BEREA — To Joshua Cribbs, the minutes he spent unconscious on the turf in Baltimore “felt like a couple of seconds.” To his family, they were an eternity as Cribbs lay motionless with teammates and opponents praying around him.
His family doesn’t ever want to go through that again.
“Everybody was calling. They couldn’t stop crying,” Cribbs said Wednesday after he returned to practice six days after sustaining a concussion Thursday night in a loss to the Ravens. “My brother, 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 D.C. and when he was reaching retirement, they wanted him to get behind a desk.
“They’re trying to get me out of playing. They’re like, ‘Man, your family’s more important. You’ve got so many years of your life.’ My brother loves critiquing me and telling me how hard I’m hitting people. But even he’s like, ‘Man, I don’t want to see you hurt.’”
Cribbs, a receiver and special teamer, isn’t ready to listen to his family. He’s a football player, which means he plays football. Expect him to play, and possibly start, Sunday against the New York Giants.
“I can’t say that it won’t happen again. I’m just not scared of those type of hits,” he said. “I welcome guys to keep trying to hit me because I’m going to hit them if they don’t. My family was scared, but they realize that I love this sport and it’s a part of the game.”
Dannell Ellerbe’s driving shoulder knocked off Cribbs’ helmet and knocked him unconscious on a first-quarter punt return. To make matters worse, his head bounced on the turf when he landed, rattling the brain again.
Cribbs was out cold for a few minutes, before waking up, sitting up and walking off the field.
He was sent to the locker room and forced to miss the rest of the game, despite his protests.
“As soon as I got up, Michael Irvin was right here giving me a handshake,” Cribbs said of the Hall of Fame receiver and NFL Network analyst. “I was like why is everybody on their knee. I was confused.
“I don’t remember much about the hit, but after I came up I was ready to play again. 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. I’m back ready.”
Cribbs was limited in practice in his return Wednesday, but wouldn’t have been on the field at all if he hadn’t cleared a set of tests by an independent neurologist. Cribbs suffered a concussion in 2010 on a helmet-to-helmet hit from Steelers linebacker James Harrison and played the next week.
“I feel great. I’m blessed with a kill switch,” he said. “Blessed to come back and not really have too bad of a concussion. Passed all my tests from the doctors, went to the specialists and everything is OK.”
His wife, Maria, isn’t satisfied. They have a son and a daughter.
“She was hysterical,” Cribbs said of Maria after the hit. “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.”
Cribbs said he felt fine when he woke up, except for where he got accidentally kicked in the face by a Raven. He watched the play to see exactly what happened.
“I seen it one time. I didn’t really want to see it again,” he said. “I’m really not scared to get hit now or anything like that. I love getting hit and I love giving hits and we’ll see them again this year.”
Cribbs said his will and desire to win separate him from other players.
“It’s not something you can teach,” he said. “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’ frustration was even greater because he had started at receiver against the Ravens and already caught two passes. He had only two catches in a minimal number of offensive snaps in the first three games.
Receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin didn’t practice Wednesday with hamstring injuries, so Cribbs could be in for a prominent role against the Giants.
“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,’” he said. “I just want to play. I want to be of good use to my team.”
Quarterback Brandon Weeden has taken Cribbs’ message to heart.
“I tell him this all the time, in the fourth quarter, he’s the guy you want to throw the football to,” Weeden said. “You know he’s gonna make a play.
“There’s nothing more comforting than the guy that’s gonna battle for the football when it’s in the air. He’s that guy. Whether he’s hurt or not playing, you can’t keep him off the field. He’s a guy that you want in your foxhole.”
Cribbs didn’t think the hit was dirty — it wasn’t penalized — and said Ellerbe reached out to him after the game. He wasn’t alone. Ravens, other players around the league and fans sent messages.
“I got 2,500 tweets from all fans,” Cribbs said. “I was like, ‘Wow!’ And I’m still getting them in.
“I’m getting messages from unknown numbers, prayers going out because they don’t know I’m cleared. My mother-in-law sent me a get-well-soon cake.”
Despite the anxiety of those closest to him and recent medical research, Cribbs won’t concern himself with the possible long-term effects of concussions.
“I love the game, I signed up for this,” he 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.”