BEREA, Ohio—Alex Mack earns his living by pushing, shoving and wrestling angry 300-pound-plus men on Sundays. He's never missed a play in his NFL career.
Mack's toughness is undeniable.
It was tested recently like never before.
In pain and so sick that Cleveland's Pro Bowl center required intravenous fluids before the game, Mack never left the field during the Browns' Oct. 2 game against Tennessee despite a severe appendicitis attack that required emergency surgery the following day. Mack doesn't regret playing, and would do it again.
"I generally want to play," Mack said. "It's what you're here for and I don't want to let my team down."
He may not have a choice this week.
Mack is still recovering from the laparoscopic surgery to remove his appendix and has not yet been cleared to practice. On Wednesday, he was on the field with his teammates but only as a spectator as the Browns (2-2) began installing their game plan for Sunday's game against Oakland.
Mack said he has improved each day, but that it will likely be a game-time decision whether he plays.
If it were up to him, would he?
"If it was up to me," Mack said sarcastically, "my appendix would not have gone bad and I'd still be healthy."
Mack said he felt poorly in the days leading up to the game against the Titans. He had gotten sick during practice earlier in the week, but attributed that to "bad food." The day before the game, Mack said his sickness intensified and that Saturday night "got a little worse."
"I thought it was a stomach bug," he said. "We all thought it was a stomach bug."
When he arrived at Browns Stadium on Sunday, Mack said he was rundown and tired but determined to play. Mack was hooked up to an IV to get fluids and he was checked by the team's training staff before he decided to play in his 36th straight game as a pro.
"It wasn't like everyone knew it was appendicitis," he said. "I guess 15 percent of the population has an appendix that goes the opposite direction. I'm one of those 15."
Mack somehow made it through the entire game, a feat that impressed his teammates.
Browns quarterback Colt McCoy was aware that Mack was ill, but none of the Browns could have imagined he was sick enough to need emergency surgery.
"We all just kind of thought he had a bug," McCoy said. "But he's a tough guy and it takes everything to make him come out of a game. We had some mistakes during the game, we fumbled a snap and things were a little off, but Alex is a guy who is going to be a warrior and fight 'til the end. I know if there is a chance he can play, he will."
Mack said he wasn't pressured by anyone to play while sick.
"It was up to me, as far as I was concerned," he said. "I felt I was able to go and I wanted to play. So there was no reason we saw to keep me out of the game. And I wanted to play and the discussion never came up."
The timing of Mack's sickness was interesting for the Browns.
One week earlier, running back Peyton Hillis didn't play in Cleveland's game against Miami with strep throat, a decision that prompted speculation he sat out to protest not getting a contract extension from the club. Hillis' drama dragged on through Cleveland's bye week and coach Pat Shurmur was still addressing the topic earlier this week.
Shurmur was aware Mack was ill before playing the Titans.
"I knew that he came to the stadium and that he saw his breakfast again," he said. "I knew he wasn't feeling well. Again, that happens to a lot of guys where they get sick and they play. I do know he's a very tough guy, he's a very fine center and we need to be strong up the middle here to be good and I'm really glad that he's our center.
"I've got a strong appreciation for what he is as a player."
On the Monday morning after the game, Mack was very sore and figured something was seriously. Later, he learned it was appendicitis and surgery was needed.
Mack wasn't scared, just bothered.
"It was annoying that I knew I was going to have to go to surgery," he said. "I had to call my family and tell them. I had to go to the ER, which is not what I wanted to do with my bye week or my Monday."
He's tough all right.
Mack knows he was putting himself at some risk by playing with his appendix on the verge of rupture. To him, it's not any more dangerous than banging heads with nose tackles. To him, it was nothing serious.
He would prefer to practice before playing, and Mack would like more time for the incisions in his stomach to heal. But there's a game to be played and Mack will do all he can to be ready for it.
It comes down to two factors.
"What's best for the team," he said, "and what's best for me."
Notes: Browns CB Joe Haden did not practice because of a sprained knee and Shurmur remains hopeful his top defensive back will be able to play Sunday. Haden was not available for interviews in the locker room. ... Browns DE Marcus Benard remains hospitalized following his motorcycle crash. The team placed him on the reserve non-football illness list, ending his season after four games. The Browns may be able to withhold some of his salary. ... To take Benard's spot, the Browns signed DL Auston English to the active roster from the practice squad. The Browns also signed rookie DL Kiante Tripp to the practice squad. He spent training camp with Atlanta.