Day 2: Thursday
I'm not sure if some guys got caught sleeping during the first night's presentation or not, but it seemed like the main ballroom temperature was lowered 10 degrees on Day 2, which began with another iteration of the "Ultimate Rookie Challenge." I'm convinced that Emmanuel Acho, formerly of Texas and now a linebacker for the Browns, was somehow cheating the system after he registered the fastest correct answer four separate times. As of Day 2, the Colts had yet to crack the top 10 in total score, although Luck impressed with a couple of quick keypad responses of his own.
A representative of Athletes for Hope spoke to the group, explaining that it doesn't require fame or money to make an impact, but rather giving of one's time. He cited the selflessness of tennis legend Arthur Ashe, and the way he transformed his own HIV affliction into a vehicle to benefit others.
After a few more skits portraying real life situations, another panel took place consisting of NFL Director of Player Security Services Deana Garner, former linebacker Mike Vrabel and Freeman. The group emphasized taking the proper precautionary steps to avoid getting into troublesome situations.
Following the panel, brief meetings were held regarding the NFL's different drug testing policies and the punishments for testing positive for either a performance-enhancing or recreational drug. Intelligent alcohol use and using a designated driver or car service was also emphasized.
After a lunch break, the rookies met in the main ballroom for an on-stage conversation with Adam "Pacman" Jones and Terrell Owens moderated by Tucker.
The most memorable parts of the talk:
Jones contacted the NFL and asked to be at the symposium to share what he had learned with the rookies.
Jones said there will not be another "Pacman" in the NFL, and credited Goodell for having changed him as a person. Jones understood that he put himself in a position to be suspended.
Owens said he knew that if he wanted to be able to dance that week, he had to get in the end zone.
Jones estimated that 90 percent of his childhood friends within two to three years of his age are now either dead or in jail. Jones grew up in Atlanta.
Jones regretfully recounted spending $1 million in one weekend! To which Owens looked at him, smiling, and said, "Man, you crazy!"
Owens said that while he only ran a comparatively "slow" time at the combine, nobody caught him from behind during games. Jones got a laugh from the audience when he replied, "I did pull off of you in Dallas."
After the talk, we broke up into small groups before coming back together for a talk about player health and safety. The focus of this talk was toradol use and concussions, both the subject of many headlines over the past year.
The second day wound down after dinner with more "Challenge" questions, skits and advice from Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray about how to deal with coaches. He spoke on an array of topics, including watching film, contract negotiations, how to use power of attorney and even how to make good decisions when buying a car or house. As a coach and former NFL player, Gray brought an interesting perspective.
The final portion of Day 2 was highlighted by a small group discussion led by Mike Signora, NFL Vice President of Football Communications, about how to handle media, and another panel that included some players and directors of player engagement, including Brown, Luther Ellis, David Thorton and James Thrash.
Day 3: Friday
The whole AFC was up early on Day 3 to get on buses and make the short trek over to the Cleveland Browns' practice facility for a morning full of playing with boys and girls to emphasize the importance of exercise. I have been a part of a few Play 60 events, the NFL's initiative to get kids to be more active. This was one of the parts of the symposium I was most looking forward to. On this day, the NFL invited children of military personnel, and each team's rookies set up their own station for the kids. Interacting with these children was both fun and rewarding.
Our Colts' station was relatively simple. The kids had to run around and try to get open in order to catch a pass from one of the quarterbacks (usually Luck or Chandler Harnish). I was amazed at the level of excitement expressed by the kids despite the heat.
Another player panel was in store for the rookies after a short break. This time, Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie, Patriots receiver Matt Slater, former Cardinals and Rams cornerback Aeneas Williams and Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon spoke to us. The symposium's topics often told rookies what not to do. Here was an attempt to show us admirable examples worth emulating.
The highlights of the player panel included:
Slater talked about his epiphany that not every NFL player will become a star, and how he now does what he can, in his role, to help his team win.
DeOssie implored the rookies to take advantage of the doors that are open to NFL players. He got to do an internship with high-ranking members of a bank.
Williams explained how 90 percent of the battle for many things in life is showing up even if you're scared.
Witherspoon emphasized the benefits of taking small steps toward your goal.
Tucker, who was again moderating, emphasized that he and the rest of the media are waiting for any one of the rookies to mess up so that they can dedicate time to it on their shows, websites, newspapers, etc. He said that because there is little to talk about regarding the NFL right now, they look for mistakes made by players.
After dinner, the "Challenge" results were announced. I have to say that while I was suspicious as to how the Browns got their answers in so quickly, I was equally skeptical of the Patriots' dominance throughout the competition. Either way, I was probably just being a sore loser. Congratulations to the following:
5th: Pittsburgh Steelers
4th: Jacksonville Jaguars
3rd: Cleveland Browns*
2nd: San Diego Chargers
1st: New England Patriots*
(* Further investigation pending)
The final speaker for the Rookie Symposium was Michael Irvin. His football resume speaks for itself.
Irvin pleaded for all to pay heed to the advice shared during the symposium. Raising his voice for emphasis multiple times, he gave a rousing speech that touched on a variety of topics.
The highlights of Irvin's talk included:
The reminder that pproximately 70,000 college football players wanted the seats we were sitting in. We earned the right to sit there.
Irvin said his third-grade tutor first introduced him to football, and that before he played (and succeeded at) football he had felt inferior.
Moving the Rookie Symposium from Florida or California (where it was held previously) was Irvin's idea, so that rookies could meet, and hear the stories of, those who had sacrificed so much so that the game could be what it is today.
Irvin spoke about his admiration for his father's hard work, and explained that he ran the name of his father "in the mud" with his bad decisions.
Recalling his son Googling him, Irvin said he would give back his three Super Bowl rings in exchange for a clean name.
Regarding legacy, Irvin referred to a quote he learned from his father: "Great men will always see farther than they can run." He said the quote meant that we should strive to build something bigger than ourselves -- the game. In doing so, we would honor those who came before us.
Day 4: Saturday
The final day of the Rookie Symposium consisted of a half-day visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The rookies got up early and jumped onto buses for the hour or so trip to Canton.
Upon arrival, we were brought into a large room where Steve Perry, the President of the Hall of Fame, welcomed us, saying that maybe one day he would welcome some of us back to be enshrined there. I found out later how bold of a statement this was. According to our tour guide, more than 25,000 men have played professionally, yet there are only 250 busts in the building. While the odds aren't favorable, they also don't seem impossible.
The highlights from the Pro Football Hall of Fame visit included:
Watching former Alabama and current Colt defensive tackle Josh Chapman design his own Super Bowl ring at a computer station where you can choose your favorite team and create a ring.
Taking a picture with the Lombardi Trophy ... it was behind heavy duty plexiglass.
Finding out that the average cost of a Super Bowl ring is between $15,000 and $30,000.
Seeing equipment and memorabilia of players such as Tony Gonzalez and Rob Gronkowski from different record-setting moments. Shoes, jerseys and footballs were displayed in cases with information about them on a card nearby. There were a lot more, but (naturally!) I wanted to highlight the tight ends.
Learning about the African American pioneers of the game, and how they impacted the color barrier in baseball as well. I won't spoil it for you. It's a really cool story.
Seeing the busts from every player inducted. Some look real, some don't. Some look like they are about to open their bronze mouths and talk to you.
A talk from Carl Eller, Hall of Fame inductee and well-known member of the "Purple People Eaters" defensive line for the Minnesota Vikings from the late 60s and 70s. He implored the rookies to accept the challenges before us, and to realize how awesome it would be to start and end our careers at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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