BEREA: After Josh Cribbs was knocked unconscious last week on national TV, his family urged him to retire.
Anyone who witnessed Baltimore Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe deliver his frightening hit on Cribbs during a punt return would understand the concern of those loved ones. Despite their pleas, Cribbs isn’t ready to leave the gridiron behind. He was cleared to practice and participated on a limited basis Wednesday, six days after he left the Browns’ 23-16 loss to the Ravens with a concussion in the first quarter.
“Everybody was calling,” said Cribbs, the Browns’ veteran wide receiver and two-time Pro Bowl return specialist. “They couldn’t stop crying. My brother, [Harold] — who’s the reason why I’m playing football because I follow him — he wants me to stop. Everybody was talking to me like they were talking to my dad. He’s a police officer in [Washington] D.C. and when he was reaching retirement, they wanted him to get behind a desk. Right now, they’re doing the same thing to me. They’re trying to get me out of playing.”
But Cribbs expects to play Sunday, when the Browns (0-4) visit the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants (2-2). When Ellerbe’s shoulder pad smacked against his helmet, a quick return didn’t seem probable.
“It’s a scary part of this game,” rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “It’s a physical game. Fortunately he’s a tough guy, and he wants to get on the football field. It’s gonna be like pulling teeth to get him not to play. He’s the real deal. He’s a tough cat. That’s his nature. He just loves to play this game.”
Cribbs’ helmet flew off, his head full of dreadlocks snapped back, hit the turf and he was kicked in the face. He lay motionless on the field for a minute or two as members of both teams knelt in prayer. Cribbs then sat up and walked to the sideline and the locker room with members of the team’s medical staff.
“I don’t remember much about the hit, but after I came up, I was ready to play again,” Cribbs said.
“They had to take my helmet and everything for me not to play and had to keep tabs on me in the locker room so I wouldn’t run back out there. I was ready to play, and I’m ready to play this week.”
Cribbs said his wife, Maria, is among those who want him to end his career because of the long-term effects football could have on his health. She has seen the struggles of former Browns running back Jerome Harrison, who had surgery last year to remove a brain tumor.
“She was hysterical,” Cribbs said of his wife, with whom he has two children.
“Even now, she doesn’t really want me to play this game. She wants me to be seen by another specialist. She wants me to get a CAT scan, especially with what happened to Jerome Harrison. How he was getting traded [from the Detroit Lions to the Philadelphia Eagles] and they found [the tumor during a physical].
‘‘We still talk to them. I still go over to his house every now and then and talk to him. He’s doing pretty bad. He’s in and out of the hospital with seizures. They just don’t want the same thing to happen to me.”
Cribbs has had head injuries before. In 2010, he suffered a concussion as a result of absorbing a helmet-to-helmet hit from Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
In his regular-season NFL debut in 2005, Cribbs said he took a shot to his helmet during the opening kickoff and doesn’t remember playing the rest of the game.
Cribbs, though, insists he has come to grips with the risks he has chosen to take.
“I signed up for this,” Cribbs said. “If I have an injury or something long term, that would be my story. I’d be like, ‘Turn on the film. You want to know why I’m like this? Watch this.’ It’d be a lot of highlights and a lot of tragedy. I’ve gotten knocked out, this and that, but I have a lot of film. That’s my legacy.
“I’m not scared. That’s what it boils down to. I love this game. I’m invested in it. My team depends on me, and I depend on them and we can’t afford to be on the sideline. If I’m OK and if I’m cleared by the doctors, I’m ready to go.”
Cribbs might play a significant role against the Giants. Wide receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin sat out practice Wednesday with hamstring injuries. Cribbs started in place of Massaquoi last week and could fill the same role again.
“I can tell you that I’m working to get in the game plan heavily again like I was last week so we’ll see,” Cribbs said.
“I always joke with the QBs, I always tell them, ‘If you want to get those stats up, keep giving me the ball. I’m here for y’all. I just want to play. I want to be of good use to my team.’ ”
Even if his mind and body are in danger. Even if his family begs him to stop.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.