When I was younger, I never could quite understand how NFL players can spend their entire career never giving into pain, always fighting for the extra yard, only to breakdown into tears the day they retired.
I never understood how these men, born to fight through pain, let everything out during the press conference they called it quits.
Yes, these men love the game. But tears? Why?
I did not find the answer to the question until about 15 months ago. At the time I was a writer for LSU's Daily Reveille. That spring I took on the task of interviewing NFL Hall-of-Famer Y.A. Tittle.
Tittle was one of football's first pocket passers in the 1960s. Towards the end of our discussion, I asked Tittle a few questions pertaining to retirement. As Tittle stated, the hardest thing about retiring is the reality that football, the sport you have played your whole life, is all over.
"When you did have to retire, you missed it many years after that. I know I realized that I’ve been out so long that my memories are fading still I do miss the game. I started playing [football] in the 5th grade. I played for 37 years counting the pros and LSU."
To put it simply, retiring from a professional sport is a little different than retiring at the age of 65. For one, most of these guys, like Tittle stated, have played football their entire lives. When a man retires from his engineering job, you pretty much know that that individual was not an engineer his entire life. Sure, he might of been in the business for 37 years, but doubtful he was always an engineer.
When athletes retire they enter a completely different world. A world that they have not lived in since they were a child. And it is that thought, that realization, that there is no more football, basketball, baseball, and so on, that makes these grown men cry.
This is why you had Michael Jordan return to the NBA twice. This is why shortly after retiring, Brett Favre wants to come back. Despite all the battles these men have endured on the court or field, the reality of living in a world without themselves competing in their sport is too much to bear.
It's a cold reality.