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!