BEREA, Ohio – Scott Fujita hopes his last appearance on an NFL playing field won't be this Sunday for the Cleveland Browns.
He would prefer to make another game-saving tackle, clutch interception or crowd-inspiring sack — instead of merely being part of the pregame coin toss.
Fujita is on the injured reserve list, out for the season with a neck injury. An MRI revealed nerve and disk damage that could also end the linebacker's career.
When told by captains D'Qwell Jackson and Phil Dawson that he would be an honorary captain against the San Diego Chargers this week, Fujita finally faced stark reality: "That's when it hit me, this is the end of the season for me," he said Friday. "It was quite emotional."
Calling it a career would be even tougher.
"It's still early in the process for that," Fujita, 33, said. "I just want to get healthy and then it will be some private conversations between me and my wife and our doctors."
If Fujita can't convince himself it is time to quit, perhaps the discussions with wife Jaclyn will do it.
"She's concerned," he said. "The day I went to get the MRI, I almost didn't want to tell her."
Fujita had neck surgery in 1999 and said Friday he was grateful to play another 13 years "relatively pain free."
Now, he doesn't want to risk another operation. And much as it will pain him to leave his teammates and the game he loves, Fujita is smart enough to know that one more ill-placed hit could haunt him the rest of his life.
"I've got to be honest, when I had the neck surgery in college I assumed there were going to be problems in my future anyway, it's just the reality of what we do," he said. "So I'd like to not make those problems any worse."
Fujita last played Oct. 7 against the New York Giants.
"I had a number of stingers in that game," he said. "Those issues didn't subside over the next few days."
It has been a trying year for Fujita, one of four players suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his role in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. He had his penalty reduced from three games to one, but isn't sure he wants to continue that battle.
"That couldn't be further from my mind right now," Fujita said. "I fought that fight. I felt like I came out on the good side of it. They admitted publicly I had nothing to do with any of that. I feel good about that. Now it's just a matter of whether I want to fight this silly redetermination that I didn't stand up to my coach.
"At this point I don't give it that much thought."
He does intend to serve out his two-year term on the executive committee of players' association, and despite a master's degree in education, is uncertain of his future away from football.
"Maybe I'll go coach girls soccer," Fujita quipped. "If this is the end for me, then I'll have plenty of options. I've always had the itch to go back and teach."
Fujita said he never thought about coaching football until this summer, when he enjoyed working with Cleveland's young linebacking corps. He said he would be open to talking with the Browns about a possible role in the organization, which he says is on the upswing with younger and more talented players.
"The day-to-day operation is much more functional," Fujita said. "The wins aren't there yet. That's a problem. But I feel good about the guys in my room. Our young linebackers. They are going to be great players, every single one of them. The table has been set and I think at all position groups, getting stronger and stronger."
Fujita said he's frustrated at not being able to play, but thanked the team for insisting he get the MRI and putting his personal safety first.
"I love these guys," he said. "It is better to walk away — if this is the end — and be sad than to be mad."
NOTES: Coach Pat Shurmur is hopeful RB Trent Richardson's bruised ribs are good enough for him to play Sunday. "Today was his third good day of practice. He's better this Friday than he was last," Shurmur said. ... DT Ahtyba Rubin (calf) and DB Dmitri Patterson (ankle) did not practice. WR Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring) was limited, though Shurmur said, "He had a good week of practice." ... G Jason Pinkston, on IR with a blood clot in his lung, watched practice from the field. ... OL Ryan Miller and Jarrod Shaw returned to practice after sitting out with illnesses on Thursday. Both are among 16 Browns listed as probable against San Diego. ... New Browns CEO Joe Banner remains in Boston, where his father, Ralph, passed away at age 89 Thursday night. ... Outgoing team president Mike Holmgren also watched practice, which was moved indoors.
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