From Picking Up Cups to Living the NFL Dream

This Sunday’s Jaguars game against the Chicago Bears will be special for me for many reasons.  For starters, it’s my 500th NFL game.  At 49 years old in my 25th NFL season, I have so much to be grateful for.

Growing up in Massachusetts, the New England Patriots were the only team any of my brothers or I would even consider cheering for.  I can still remember the rainy spring day in 1979, during my sophomore year in high school, when I decided to be an athletic trainer to work in the NFL.

Fast forward 15 years……It was the summer of 1984 during my first summer internship for Ronnie Barnes and the New York Giants.  Our first pre-season game was in Foxboro to play the Patriots!  On a side note, although I had been skydiving a couple of times from smaller planes when I was in college, the 25 minute flight to New England was my very first time flying on a “real” airplane.

Walking onto the field for the pre-game warmup was a dream come true.  My job was to carry the Gatorade cups to the bench and I was on Cloud 9 with a huge smile on my face……until I realized that the cup bags were open and I had just left 50 yards of cups trickled all the way to the tunnel!   embarrassed, red-faced and humbled, I made the walk of shame picking up the cups with the rough Boston crowd rightfully belittling me.  I laughed and said out load: “Welcome to the NFL, Mike!”

How many people have the opportunity to get into a dream job which they envisioned when they were 16 years old and then be fortunate enough to make that dream a long-term career?  Not many and I remind themself every day.  I always remind myself:  I’m simply the results of so many that were willing to help me to reach towards my dreams.  I owe it to them and myself to work hard and to help others as they pursue their carrots.

From my caring mother to my loving wife to my supportive family to my athletic training mentors Carl Krein and Ronnie Barnes, they all shared their love, support and wisdom to help me to help others.  I have so many to thank, including the Giants and Jaguars organizations themselves.  I am forever grateful.

Sunday’s game marks another reason to enjoy life.  Three of my dearest lifetime friends, Scott Mackie, Bill Thomson (a Bears fan) and Bob Kelly will be in town for the weekend.  Of my 25 season in the NFL, these friends have come to visit me for a home game for approximately 19 of those seasons.  Having loyal and caring friends like Bob, Bill and Scott is special and their friendship is priceless.

The sports medicine profession is an exciting field and it makes me want to come to work every day.  The friends I’ve made, the experiences I’ve had and the happiness I’ve found in the NFL are too many to list.  Although the work is serious, the fun and laughs are plentiful in this energetic environment.  The days may be 12 to 18 hours long but if that’s what it takes to be excited to get out of bed every day, I’ll pick up cups all day long!

Author: Mike Ryan

After 26 seasons as a full-time certified athletic trainer and registered physical therapist in the National Football League, Mike Ryan has outstanding first-hand experience. His unique professional and athletic background has sharpened his skills in the arts of sports injury management, elite rehabilitation, performance enhancement and injury prevention. Mike is now taking his experience to mainstream America. His mission is simple: Sports Medicine advice that is easy to use and brings fast results. Learn more about Mike Ryan

4 thoughts on “From Picking Up Cups to Living the NFL Dream”

  1. MIke,

    Just wanted a piece of your mind and advice if you find the time! I am a junior athletic training major getting ready to intern with a NFL team this summer. My dream and goals are very similar to yours, and I strive to be able to call myself a peer of yours one day.

    My question is, what seperates a good athletic training intern from a bad one? And even further more, what seperates a good athletic trainer from a bad one? I just want to be as prepared as I can be, so one day i can hopefully come close to be as successful as yourself.

    Thank you for your time!

    1. I like your questions, Andrew, but more importantly, I love the way you’re thinking to get the most out of your internship to catapult you into a career in the NFL! To simplify my answer, I’d strongly suggest that you become a working machine who can work 28 hours a day, have a learning curve that goes straight vertical to become a learning sponge of all the cool sports medicine info that will be coming your way every day, treat everyone you come in contact with with respect, always have a pocket notebook with you every day to take notes, be physical conditioned to hustle every day in a demanding setting, keep a sports medicine diary every night to go to bed a smarter athletic trainer than when you woke up that day and ask great questions while becoming a superb listener.
      I know that is a hefty task as a young student but it’s valuable advice which will separate you from the other student athletic trainers if a career in sports medicine is on your wish list.
      One last career accelerator tip: Become the solution for other’s needs. This of it this way: If an employer has an opening on his staff, the best way to get that job is to possess the best professional skills, personality, resume’ and work ethos to meet those needs of that role. NOW is the time to start to develop that arsenal to supercharge your dream job!
      Good luck to you, Andrew. The only question now is how badly do you want it? Go get it and enjoy the process because being happy with what you do every day is the real goal in life.

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