The satisfaction and enjoyment that follows the completion of a long week of hard work and preparation in the NFL culminates with the sound of the game’s whistle; it’s only in this brief moment of time that a player can just catch his breath before the process starts all over again.
After the conclusion of an NFL game, many players like to walk around on the field saying hello to guys from the other team. Personally, I’d only do this if there were guys on the other team I had some sort of relationship with.
While it’s common for many guys from both teams to gather in the middle of the field for a postgame prayer or find themselves being escorted to an on-field interview, I was more inclined to quietly slip back into the locker room.
The physical state of a player walking back to the locker room is typically a combination of exhaustion and pain as the adrenaline of the competition slowly begins to wear off. The discomfort of full-body-bruising over the course of 60 minutes of football suddenly begins to send louder and more palpable messages to the brain.
I can personally confirm that victories do seem to be a potent pacifier for postgame pain. Everything really seems to hurt more after a loss.
During that walk into the locker room following the conclusion of a game, I remember many instances, specifically during my time with the Jets, where I would be anxiously recounting specific moments on special teams where I missed a block and my guy made a tackle, or I made a minor error that nobody saw during live action.
I knew come Monday during film review, the eye in the sky wasn’t going to lie.
Those types of games could ruin a rare day off or even an entire week. There are few things worse than getting chewed out in front of your teammates during a film session—except maybe being asked to bring your playbook to the general manager.
With this perpetual doubt, my season with the Jets could be defined simply as a constant state of apprehension and uncertainty.
One of the first things you want to do when you get to back to the locker room is take that dirty, malodorous and soaking-wet uniform off as quickly as possible. This is never an easy feat due to the stickiness factor and dampness of the jersey as a result of sweat, which somehow seems to make an already incredibly tight jersey a few sizes smaller.
Observations of team camaraderie could be gauged effectively by how many guys you see helping the player next to them peel off their jersey and shoulder pads.
Once the pads came off, I always enjoyed catching my breath for a minute and just sitting on the stool as I reflected on the game, as well as soaking in the sights and atmosphere of an NFL locker room.
This was a special time that I knew not to take for granted, so I often found myself admiring my position in life and being so thankful for the privilege of being peers with men I grew up watching on TV.
Whether I was staring across the way trying to get into the postgame mindset of Charles Woodson or listening to Warren Sapp talk about his plans after the game, the sentiment of the time for me was that this whole experience was too good to be true.
I felt like a football fan that was somehow able to infiltrate the world of professional athletes without being discovered. It seemed it was only a matter of time before the jig was up. But before that time came, I made sure I would make some lifelong memories.
Showers were always in order following every game regardless of how much you played. This naturally also applies to the backup quarterback who just held a clipboard all game. There is just something rejuvenating and necessary about it after wearing a complete football uniform.
Oddly enough, the shower itself could quite possibly become the most painful part of your day if you happen to have a couple of really nice raspberries on your legs and arms. This is typical of players who either play on synthetic grass, which has an eerie tactile resemblance to sandpaper, or are fortunate enough to share a stadium with a professional baseball team like the Raiders do.
This means you spend quite a bit of your time sliding around on gravel used as the infield for the Oakland Athletics. This rock surface can literally scrape the skin right off your body. If you think it hurts at the moment of occurrence, let me assure this is not the case compared to what lies ahead.
Showering with deep abrasions covering the majority of your limbs is akin to being dipped in flesh-eating acid. But being a big, tough NFL football player who just survived a professional football game, the last thing you want to do is let out some high-pitched screams in the shower when the water hits you.
Unfortunately, like most things in the subculture of NFL, you have to fight hard to keep up an image of imperviousness. But for those of you who’ve never experienced this, trust me when I say that showering with abrasions all over your body can be a torturous endeavor.
For big-name guys whose faces we see weekly on television, they could expect to have a small gathering of reporters around their locker shortly after the game is over or to be summoned into the press conference room.
This was never something I had to worry about. I was far too insignificant for that type of attention. But one of the benefits of being undesired by the media is that I was able to get on the team bus much faster, where a nice mysterious snack pack of food awaited my arrival.
Usually it was some type of fast food like KFC or a sandwich and a bag of chips. Either food option was always a much-needed refueling opportunity, especially when paired with an ice-cold Gatorade or two.
The bus rides were commonly enjoyable and relaxing. Most guys have their headphones on listening to music, while the occasional one-on-one conversations happen here and there.
One tradition while on the bus has always been to talk to my parents to let them know I was OK and to recount certain noteworthy moments. Those postgame bus conversations also served as a trusted morale booster regardless of any objective reality; after all, they were my parents and consistently supportive.
During home games, players were generally free to walk right out to the players' parking lot and drive home with their family and friends. It was always an interesting thing walking through a sea of luxury cars, most valued around the six-figure range, while there I was jumping into my humble, 10-year-old Jeep Wrangler and driving home.
There are no tasty treats waiting for you after a home game; apparently they expect guys to eat on their own dollar when team travel isn’t a factor, which was typically what I’d do before going home to lie in bed and enjoy the recap of the day’s football action on SportsCenter. It was always a nice little bonus if you could catch a glimpse of yourself on the highlights, which never seemed to give your team’s game the coverage it deserved.
By the time you have gotten home and settled in for the night, the stiffness and aches of the body have peaked. This general body discomfort was always overshadowed by the bliss of lying in a bed you bought, under a roof you paid for, all from funds earned as a professional athlete, complete with the satisfaction of a hard week’s preparation behind you.
Just before I mentally signed off for the night, I could always count on the lingering feeling of anxiety about whether I would have a job when I woke the next morning. Security was never a perk in the NFL and was the most stressful component of the job, simply because the anxiety never went away.