Growing up, George Koonce was one of my favorite players for the Packers. Honestly, part of it was Madden related. I always played as the ILB and garnered many an interception with Koonce. I never really knew more about him as a man until now. Koonce has a guest column on ESPN’s NFC West Blog in which he discusses the transition from football life to “regular” life. I understand my experiences pale in comparison, but I can honestly say that after my Division III football “career” ended I did feel the effects of minor depression. Football was something that had focused my life for over ten years both physically and mentally. Wide receiver, athlete and tough guy would have been found in my self written dictionary definition. I can’t imagine the extent of a life transition professional football players have to make when they retire. From Koonce:
I’m not downplaying basketball careers or the work NBA players put in, but in the NFL you have to be obsessed with the role to make it. (“Role engulfment” is the academic term for it.) There are no prodigies in the NFL. There are no Hakeem Olajuwons who show up at the University of Houston from Nigeria and suddenly become the first pick in the draft. In football, you can have someone like my former teammate Desmond Howard win the Heisman Trophy and become Super Bowl MVP after everyone told him he was too small, too short and too slow. He has a heart the size of Wisconsin and simply will not quit.
You say, “You know what, I’m going to prove Peter King wrong or Chris Berman wrong or my childhood friend who said I couldn’t make it.” So you get even more consumed, more isolated in football, and then you have no skill set once the game is finished with you.
In college, my day was sketched out for me, from 6:30 a.m. until 9 o’clock at night. There was no difference when I transitioned to the NFL. It was all about trying to win a championship, trying to get prepared. The role engulfs you even more. They pay those NFL assistant coaches well to show George how to drop back into the flat or cover a running back. I didn’t have those life coaches when I left the game. That support system disappeared, and I was lost.
Check out the rest of Koonce’s post. He’s smart, eloquent, honest and just all around interesting.
Post by @PackerInsanity