The NFL: Nothing to Lose Your Head Over

photo credit: number657 via photopin cc
photo credit: number657 via photopin cc

A one-year contract. One million dollars.

Sometimes, a Go Ask Daddy question takes on a life of its own. Grace asked if I would play in the NFL for $1 million, one season. I dreamed of it as a boy. I drew pictures of my jersey as a boy. I practiced my slow-motion touchdown runs for NFL films as a boy.

And I’d do anything for my kids, you know.

I’ll take on the dangerous (fight a tiger, brave bullets, eat salad). I’ll grapple the profane (wear a dodgers cap, red wings sweater or lakers jacket, under threat of imminent danger.) The girls know there’s no limit to dad’s love.

But this?

This question came to me at a crossroads. I’ve loved the NFL all my life. It was a bond with my dad, who gave me his old preview magazines when the preseason began. I read them until the pages softened with hours of study and dreams.

photo credit: San Diego Shooter via photopin cc
photo credit: San Diego Shooter via photopin cc

NFL players were my heroes.

Today, my heroes struggle. They battle life after football, solemn times wrought with suicidal thoughts and excruciating pain. Of battered bodies and brain injuries dismissed in the heat of battle. They’re paid for the hits with such life-draining interest added.

One year, $1 million.

Would I do it? Would you?

# # #

When I played an actual varsity football season, in eighth grade, I was cocky. I wanted to run one play – just one – against Chicago’s 46 defense. After all, I’d scored a two-point conversion once, in a JV game, the year before.

Football reappeared on my lifeline, 10 years after that, as a writer. And now, 20 years after that, with my youngest daughter’s question.

I’ll pick a team with an NFL random team generator.

The generator picked … San Diego Chargers. Yuck. It’s not the oakland raiders. But it’s a division rival with enough piss and vinegar with my Denver Broncos to render it near the bottom with oakland.

Let’s also consider my skill set for football.

I once kicked a 25-yard field goal on an NFL field – with plenty of leg to have hit from at least 40. Trust me. Marie even admitted it just yesterday. It was at the Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium during Fan Fest. Media get to bring the kids.

Today, at 42, I’d be better served as the dude who holds the ball on a field-goal attempt – but they don’t draft a guy just for that job.

So, let’s recap: one year, $1 million, for a season with the San Diego Chargers.

# # #

photo credit: Ray Bouknight via photopin cc
photo credit: Ray Bouknight via photopin cc

My first exhibition game would be Aug. 7, at home, against the Dallas Cowboys. I’d leave free tickets for Frugalista in Seattle (Aug. 15). I’d need many more for my grandma and many uncles, aunts and cousins in Denver (Oct. 23). And Dana and her family would have tickets waiting at will call in Baltimore (Nov. 30).

The Super Bowl next season happens to be in Arizona, Feb. 1. Get your requests in now.

And, I’d get fish tacos. (I associate every NFL city with their cuisine. I can watch the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks play, and I see in place of helmet logos barbecue and salmon steaks. But just for a moment, right around halftime).

NFL kickers are subject to injury, though, just like linebackers and wide receivers.

Not exactly just like. Jaguars punter Chris Hanson gashed a leg in 2003. Not during a courageous block. He struck his leg with an axe as he took a motivational tactic from coach Jack Del Rio to the extreme. The Bucs’ Bill Gramatica won a game with a field goal – and tore a knee ligament as he celebrated.

Then there’s what happened to Bengals punter Kevin Huber last season.

The price for that blindside hit from Steelers linebacker Terence Garvin? One cracked vertebrae, one broken jaw.

That would be me.

That’s just part of the problem, the helmet to helmet hits. The league puts rules into place to protect players, but enforces them less every week. Today, players, cognizant of what’s befallen the men before them, still get their clocks cleaned.And feel the need to get back on the field. Pronto.

yes graceSo, yes, Grace. I would sign that one-year, $1 million contract. It’d be my choice. A million dollars buys a lot of chicken nuggets, even after Uncle Sam takes his cut. I’d stick my left leg and my neck out for 21 weeks of football for all that.

Plus, I’d get a jersey, free travel, and fish tacos. I’m sold.

But I’m not sold on watching your future heroes continue to take a beating. For me, and football, that link that bound my dad and me, we’re at a crossroads.

Will I watch our Broncos try for another title? They have such a great chance.

Will the league finally admit the harm it let strike its former players, and protect the men it employs now from a similar fate? They have such a great chance to do that, too, but I have far less faith.

Sure, I’d chance a nasty hit for the Chargers, for you, Grace.

Can I cover this sport another season? Can I forget what’s happened to Tony Dorsett, Joe DeLamielleure, and Junior Seau?

Today, I just can’t answer that one, honey.

football quote


  1. laurie27wsmith says:

    Maybe if I were 30 again Mate, ( the fittest I’ve ever been) then I’d give it a real go. Now I’d probably pull a hammy carrying the water bucket and oranges out at half time. There would probably be other things I’d do for a million bucks but hey, this is a family blog………

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      used to be you didn’t have to be fit to play in the NFL, just mean and strong. I’m an injury hazard from the moment i step foot out of bed, mate.

      Look, why don’t you write your top 10 things you’d do for a million bucks, and we’ll come visit you there.

      1. laurie27wsmith says:

        That’s the difference between Rugby league and NFL, I think League is more of a running game, where NFL is more set piece with a few runners. Would that be right? Mate I’ve just got to walk into my shed to hurt myself, it’s terrible.
        Top 10 eh? I could probably rustle up 5. Have to be when I finish my medium blog.

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        I’d say the NFL is mostly from the set-piece approach. Punctuated with vicious hits.

      3. laurie27wsmith says:

        I had to look twice at the last word there mate, then I realised it said hits.

      4. laurie27wsmith says:

        Yep! well maybe three times.

  2. But, how to protect them? That’s the $64,000 dollar question.
    Or, perhaps I should say the the $6,000,000,000 question.
    How do we get the gaze of those with the power to change, develop, and enforce rules to protect players to get their eyes off of their slice of the $6 Billion pie? How do we get the players to protect themselves?
    No easy answers. Clearly, it’s the right thing to do. But, the “how’s” of doing it are not nearly so clear.
    I sit every week at my 15 year old daughter’s basketball games and chat with 2 young NFL players, brothers of her teammates. Bright, talented, caring, fierce men. The sports nut in me is so thrilled to watch them play each fall, but the mother in me holds my breath for the entire 17 weeks, hoping they’ll come out of it as healthy and whole as they went in. But, how to improve the odds of that is beyond me.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      I couldn’t have said it any better myself, Gina. Thanks for the thought-provoking comment. If I had the answers, I’d definitely give them up for free.

      That money is hard to ignore. And how can you tamper with a game so closely tied to violence? Better equipment might broker greater risk. Stricter rules might compromise the nature of the game.

      Brett Favre can’t remember the season his daughter played soccer. I can’t imagine. Not because it’s soccer, but because it’s a dad.

  3. ksbeth says:

    it is something that i think about when watching on and off the field, it is a bit like selling your soul, you take the big hits to make the big cash, only to pay it back with interest that rivals an mafia rate, your life. i suppose i dodged a bullet, having all daughters, but still i worry about my friends and family raising sons, and worry for all of those on the field each sunday and many days in between. p.s. – i had a hard time focusing after i read, ‘i would wear a red wing sweater……’

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      We don’t often think about that, after the player drops in the depth chart, then into retired life. I often wonder – would I let my girls play football, if they were boys?

      that was a tough sentence you write, you know, about the wings sweater. i hope it gives you an idea about just how much i do love my girls! that I would do something like THAT.

  4. Ah, the things we do for our kids, but still I will say this, I think you would make a great football player and would totally tune in if you were playing, my friend 🙂

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      I’d leave you tickets, Janine, so you could see the follies of my football prowess first hand.

      1. Ok, you just totally made me smile and would be there in a NY minute 😉

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        Jets or Giants?

      3. For Kevin I have to say Giants 😉

      4. Eli Pacheco says:

        But who for you?

      5. Yeah, I guess 😉

      6. Eli Pacheco says:

        Doesn’t matter – same stadium, same tailgating. And I’ll try and not get my clock cleaned in front of you.

  5. NotAPunkRocker says:

    I did worry what would happen if my son wanted to play football, only because I remember when my brother played in the youth leagues the coaches “testing” him because of his size. Ended up he knocked out two of his friends in practices and one opponent in a game. The harder the hit, the better philosophy starts early now, so of course the risks are ignored for the glory. What KSbeth said above about it being like selling your soul to the devil is pretty spot-on. If it’s what you have dreamed of for all of your life, are you really going to say “no” when you have the chance to play?

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Football is an odd culture. and I remember being in fourth grade and encouraged to put a helmet hit on someone before they did the same to me.

      And the big hits wind up on SportsCenter, right?

      A dream’s a dream. Had I been bigger and stronger, I’d have reported to anyone’s training camp who would have drafted or signed me.

  6. claywatkins says:

    It’s a tough call – a million bucks? High school football is one thing – but the nfl moves so fast and the players are so big – there is no difference between the size of the brain – too much to risk – saw the Huber hit and winced. All it takes is one play and I’m done …. Still need to think about it… I suppose that’s why the young ‘uns play the game instead of us guys who’s brains are fully developed…

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      As a dad, I’d have to say yes, but isn’t that contradictory in itself? Hits happen, but the shot on Huber wasn’t necessary. It’s a tough enough game without cheap shots.

  7. Twindaddy says:

    The problem is that the only people advocating player safety are the former players. The current players don’t want the change and even criticize attempts to make the game safer. I still say that if they want to eliminate helmet to helmet hits to get rid of helmets. They aren’t going to lead with their heads if they aren’t wearing helmets.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      The current players who’d like change are there, but they don’t have a voice. Rule changes last year gave an advantage to the offense, but as that became apparent, I believe the enforcement lagged and eventually disappeared.

      You’re right about the helmets. But there are still knees and elbows and cleats. Even if Lester Hayes no longer plays.

  8. gilberthcardenas says:

    I’ve always loved football, even today (so much so that I’ll watch the CFL and AFL during the summer). As the concussion crisis rose, I grew concerned, but not enough to stop watching. However, I watched that PBS special on the NFL players – then there Junior Seau. That really hit home; a prominent player I grew up watching was gone in a very tragic manner.

    My son will be four months old this month. I know my wife wouldn’t want him to play and I’m leaning that direction too.

    I made a prediction with my wife that, given the sudden interest in soccer and the World Cup – and although the feeling may be waning in the aftermath – I think soccer has a chance to become a major sport in the United States. Or even basketball could take the lead. Whatever the case, if the NFL doesn’t take the proper steps to stop the concussions, it’ll lose it’s place as the #1 sports league in the U.S.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Yes, when a prominent player we watched suffers that kind of fate, it drives the point home. To know Dan Marino now suffers effects, too. I was a teenager when he was in his prime.

      I hope your prediction is right about soccer. My daughters have been hurt playing soccer, too, two with concussions, but it’s a very different situation.

      What will it take to get the NFL’s attention?

      Glad you wound up here today, Gilbert. I look forward to checking out your blog.

  9. tamaralikecamera says:

    Ah, sometimes it’s hard to be a hero.
    If you played for the NFL, I’d actually watch my first football game. Weird, right? I’ve never gotten past.. like three minutes of it. And I think it was commercials that time. Anyway. Do it. For the money and for me watching.
    I’d probably do it too, just to get the money and give the NFL a brand new look. And I wouldn’t falter or battle those demons. I wouldn’t change much. I’d keep my integrity and my physical prowess as is.
    Which means it would be a bad year for my team.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Tell me about it.

      I wonder if you’d like it. There’s a chance I’d do the opening kickoff, then you might not see me again. You’ll probably like Philip Rivers, the Chargers’ quarterback, though.

      And you’d wonder why there are lightning bolts on the helmets of a team called Chargers.

      would you tuck the hair under the helmet, or go all out, like Troy Polamalu?

  10. I don’t know anything about football, so I probably underestimate the risk of injury, but hey – SAN DIEGO!!! (Heart shaped eyes)
    Plus imagine your daughters’ pride and admiration.
    AND you could blog about it!

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      I know I know … fish tacos.

      I’d be fine … unless, you know, I got blindsided.

      Then, she could feed me food through a tube and take over the blog.

  11. Kim says:

    We have conversations here about whether or not professional athletes are overpaid or not. Some of us think yes and others no:) When it comes down to it there are so many factors that go into everything these athletes do – the things they have to give up and the benefits!!
    BTW – did you change up your site? It looks different! I like it!!

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      It’s an interesting conversation, but if the TV money and endorsements and advertising revenue weren’t there, there’d be no market for them. But it’s there – in a big way.

      Yes, I did change themes last night … glad you liked it, and thanks for noticing! I felt like there’s been some change recently in my blog world, and moving the furniture around a bit seemed like a good idea.

      1. Kim says:

        Sometimes I feel like I’m late to notice things so I’m happy that this was a recent change!!!

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        It wasn’t a huge change – I still have the same banner and sidebar elements – so it’s more like what the Jacksonville Jaguars do every year. Just subtle changes, but different enough.

  12. 1jaded1 says:

    The winged wheel can sense hostility. The sweater would fight you all the way, turning the arms inside out and making the neck hole too small. Good luck. If you explained you were wearing it for your daughters, it may acquiesce, but you’d have to root with Passion, for the red wings, while wearing the sweater. That’s all on that.

    Your daugjters pose the most thoughtful questions!

    My opinion is gonna make me as popular as a red wings sweater in the Pepsi Center…Kudos to you for admitting that it’s your choice to play, despite the risk of injury. Everyone from the players to the owners see commas and dollar signs. Fans part with theirs and want to see intensity. That should be far from barbarian ways, but not as docile as flag football. Moreover, players may have an I’m young and will heal mentality? With the commas coming in, who is going to argue? That said, hitting rules should be enforced at the flag level and carried out in proportion to the big leagues. We can’t claim ignorance anymore. I’m not an expert by any means. It just seems like common sense…or not.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      The sweater and Jesus would know – my heart’s not in it. It’s unnatural. Did you know if a player, for instance, signs with the Broncos after he plays for the raiders, I prefer he play for one other team first, kind of like detox. Urban legend says your skin will burn if you wear a Broncos jersey directly after wearing a raiders one. Chemical reaction.

      A dad will do anything for his kids – including play in the NFL. I agree, there’s a degree of invincibility at play. Didn’t we feel that way when we were young? Even without the commas.

      I like your idea for enforcing rules from the flag level. The problem is, there are youth coaches who run four-receiver sets and kids who watch SportsCenter who know a well-executed block on a run play will likely go unnoticed, but a crushing hit to a crossing wide receiver will make coach go nuts and look like what they show on ESPN.

      We can’t claim ignorance anymore, can we? But common sense? It ain’t so common, unfortunately.

      1. 1jaded1 says:

        Ha…I will keep my eyes open for the chemical reaction in the future. At least it doesn’t happen after wearing a Lions jersey.

        Nope. Not so common.

        Til next time…

  13. Katie @ Pick Any Two says:

    We are big football fans in my household, and we’re also so conflicted about the head injury issues. You’re right that while there are rules in place to protect players, they are only useful when they’re enforced strictly, which is rarely the case. I also worry about glorifying any kind of violence to my son. At the same time, those lazy afternoons spent munching on chips and guac while wearing our Ravens purple (I know, I know…) and cheering on Torrey Smith—they are magical.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Elise loves to watch the NFL on Sunday with dad. It’s been part of my life since I was a kid. At her first NFL game, she suggested they put a sign up to remind players that they can’t interfere with a receiver until the ball gets there.

      She was 6.

      But signs would be good. For the refs and the players. I get that it’s a physical game, and who doesn’t like a good hit? But a good hit doesn’t have to mean bean-to-bean, you know? Lighten the wallet. Enforce suspensions. It’s for their own good.

      You’re right there’s something magical about Sunday afternoons. And I’ve softened my angst against the Ravens. See? I even capitalized it!

  14. That’s a tough one, isn’t it? A million dollars isn’t such a great trade off if you get injured really badly. I’m glad none of my kids wanted to play football. Not that there isn’t plenty of injuries in soccer… But if you make it in the NFL, I’ll watch. I don’t watch on a regular basis, but I do enjoy the game when I sit down to take a game in.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      There’s no easy answer, Michelle. It’s a risk players take every season, and it’s greater for positions other than kickers. Makes me glad my girls are soccer only.

      You’re right, there’s injury there, but trauma to the head and neck isn’t usually part of it.

      Would you even wear one of my jerseys if I made it? I’d give it my best, and even try to make tackles if someone blocks my kick. (famous last words)

  15. Sandy Ramsey says:

    I am a football fan through and through. You know I love Peyton, therefore the Broncos and would love nothing better than to see them take it home this season. I cannot speak of…well, you know….

    We are currently in talks with my son about starting tackle ball in the Spring. He’s been playing flag for years and he’s got definite talent. I’m very aware tackle is different and as much as I love the sport and would love to see him play a sport he loves, I am terrified. I know it’s not the NFL and there are rules in the youth leagues to prevent injury…but stuff happens.

    So far, in his life, he has wanted to be a cop, join the military, and now he wants to play first for the Florida Gators and then the NFL. By the sound of things, I need to grow a stiffer spine….I don’t think I’m raising an accountant here.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      I knew you’d be along to chime in on this. Especially with the Broncos in such good shape coming into this season. No, we don’t want to think of what might have happened last February …

      Yes, stuff happens. So much will depend on his coaches. They will teach them tackling and other skills he didn’t get in flag football. Will they do this the right way?

      They’re our only hope, really, these coaches. If players don’t learn bad technique, or aren’t instilled with the thought that the best tackle is with their helmet (and even better if they level the ball carrier), then we have hope.

      You can make an incredible hit on a player and not endanger yourself or him. It’s what shoulder pads are for. Helmets are to protect from lots of things that could happen in a game – but even a helmet can’t help much when it’s hit with another helmet.

      I wanted to be a stormtrooper, an NFL quarterback and a rock star when I was a kid. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that the saxophone, and then writing, came into play.

      Lucky for me, they came along just as my NFL dreams became laughable. And I really am too short to be a stormtrooper.

  16. Wayne says:

    Who ever wrote this must have no brain. Because if football never existed in America there would be more violence in the streets. Football is not just about wanting to kill the person on the other team its about releaseing anger and making a brotherhood for the guy next to you. So much that if you hadn’t you would give your life for the the person standing next to you. You will give it your all. So who ever wrote this let me tell you you probably sit at home all on your computer looking up ways and reasons to tell people to not play sports because you probably never got to play them when you were a kid you do not understand. So you and you know who you are go suck a fat one.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      I do have a brain, though, Wayne. I’ve loved football all my life. I argue that football isn’t about releasing anger – there’s a precision and art to the sport that contradicts its violent nature.

      Football is a tactical, physical sport – it’s not warfare, despite what you and many who describe the action claim.

      Yes, you will give it your all, in training, on game day. But what will your life be in the aftermath?

      I played sports my entire childhood. Not well, but I did play. And not once did I play a football game to release anger. My worst transgression was playing so that girls would like me. In eighth grade.

      I debated whether to approve your comment, because of the last line. It’s actually a good comment, except for that line. Not sure what that has to do with anything, and it makes football fans like you and me look like tools.

      So I’ll presume you meant suck a lemon wedge after a shot of tequila, and leave it at that.

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