I was 29 years old; unemployed, very angry and very bitter. I internalized it and started training like a crazy man. My agent said, “teams are interested. Stay ready. It could be any day now”. Summer came around and no one had called. Still I trained hard all day, every day. I didn’t know what else to do.
Training camps started; still nothing. Then in mid-august, the Eagles called and wanted to work me out. I flew to Pennsylvania and had a workout with two other tight-ends on the field next to the Eagles practice field. I had a good workout. I believed they would sign me. They didn’t. I was back on a plane an hour later.
The next week, the Browns called for a workout. Red-eye flight, straight to the facility for a workout with one other tight-end. I had another good day. I waited in the coaches’ offices for the GM, who eventually called me into his office and told me they liked me but couldn’t sign me. But stay ready! Then back on a plane, back to California.
Three days later, he called back and said they found me a spot. Another red-eye, straight to the facility, got fitted for my pads and helmet, and I was jogging out for morning practice in brown and orange, shaking my head. It was the last week of camp. I had to learn fast. Didn’t learn fast enough. Less than a week later; cut again. This time, for good.
I had another workout a few days later in New Orleans but I wasn’t signed. With no takers, I decided to play for the Las Vegas Locomotives in the UFL. They drafted me and held my UFL rights, and had been courting me all summer. But I told them, “No, I’m getting back in the league!” When it was obvious that the league wasn’t happening, I showed up in Casa Grande, Arizona for training camp with the Las Vegas Locos.
Two weeks into camp, while running a corner route in 1-on-1s, I tore my hamstring off the bone. Thwap! It was the same injury, though more severe, that prematurely ended my last season with the Broncos. A week later I had surgery to repair the hammy; a three-inch horizontal scar in my gluteal fold (butt-cheek overhang). I rehabbed aggressively, excited to get healthy and get back on a team. But I’d been out for over a year. No one wanted me. And it was very hard to accept it. I spent my whole life sharpening those skills. Now what do I do with them? They were useless.
This will be my fourth season out of the game. I’m finally adjusting to life outside the bubble. But every year around this time, I watch the games and think about the guys who are getting cut, getting ready to go through what I went through, what every football player goes through eventually. And I feel for them. It’s a long fall.
Nate Jackson played six seasons for the Broncos. He is a freelance writer and is currently writing a book about life in the NFL, to be published by Harper Collins.
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