By Cynthia Zordich, Player Engagement Insider
Just one day before the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots took the field for the historic Super Bowl LII, several NFL families flocked to Champions Hall Sport & Event Center in Eden Prairie, MN for the third annual NFL and All Pro Dad Family Football Clinic, presented by NFL Player Engagement and All Pro Dad.
For some, it was a great break in a weekend packed with Super Bowl activities, parties and events. For Carolina Panthers cornerback Teddy Williams, it was the sole purpose for heading to Minnesota.
Now THAT is an All Pro Dad move.
"We were at the All Pro Dad event last year in Houston. He had so much fun. I had to bring him back this year," said Williams, about his six-year-old son Christian. “Being with him out here on the field, the interaction with the other players' kids, the dads bonding, these are memories, that as a father, I will have the rest of my life."
Williams gave an impromptu welcome speech at the event breakfast - sharing his compelling off-season, road-to-recovery story. It was the first game of the Panthers' 2017 season against the Pittsburgh Steelers when Williams got injured during a tackle in the first quarter that would result in a 360-degree tear to his labrum.
As he lay on the field, his thoughts did a quick 180-from the game he was playing, to his wife, his son and new baby girl. Immediately, Williams questioned his desire to come back.
"As I lay there, I wondered if I still had love for this game. And after surgery, the following six weeks were hard. Anyone who has ever had shoulder surgery knows that it's rough on you. That first six weeks was probably the worst thing I've ever been through. I was truly losing myself. In my family, I am considered to be one of the strongest people, but I was at the lowest of the lows. I was trying to figure out where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do as I continued my life when it came to this sport.”
Williams' motivation to return came in a miniature form, in Christian. Christian, with his own pure excitement for the game, reignited Williams’ own passion.
"Every day he would come home from school and say, 'Daddy, Daddy just throw me some passes, Daddy please, Daddy throw to me, please, with your good arm,'" Williams said, laughing. "His pure joy to play reminded me of my love for the game. It brought me back. I felt that it was a sign. He gave me a new motivation to get up and get back out there."
Williams’ message to all parents is, that you continue to grow and learn things from your own children. Don't think that you are ever too far along to learn. Stay green and you will continue to grow.
In talking about the time with Christian at the All Pro Dad event, Williams went on to say that in Carolina, (head) Coach (Ron) Rivera welcomes a family atmosphere. Having Christian at practice, in the locker room and on the field is part of Williams’ daily routine. To him, creating these moments and memories with his son now will shape their relationship later.
"This is the legacy that I want to leave - the moments that I can imprint into his mind while I am still playing. That precious time together, that time he gets with the other players, and he knows them all by name, this will carry us over. These are memories that as a father I will have forever. These are memories that will define his relationship with me. It's great to be on the field, it's great to be in the NFL. One day though, football will be over, but you're always Dad. Building this strong foundation with my son on and off the field is important to me."
The games began with a simple message from Senior Vice President of Player Engagement, Arthur McAfee: “Have fun!”
Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of Football Operations, was there again this year with his son, Tanner, in his favorite role: Dad. Vincent and his wife, Tommi, have three boys and two girls.
NFL Player Engagement Operations Manager, Chidozie Ibeabuchi, was pleased with a new addition to the All Pro Dad event - All Pro Moms.
"We realize that moms play an integral part in the family and wanted to make sure we acknowledged that role, as well as offer our NFL women an opportunity to engage with other NFL moms; a unique and extraordinary dynamic in itself."
Heading up several activities for those NFL moms was Dr. Lauren Loberg, an Athlete Development Specialist with a background in Sports Psychology. Dr. Loberg leads up the NFL Player Engagement Significant Other Space. She also shared many resources available to NFL women and families such as the NFL Boot Camps, existing NFL women's platforms and engagement opportunities.
Shelagh Setterstrom, the wife of former NFL guard, Mark Setterstrom, was happy to participate in an event dedicated to NFL family.
"Family is first. Coming back for events like this is a great reminder that we have an extended family in the league. My girls (Hayley, Mary, Annie) were so small when my husband played and this gives them a look into his world as an NFL player. Plus, they're having so much fun running around on the field with him and the other kids,” Shelagh said.
“It is also great to hear that extended networks for NFL women are being created. Starting in the league together and transitioning out together, it was difficult. We had to work hard and that made us stronger. It is nice to know that today, more women are connecting to help each other during their husband's career and after."
Miami Dolphins tight end, MarQueis Gray, was there along with his wife Alley, his daughter, Tessa, and six-year-old twins, MarShawn and MarZell.
"They couldn't sleep last night," Gray said." Anything that makes them feel a part of the team. They love the time with me out on the field. I bring them around as much as I can during the season. I try to expose them to as many players as I can and hope they look forward to playing football as they grow older. This event is special to me personally because daddy time? There's nothing like it."
"This time together means everything,” Alley added. “Minneapolis is our base with all of the kids in school and activities. With MarQueis playing in Miami, the time he has with them is very valuable. It means everything to them and to us as a family."
Covering the event and simultaneously participating in it was former NFL offensive tackle, Ryan Harris, and current Buffalo Bills linebacker, Lorenzo Alexander. Harris and Alexander, along with former NFL quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and recently retired NFL running back Matt Forte, were also taking part in Player Engagement's First-Annual Broadcast Bowl.
As recent participants in the NFL's Broadcast Boot Camp/Advanced Boot Camp, the players were invited to commentate on Super Bowl Radio Row. Each player had a tailored schedule of segments on various radio broadcasting channels including Sirius XM Radio and Westwood One Radio. In sitting down at the All Pro Dad family breakfast, Harris and Alexander shared their new Super Bowl roles from players to journalists.
In talking about his experience with the Broadcast Bowl Alexander shared, "As players, we've all been in competitive sports since we were yea high. Since our early beginnings, we have all strived to be the best and that means putting in the work, studying, practicing, listening to our coaches and mentors. This experience is helping us apply that same ethic to a new field, broadcasting. We want to put the best product out there. You want to carry your reputation as a pro into your next role - whether that be a broadcaster, a businessman, a husband or a father."
Harris credited his healthy mindset during transition to his high school coach, a former pro who once told him, "If you are lucky enough to make it to the NFL, you will not be an athlete longer than you are an athlete."
Through example, Harris' coach showed him how to retool himself for life after the game.
Cementing the warnings of his high school coach, Harris recalls Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak addressing the team his first year in Denver. "Coach Kubiak told us that the guys who succeeded after (the NFL) usually found that "next thing" right away," Harris remembered. "With that, I jumped on the opportunity to participate in the NFL Broadcast Boot Camp. Now, I'm doing something I love as much as I loved the game."
"It may not be broadcasting,” Alexander added. “You might have no idea what you want to do. But you have to put yourself out there. Try something. Look, you wouldn't be playing this game at this level if you weren't courageous. At some point, you just have to take that leap of faith and put yourself out there. Try things. You don't have to like everything you try. But you're just trying to figure out what else catches your heart. Catches that fire for you. In the beginning nothing comes close to that. And for some of us, it is important to find something that keep you involved with the game and makes you feel a part of a team. But you have to take the first step and the earlier you take it - the better. You also have to understand that nothing is going to be like playing on Sundays. There's no feeling like playing on Sunday's, maybe having a child, but that's it."
Alexander, the father of four, credits the All Pro Dad initiative for aiding in the personal transition from the locker room to the family room.
Passion. Discipline. Work ethic. Commitment. Loyalty.
All Pro Dad spokesmen like former NFL player and head coach Tony Dungy exemplify these virtues not only on the field, but even more importantly in their roles as fathers. These men realize the true victory in life is not on a scoreboard, but is measured by the love and honor of their children.
Alexander is involved with several All Pro Dad and family initiatives. What he has learned is that you can take the same qualities you naturally adopt as a father; love, protection, affection, patience, encouragement and apply them to all relationships in and out of the locker room.
"Often times we see the lion's share, being the lion, going out and dominating, protecting our own, and that is one great thing about being a father. Being protective and making sure your family is provided for is important. But, there is also the intimate side of being a father. Being able to hug your son or daughter, being able to say I love you to them. That's the same thing we face as men in the locker room. Not only being aggressive, but building those relationships with our teammates. That's what it is all about, and All Pro Dad is an excellent platform to showcase and nurture both fatherhood and camaraderie within our NFL family."
If you are an NFL family and are interested in participating in next year's Super Bowl LIII All Pro Dad Family Football Clinic please contact Chidozie Ibeabuchi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are interested in participating future NFL Boot Camps such as Broadcasting, Advanced Broadcasting, Personal Finance, Business Academy, etc. please visit http://www.nflplayerengagement.com/programs/.
To get involved with All Pro Dad visit: http://www.allprodad.com/nfl-spokesmen/
Cynthia Zordich is the founder of nflthread.net, a private platform for NFL women and co-author of When The Clock Runs Out (20 NFL players share their experience in transition). She is the wife of Former NFL Safety /current UM DB Coach, Michael Zordich, and the mother of Former Fullback Michael Zordich (Carolina Panthers), Former D-1 QB Alex Zordich and Daughter Aidan Zordich (Digital Coordinator, Funny or Die).