "The same signal came up in the play in the Super Bowl (where) he tapped his head. You can even see it on the film, on the YouTube clip, he taps his head, which tells me to pretty much do the same thing but turn around and look for the ball on the go.

"I missed it earlier in the year, stopped at 15 yards, and ran one heck of a comeback, and he threw the ball 40 yards downfield. So we got it right in the most important game."

Nelson went on to catch nine passes for 140 yards that memorable night, capping his third season in the league during which he started only four games, but setting the stage for everything else to come.

"The Hall of Fame was never on my mind," he said. "It was more just doing it day in and day out, and see where it takes us. If it's one year, two years, 10 years, whatever it is, we'll just hang on for the ride and enjoy it 'til it's over."

The Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame Inc. inducted former Packers WR Jordy Nelson and G Josh Sitton at the 52nd Hall of Fame Induction Banquet on Aug. 31, 2023, in the Lambeau Field Atrium.

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