Brian Westbrook said his love of football ultimately kept him from retiring from the game despite two recent concussions.
That passion, the Eagles running back added, persuaded him to continue playing despite the risk of further injury and possible repercussions. Westbrook, in fact, intends to play before this season is over.
"That's my hope - to get back out there and play," he said yesterday. "I think all of the signs right now are aiming toward being able to play before the end of the season."
Westbrook, 30, returned to practice for the first time since suffering a concussion - his second in 20 days - at San Diego on Nov. 15. He was a limited participant and ran with the scout team, but coach Andy Reid did not rule him out for Sunday's game at the New York Giants.
He still has a way to go, however.
"We're trying to ease him back in to make sure he doesn't have any symptoms - headaches or anything," Reid said. "The next step is putting the helmet on and going out and running around and getting him back into football shape. He hasn't been able to do much over the last couple of weeks."
For the most part, Westbrook has spent that time undergoing tests and meeting with doctors. Joseph Maroon and Michael Collins, specialists from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, tested Westbrook last month and said he would make a full recovery.
Maroon has worked for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Collins has worked closely with Mark Lovell, the NFL's director of neurological testing. Westbrook said yesterday that he had talked with independent specialists but had not been examined by any.
Westbrook also had time to reflect on his career and on why it would be worth returning in light of recent reports on the post-career symptoms affiliated with concussions.
"I think it's because of the love of the game," Westbrook said. "You still think you can play. In my situation, I still think I can play, still think I can produce. . . . I want to play football. That's what I love to do. That's what I've been doing for a long time."
Nevertheless, Westbrook admitted that he fears how his life could be affected down the line. He said on HBO's Joe Buck Live this week that he was "really scared" about those prospects, and reiterated the sentiments yesterday.
"I'm not scared to play the game of football, but I'm concerned that things that are happening now inside the game of football - concussions, head injuries, can really affect my life as far down the road as a 30-, 40-, 50-year-old," Westbrook said.
Westbrook said he had not encountered pressure from the organization to return before he felt comfortable. He said the doctors concluded that he had not completely healed after the first concussion, which was why the second occurred so soon afterward.
"We did every test we could, but until you go out there and get hit, you're not so sure if you're healed completely," said Westbrook, who has missed five of the last six games. "It's not like an ankle, [where] you can feel it every day."
Because there is no way to know whether he has healed completely, the choice to return this season with four games remaining ultimately lies with Westbrook.
"The only way to do it is to take baby steps and see how he feels," Reid said. "I'm not going to throw him in there if he's not feeling right. That's not going to happen."
Westbrook isn't the only Eagle returning from a concussion. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson suffered one two weeks ago against Washington and sat out Sunday's win at Atlanta. He returned to practice yesterday and was on target to play against the Giants.
"He should be fine," Reid said. "He's had a couple of good days here and [will play] unless he has a headache or something comes up."
Jackson, 23, said he didn't feel completely like himself until Saturday or Sunday. He was asked whether he would have second thoughts about running over the middle, since his injury occurred after he caught a pass in that location.
"Just keep your head on a swivel," Jackson said. "In my situation, there was nothing I could do to protect myself from that. It was just an unfortunate situation. In the future, whatever I can do to avoid that, I will."