GREEN BAY—In his pro debut as a running back, Johnathan Franklin came off the bench to rush for 103 yards. He figured it was the first of what would be many such games. He never suspected it would be the only game.
"I broke a long run and Eddie (Lacy) came over and said, 'We're going to be a great duo,'" Franklin recalled of a sideline moment in Cincinnati last season, after Franklin had broken free for a 51-yard run.
His world was full of "excitement, expectations, visions," he said. All of that was erased by one play, the opening kickoff in a late-season game against the Minnesota Vikings.
"I don't even remember getting hit. I just woke up on the ground. The ball came out and I knew it came out but I couldn't even move to the ball. I was ruled out with a concussion," Franklin recalled of the play that ended his football career.
Worries surfaced a week later, when scans revealed Franklin had sustained a neck injury. Over the next several months, there would be more scans, more doctors.
"Trying to get different opinions," Franklin said.
The ultimate opinion was offered in early June. Franklin was done.
These days, Franklin is beginning the process of bridging the gap between football and the rest of his life by working as an intern in the Packers' front office. He's assisting in sales and business development, community outreach and Packers media departments. He's learning about the game behind the game.
"It's a blessing to be part of the organization, to be able to intern, see how things are run behind the scenes. It definitely gives me a different perspective. I see people here at 7:30 in the morning, and they don't leave until nine o'clock at night. You don't see that as a player," Franklin said.
"I have a strong interest in politics … community outreach programs in Los Angeles. I definitely want to start a foundation for inner city kids. The basis for it is to create opportunities for inner city youth, but also to give them belief in themselves," he added.
A big part of what Franklin wants to do will involve fund raising.
"Build the right team around me," he said.
His effervescent personality is his special talent for the next phase of his life.
"I think everybody in the organization that's had any interaction with Johnathan thinks very highly of him. He's made such a positive impact in just a year," Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy said.
"I contacted him and he got back to me. He said he was interested in learning all he could about the business of football. He'll be working as an intern throughout the season. He'll be doing work in marketing, premium seating, youth football, community outreach, as well as with Packers Media Group."
Murphy enjoyed an eight-year, All-Pro career as a safety with Washington. As fulfilling as Murphy's career was, dealing with its end was difficult for him.
"The transition is very difficult. It was the hardest thing I had to go through in my career. For Johnathan, having it end so quickly is difficult. In his mind his career was just getting started. He's a bright young man and he's got a great future. Mentally, you have to get past it and stop looking behind. He's going to have a great career," Murphy said.
"I love this game of football. It hurts and it bothers me, but I know God has something better for me," Franklin said of how he's dealing with the realization his football-playing days are over.
At the start of this week, he made his way down to the practice field where he was greeted warmly by his former teammates.
"Definitely happy, sad, mixed emotions. I'm so excited to see those guys. Boy, I miss that game so much. I was thankful just to be out there with the guys," he said. Additional coverage - Aug. 1